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LED Third Brake Light
This page and gadget was created in early 2000. Technology has marched on since I made this and it could be a lot better now with newer LEDs. Also, pre-made kits are available.


Have you seen some of the new Cadillacs that are running LED brake lights? Or maybe you've seen them on newer big rigs? If you have you've surely noticed how good they look. They come on faster than regular lamps (like an explosion really) and burn brighter too. Over all they simply have more "urgency" when they come on. And urgency is exactly the sort of thing I want my brake lights to convey!



Parts list:

  • 1 Circuit board. The circuit board I bought locally. I tried to find something similar online to link to, but was unsuccessful. It is setup with several rows of copper/metal which saves you from having to wire all those LEDs together. If you're not familiar with electronics and need to ask your local shop owner for one, it would be called a "prototyping board with rows of busses" or something like that. If you're really dying to make a light and can't find a board like this, feel free to email me and I can send one to you (you pay). marklein@that_free_email_service_owned_by_microsoft _that_starts_with_"hot"_and_ends_with_"mail".com
  • 100 LEDS. $36 dollars at the time I bought them. http://www.digikey.com/
  • 1 Resistor. 20 ohm, 2 Watts. http://www.digikey.com/ Digikey will make you buy at least 5, but 5 only costs $1.60 anyway.
In addition to the above parts, you will need:
Soldering iron
Solder
Some tool to cut the circuit board to shape (I used a Dremel w/ cut off wheel)
Epoxy or some other strong and heat resistant glue
Some assorted wire

Circuit diagram:


You could be creative with the diagram if youd like or the bus spacing on your board is different. With the hole spacing on mine I found that I had to grind off the little flange at the bottom of each LED so that they would sit flush against each other properly. If you find a different LED or different board this might not be neccesary.
Important! LEDs are different from regular light bulbs in two important ways!
1) They MUST have a resistor in the circuit in order to keep from burning out. The resistor size is determined by how they are connected and how many.
2) They will only light when power is applied in the correct direction. What that means is that you have to solder ALL the LEDs in the same orientation. One lead is positive and the other negative. Nothing bad will happen if you connect them backwards (and you have the resistor in place), they just won't light.

Other construction notes.
Check the specs if you buy different LEDs. What's called "Millicandela Rating" or simply "mcd" is how bright they are. These are 2800 mcd. They make them brighter, but super extreme bright ones usually have a very narrow angly of view (imagine you step to one side and can't see the light any more). "Operating Current" is how much current they want to have to run. DON'T EXCEED THE RATED CURRENT!
I epoxied the array to the inside of the lens from the car. I used only 5 drops at strategic places. It needs to stay in place, but you also need to be able to break it free if some LEDs need replacing at a later date.











What the pictures don't show is that the light coming fromt he LEDs is noticably more "red" than the others. Brightness is slightly brighter than stock.


Copyleft Mark Leinhos
Last modified 08/04/15

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