Let There be Light

We’ve all been there.  You’re racing to find a campsite before the sun sets but there’s always one more hill climb, one more mile of difficult terrain, or one more interesting road to explore and then it’s dark.  My family and I are notorious for arriving at camp after dark for one reason or another so good lighting isn’t a convenience for us, it’s a necessity. After scrolling through endless forum threads on which light was best, reading hundreds of reviews on amazon and looking through the local off road shop selection I finally settled on a setup for our 2016 Tacoma.  Sit back and relax as I cover the installation of the mounts, the lights and the wiring.

Mounting Up

You don’t build a house starting with the roof and you don’t select lights for your vehicle without first setting the foundation, your light mounts.  For this project I went with Caliraised LED mounts for a strong, clean and easy installation.  I ordered the ditch light brackets, lower bumper light bar bracket and the relay holder.  Shipping was quick and the finish of the products is fantastic.  These brackets are heavy gauge with a black powder coat finish that was flawless out of the box.  I have no doubt these mounts will hold up for many years to come.

The instructions provided with each bracket are clear and concise, although the grainy black and white photos leave a little to be desired.  The company has a YouTube Channel and a video that covers the installation of the lower bumper bracket specifically. This, along with just a little common sense and basic hand tools, is all you’ll need to get the installation taken care of.  I pulled the truck into the garage and began the process of removing the front grill and mounting the LED bar.

IMG_3138The install video linked above gives you all the info you need so I won’t recap any of that here, but I will add that because I purchased a different LED bar than those offered by CaliRaised I had to modify the bracket that supports the lower bumper and has the hood latch mounted up top.  My light bar would not mount square in the opening of the lower bumper due to clearance issues with this bracket.  A quick cut with a cut off wheel and I was able to bend the front portion of the bracket up and out of the way to allow the light bar to sit flush in the opening.  The bracket still has plenty of strength and this was an easy modification to make.

Foam protecting the paintWith the bumper light bar in place I turned my attention to the ditch light brackets.  Installing these is easier with a helper, but I found a couple of tricks to allow one person to install them.  After protecting the hood and truck body using foam from the LED light bar packaging as the instructions suggested I removed the hinge bolt closest to the front of the hood.  This allowed me to reinstall the bolt through the light bracket without pulling both bolts and worrying about the hood sliding around.  The bolts themselves have a small ridge on them similar to lug nuts that are lugcentric.  This allows the bolts to self center on the holes in the hood and provide a perfect alignment.  With the light brackets in place you’ll lose this self centering so unless you have a helper to hold the hood in place I suggest doing one bolt at a time.

Installing hood bracketI snugged the front bolt down just enough to hold the hood in place and then removed the rear bolt.  I then pivoted the bracket into place and reinstalled the rear bolt.  Doing both sides like this I was able to get the brackets installed in under 10 minutes. With the hood closed to the naked eye it was perfectly aligned left to right.  My digital calipers say there’s 0.5 millimeters worth of difference in the hood gaps on either side, but my OCD doesn’t kick in until 0.7 millimeters so we’re good.  I quickly installed my two light pods on the brackets and loosely routed the wiring under the hood on each side.

The Lights

IMG_3133I’d like to say that I’m independently wealthy and that I rushed out and bought the high dollar Rigid Led light bars, but I’m not and I didn’t.  Rather than spending thousands of dollars on high end lights I waded through tons of forum posts and online reviews and settled on a Mictuning 32″ Cree LED bar and a set of Auxbeam work lights with a flood pattern.  I’ve used some Mictuning products in previous electronics projects and I’ve always been happy with the quality and life of their goods.  Auxbeam was one of a hundred companies peddling LED light pods on Amazon and I went with them based on the positive reviews and the good price they offered for a set of 4 lights.  I plan on using the two additional light pods as backup lights on the trailer.  My goal was not to light up the night but to provide IMG_3143supplementary lighting to fill in the gaps that the factory lighting has.  LED’s currently don’t have the long range throw that a good set of halogen lights has and I wasn’t trying to achieve this.  When selecting your lights make sure you know your expectations and find the best quality within your budget that will fit your needs.

The Wiring

After everything was in place and mounted it was time to tackle the wiring.  Physically installing the lights is always the easy part, the wiring is the time consuming step.  There are harnesses and kits that you can buy, and the Mictuning light bar I purchased came with a pretty good quality harness.  I’m a DIY kind of guy though and I want that custom install look and piece of mind I get from creating the harnesses myself.  I had sourced a 6 fuse auxiliary fuse box, and along with the CaliRaised relay bracket I was determined to create an OEM looking wire harness.

Relay bracketI started by mounting the relay bracket in the stock holes above the fuse box on the drivers side of the engine compartment.  This may seem like a silly bracket, but without it where are you going to be mounting your relays?  Self tapping them into the firewall?  How amateur.  (Full disclosure, I’ve done this in the past.)  I then installed three relays on the bracket and took measurements of how far their supplied wiring harnesses would reach.  This was a set mounting point and the beginning of the wire layout I was forming in my head.

Next up I removed the cover to the factory fuse box and mounted the auxiliary fuse box.  I made sure that none of the screws used to mount it obscured the diagram Toyota prints underneath the cover and double checked the clearance above the OEM fuses and wiring.  I used some 2AWG wire to create a small pig tail from the battery to the new fuse box.  This will be replaced in the future when I install a dual battery system in the truck.  Moving all of the lighting over then will be as simple as running a new 2AWG wire from the fuse box to the secondary battery.  With the relays and fuse box in place it was time to start routing all the under hood wiring.

Wires being pulled through the firewallGetting through the firewall can be challenging in some vehicles, but Toyota has provided one huge grommet in the 2016 Tacoma that’s easily accessible.  After locating it under the dash on the inside of the truck I made a small cut with a razor blade and ran a stiff piece of wire through to use when pulling my new wiring through.  I tallied up that I would need 6 new lines running into the truck: 2 providing 12v to my switches for the lights, 2 bringing 12v from the switches out to the relays, and 2 for some higher amperage USB chargers I was installing.  In the picture to the right you can see the 6 new lines being pulled through the grommet and past the padding that’s present under the carpeting.

Wire loomWith all the lines run inside the cab I returned to the engine bay and wrapped everything in wire loom to protect the wiring and provide a cleaner look.  Wire loom is your friend, especially inside an engine bay of a vehicle that will see miles of vibration across washboard roads.  Always take the time to protect your wiring correctly and it will save you hours of frustration later when you’d otherwise be tracking down wiring shorts from pinched wiring or insulation that has worn off.  With the wiring under the hood safe I returned to the wiring under the dash and did the same.  Behind that posh interior most vehicles have a steel frame supporting the dash and it has quite a few sharp edges just waiting to cut into your new wiring.  With everything wire loomed up I began terminating the connections under the hood to the fuse box, relays and the lights themselves.

Test fitting filler plateI had ordered OEM style switches on Amazon for both the light bar and the light pods.  Unfortunately for me my truck only had one blank switch position to the left of the steering wheel just below a small pocket in the dash.  I decided that I needed to make a new switch panel to house the second button and the USB outlet for the charger I was installing for my dash mounted tablet.  I began by pulling the dash trim apart and gaining access to the panel with the button blank in it.  After removing the panel I installed the light bar switch and began taking measurements to fill the empty pocket with a solid plate.

Creating a switch plateAfter getting the fit just right I began tracing out the exterior outline for the work light switch and little by little with an exacto knife I created an opening for the switch.  There are some commercial products on the market currently that do this same thing, but I decided to forge ahead myself and create my own.  If you’re interested check out the switch panel being offered on Tacomaworld.com.  The creator has uploaded the plans to a site that will 3D print the panel for you in a variety of materials and colors.  If you have a Tacoma without blind spot monitoring you can order a replacement panel for the switch panel below the radio that will add two additional switch blanks.  It is part number 55434-04070-C0 and can be seen here.  I’ll be doing this later when I add switches for an air compressor and possibly a winch.

Switch plateAfter cutting out the switch location and providing an opening for the USB charger I was adding I mounted everything in place.  The USB charger was mounted to the rear of the now covered cubbie and I drilled a hole in the back of the cubbie to access the switch wiring.  I made all the connections to the switches and charger using the wiring I had pulled through the firewall and buttoned everything back up.  The USB chargers I installed are actually devices that step down the 12v from the battery to 5v and supply it at a constant 3 amp rating.  This will rapidly charge cellphones, and will keep my dash mounted tablet charging even when using wifi, gps and keeping the screen constantly on.  While I had things torn apart I added a second one of these inside the rear of the center console.  This will give my back seat occupants charging points since Toyota didn’t even put a standard 12v outlet back there.

So what do you get for all of this work?  This:

Side by side comparison

On the left the photo shows the OEM low beams, fog lights, LED ditch lights and the LED light bar on.  On the right is just the OEM low beams and fog lights.  Running off road in foggy or dusty conditions should be a little safer now too since the oncoming visibility has changed:


Overall I’m very happy with the results.  The ditch lights provide ample light to the left and right where the stock lighting didn’t quite fill in the shadows.  The low mounted light bar provides a larger field of light than the OEM headlights and compliments the stock fog lights nicely.  I’m looking forward to getting out on some forest service roads over the next week and putting these lights to use.

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