Light ‘Em Up: Installing Sequential LEDs In A Classic Chevy C10

Although this is going to sound strange, this article is one that was relatively hard to write. I say relatively, because traditionally, the install of parts preceding the article is the hard part. Not so this time. In this instance, the install took less than an hour to complete, and only required the use of a Phillips-head screw driver. Not many products can make that claim.

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Everything you need to install the lights is included, except a Phillips-head screwdriver.

Installing the new United Pacific LED taillight assemblies for the ’73-’87 C10 were just that easy. I know what you’re saying, ‘it’s a taillight assembly, how difficult could an install really get?’. That’s a valid point, but in my experience, when something goes together with relative ease, I take that as a win.

After removing the lens, the "reflector" panel's four screws are removed. Once you have removed the factory bulb housings from the reflector panel (quarter-turn counter-clockwise), they are installed into the UPI panel and it is installed.

Light Emitting Diodes (LED) were first used in automotive taillights on the 2000 Cadillac Deville. Way back then, this new technology, and its benefits, were immediately noticed. LEDs are a great replacement for traditional incandescent bulbs when used as brake lights, because they have a faster rise time than a traditional 1157 bulb. In other words, an LED will reach full illumination 0.2 seconds faster than a standard incandescent bulb. Big whoop, 0.2 seconds is nothing you say. Let’s look at it this way: when a car following you at 60 m.p.h. needs those extra 21-feet of stopping distance afforded by the quicker illumination because you stabbed the brakes, it’ll be noticeable.

Still not sure that split second is worth mentioning? Stand behind a vehicle that has incandescent bulbs in the taillights, and LED bulbs in the third brake light. I’m almost certain you will visibly notice the LEDs light up before the corner bulbs when the brake pedal is pressed.

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The UPI assembly uses factory-style connectors. Simply plug them in like standard 1157 and 1156 bulbs. We should make note that the plug for the factory 194 bulb that created the original side marker light is no longer used. There are LEDs in the assembly for that function.

Another benefit to using LEDs is they consume a fraction of the energy used by a traditional bulb. Unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs will not get hot either. If you have changed taillight lenses because they became brittle and cracked, you can thank heat from the light bulb as a contributing factor.

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The small, 194 bulb that used to be the side marker light is not used anymore (red arrow). Just leave it empty.

Now that I’ve covered the benefits of why LEDs are a great upgrade, I need to mention the real reason to do it – they just look cool and can be manipulated to deliver many visual appearances! Never before has the taillight of a classic Chevy made anyone take a second look. Let’s face it, a taillight is a taillight, unless it has a sequential function that creates movement.

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The UPI assemblies also have an “all on” function. By connecting this yellow wire into the brake light circuit, the LEDs will all come on at once when the brake pedal is depressed.

When I first saw the sequential C10 taillights at the UPI booth at SEMA, I was like a literal moth to a flame. “We created these LED tail lights for the ’73-’87 C10, so we could bring C10 owners a unique touch to customize their classic truck,” said Jai Baek, marketing and creative director for United Pacific Industries. These assemblies definitely do that.

As I mentioned, the install was simple and straight-forward, and if you have a screwdriver, you can do this. The UPI assemblies screw in place of the original units and require no cutting, welding, fabricating, bloodshed, or use of verbal assaults.

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This switch also affords you the option of not utilizing the sequential feature for the turn signals. Flip the switch one way, and you have sequential turn signals. Flip it the other way, and you have all on function.

One thing you do need to understand is that your factory-original flasher module is likely not compatible with LED lights. It will not allow the light to function correctly. This happens, because, an LED bulb consumes a very small amount of electrical current as compared to an incandescent bulb. The factory turn signal flasher is a “thermal unit” that was designed for incandescent bulbs. When you activate turn indicators, the current used to light of the bulb will create heat as it flows through the flasher. This heat causes the flasher’s bi-metal switch to deform, breaks the circuit, and the light goes out. After the light goes out, the switch cools and returns to its original contact position and the lights come on again, and the cycle continues.

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Use of LED lights will require the use of an electronic flasher, available from UPI. I also needed to use the included polarity-reversing adapter that comes with the flasher.

When using an LED that does not create heat, the amount of power going through the switch is very little. In fact, there is not enough heat generated in the flasher to cause the bi-metal switch to break contact. A common symptom of this is that your turn signal lights simply stay on and do not blink. To keep this from happening, UPI also has an electronic flasher unit that is also necessary to install during this upgrade.

The pictures really don't show how cool the sequential taillight function really is. Check out the video at the top of this article to get the full effect.

If you are planning to upgrade the rear lighting of your hot rod – be it a C10, Chevelle, Nova, or other classic, check out the United Pacific website to see just how you can the accessories you need do this and other simple upgrades.

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About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
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