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Ask Dave: Why did my brand-new LED lights stop working?

Dear Dave,
I have replaced all my ceiling lights with LED bulbs and they don’t last! They quit working within one outing. What’s wrong? I bought the LED lights at an auto supply store. —Ken, 1986 Cobra w/Ford chassis

Dear Ken,
Not all LED lights are created equal and most of the bulbs offered at auto stores are very inexpensive and designed to only illuminate for a short period of time. We have installed LED bulbs in several units and did quite a bit of research prior to picking M4 Products. I met the owner at the RVIA California Show several years ago and was impressed with his product. He is an avid RVer and got into the LED market after experiencing the same thing you did.

A LED light

Metal vs. paperboard LED lights

Most LED bulbs use the same actual LED “chip” or squares however, the cheaper bulbs have a paperboard housing vs. metal and don’t hold up. One of the main issues with cheap bulbs is they are polarity specific, which means the fixture must be wired correctly or the bulb will burn out. This may sound odd; however, we found more than half of the fixtures in our 1992 Itasca Suncruiser were wired backward! The old incandescent bulbs would illuminate either way. I have witnessed the installation on the line personally. The unit comes down the line with a green and purple wire hanging out of the ceiling or under the cabinet, the person on the line grabs the light fixture, which has a black and white wire. He hooks them up and they work no matter which wire is used.

We used a multimeter on the Suncruiser and, sure enough, all the lights in the ceiling were correct and all the lights under the cabinets were wired opposite! Obviously, two different installers.

I would start with quality LED lights that are not polarity specific and then check your fixtures. With the unit unplugged from shoreline power, use a multimeter set on 12-volt, touch the ground with the black lead, then the socket with the red. If it’s wired correctly, it will read 12.6 volts if the batteries are charged. If it is wired backward, it will read -12.6 volts.


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Ask Dave: LED lights in camper worked at dealership. Why do they now flicker?

Dear Dave,
We recently purchased a 2005 Jayco Jay Series model 1206 “pop-up” camper. The previous owner replaced the ceiling lights with LED bulbs. When we first saw it the lights were bright and steady. It was plugged in to 30-amp service at the dealership and had a 12v deep cycle marine battery attached as well. In our driveway we have it plugged in with a 30-amp extension. The 12v is also attached and fully charged. Both sets of ceiling lights flicker. Hubby is concerned it may be a converter issue, as all was working normally when we bought it. Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated. We have just retired and everything camping is new to us!! Thank you! —Theresa

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Dave Solberg is a leading expert in the RV industry and the author of the “RV Handbook.”

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Tom H.
19 days ago

“Metal vs. paperboard LED lights” I never knew about this! Thanks Dave.

Steve Hericks
19 days ago

It is important to understand the ‘flavor’ of 12V a ‘bulb’ is designed for. There are two standards; ‘Automotive 12V’ and ‘Regulated 12V’.

If the bulb is designed to fit in an automotive socket and replace an incandescent filament (probably fits in a round ‘automotive’ socket), it is likely designed for ‘Automotive 12V’ that experiences voltages ranging from 14.4V (full charging voltage) to 10.5V (fully discharged battery). It will also most likely tolerate forward or reverse polarity (because the incandescent bulbs are not polarized). This will be true of good quality bulbs but any number of cheap bulbs may not meet both requirements (resulting in infant failures).

If the ‘bulb’ is contained in its own fixture and has wire pigtails to attach, it is more than likely designed for residential use with a ‘regulated’ power supply that provides a stable, very near 12VDC (probably 11.5V-12.5V). LEDs designed for regulated 12V power will not survive very long at automotive 12V ranges.

Bob
19 days ago

I have to disagree that bulbs purchased at an auto parts store being low quality. They are designed for all different kinds of conditions. Heat, cold, vibration and constantly being turned on and off. I would be more wary of bulbs purchased on Amazon and Ebay, and most online websites. Do you think that companies like Sylvania and Phillips would be in business if they sold low quality lights?

Gary W Mayberry
18 days ago
Reply to  Bob

More than twenty years ago I worked at a locally owned NAPA auto parts store. At that time we would purchase directly from GE our automotive bulbs. We had to specificly request all our bulbs in our orders to be USA made because they were starting to sell more and more bulbs with their names on them that were being made in Mexico and China and they were junk. Now it is probably very hard to find any brand name bulbs made in USA. Such a shame we have gone that way.

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