Guide to buying LED bulb replacements for turn and rear signals

Vishnu Suresh
Mar 30, 2016 · 5 min read

Many people have had great success replacing the stock halogen turn bulbs on their vehicle with LED replacements. But there are some key pieces of information that need to be addressed, before the replacement can be done. Should one buy the LEDs locally, or online? What type of LED do I buy? What color? Hopefully this short write-up will help answer some of these questions, and add to my previous posts on using LED bulbs.

Buying LED Bulbs Online

Generally, across all consumer goods categories, the advent of online shopping has revolutionized the entire experience. It is my humble opinion that buying online is the best source for your LED needs. I’ve listed some examples :-

Super Bright LEDs

Motorcycle LED lights

Custom Dynamics

You can also, of course, buy specific LEDs from your choice of or as well. There are many good sources for LED bulbs. I specifically would like to call out ‘JDM A Star’, a retailer on Amazon, who consistently stock high quality LED bulbs. I have purchased all my LED bulbs over the last 2 years through them.

Buying LED Bulbs Locally

I’ve found that Wal-Mart tends to stock some of these LED bulbs (both 1156 & 1157 sockets) . I am sure that auto stores (Auto Zone, Advanced Auto Parts, etc) locally might also have these in stock, at retail locations. So If one wants to buy them locally, it’d be best to call up and enquire.

However, the key problem when buying from Wal-Mart /local store Is that you’d need to make sure it’s the latest technology bulb, and not an older version. How can you do this? The LED I used, bought from JDM A Star on Amazon, had 144 SMDs! I’m not sure you’d get this from a local store :( that is my major concern buying locally. Wal-Mart or another store could order these in for you, and you’d have to call them up to check availability.
How to choose a bright LED bulb (and what are SMDs?)

Most modern LED bulbs have a # of SMDs. The SMD (Surface Mounted Diode) is the little square diode you see on an LED bulb. The higher the # of SMDs , the more output on them. We’d like to get these higher output ones. LEDs may also have a projector lens at the front.

Example of low SMD count LED (older, probably less output in general…cheaper)

Example of an older/smaller LED bulb

Below is an example of a newer LED bulb type, more SMDs, likely more light output and powerful

Projector lens on LEDs (the JDM A Star 144 SMD bulb, with the lens projector visible)

Also, the LEDs with more SMDs tend to be longer in length too. So one needs to make sure you these can be properly used in your particular ride. Generally they fit most bikes. Some unlucky bikes might have too tight a space, so use the respective manual/measure the space length available. The positive side is that most online retailers (especially Amazon) offer free returns.

A size comparison of my V Strom stock 1156 halogen turn bulb, vs the Amber LED replacement I installed

As you can see, the LED I used, bought from JDM A Star on Amazon, had 144 SMDs!
The Amazon-sourced LED Amber 1156 bulb I bought. It has a high # of SMDs :)

If you can get a similar number of SMDs from your chosen source, that’s great! As of early 2016, the 144 SMD count LED bulbs seem to be the latest tech. But even if SMDs are lower in count, you might get a brighter output (there are 48 SMD bulbs that are fantastic and much brighter than stock bulbs)

Also, make sure the right socket is in play. Two wire solutions are generally 1156 sockets, while three wire (rear tail brake combined) bulbs are 1157 sockets.

Different types of sockets

You can use this handy tool to lookup info on your vehicle. Please also confirm/verify with your vehicle’s manual!
Phillips Auto light — Bulb Finder

Types of sockets : 2 wire & 3 wire

You need to choose the color you need based on the output, not based on the bulb housing! What I mean by this is, that if you’re buying turn bulbs, get Amber bulbs. It doesn’t matter of your lens housing is Amber or clear. You might be tempted to buy white bulbs if you’ve Amber/Red bulb lens housing…. Please do not :) . The physics of light and how colors work, guides us to buying the color you wish to see.

How to choose color of LED | Does my Lens Housing Color Matter?

An Amber housing absorbs all other colors except Amber…. If you’ve a while LED rated for 5W, then only the Amber sub-component of that 5W light output is being transmitted by your housing. We don’t want that !

If you instead use an Amber LED bulb rated for 5W, then all that 5W output gets transmitted out through the Amber housing. This is what we need! More light, better! So always buy the bulb based on your need, not based on the housing lens color.

Hope this helps anyone trying to update their motorcycle/car/truck lights to LEDs.

Please feel free to bring any corrections or updated additional info if you have any. I’d humbly appreciate your feedback! :)




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Vishnu Suresh

Written by

Paleo Certified Health Coach | LGBTQ Alliance | Motorcyclist | Rock Climber | Afrobeats & Latin Dances | Humanist & Spiritual Atheist | Amateur Photographer


Sharing my humble opinion on subjects that excite yours truly — Paleo lifestyle, LGBTQ & Civil rights, secular spirituality, motorcycling, outdoor activities, entrepreneurism, podcasting!

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