BoatingLAB Tests: Trailer Lights

We pit LED versus incandescent bulb lights in a trailer lights shootout.

I can’t tell you how many of my fishing trips were delayed by faulty trailer lights. I dread the evil “Easter egg hunt” for a ground short or a broken connection. When the lights flicker, so does my temper. You can minimize a lot of hassle if you give these lights consideration next time your bulb burns out or you accidentally crush a taillight on the neighbor kid’s trike.

Our hypothesis: LED lights are more reliable today, and that has been proven so, what with LED life cycles of 100,000 hours. LEDs use less power, putting less strain on the rest of the vehicle’s electrical system. While we were prepared to reject incandescent lights, we found some with perfectly watertight bulb and socket pods that should give a long life.

Trailer Lighting Requirements
Canadian and U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for trailer lighting are equal. On each side of a trailer, drivers are required to display at least one amber side-clearance light ahead of the front axle, a red side-clearance behind the axle, and tail, turn and stop lights. They’ll also need an illuminator for the trailer plate and a center light bar of three red lights on the end of the trailer. They can skip the latter for a trailer under 80 inches wide. Luminosity is allowed to vary broadly, but our test lights are certified to meet minimum to maximum limits.


How We Tested
We wanted to see which lights were brightest in the belief that bright is better and in the knowledge that our lights were certified to fall within minimum and maximum levels. We also wanted to know which drew the most current and how each fared when submerged.

Brightness: We measured lumens at 15 feet with a light meter and scored 3, 2 or 1 for the overall brightest to the dimmest lights.

Power Misers: We measured current draw and scored each light, giving a 3 to the least draw and a 1 to the most. Incandescent lights drew about 100 times the current. Your truck would probably start two days later if you left your LED trailer lights on — they are that frugal.


Corrosion: Resistance Tinned wire is a great feature for added corrosion protection, and we scored lights that use it with 3 points.

Watertight: All LEDs are electronic devices and must be protected from contact with water. If the test lights were watertight, they received 3 points.

Quick Draining: Though all of our lights were waterproof, some would absorb water through the Fresnel. We gave 3 points to the watertight lights and 2 to the fastest draining submersibles.


Total Score = 15 possible points.

50080290 Rectangular LED Kit with Wiring


Product includes: Driver- and passenger-side taillights; tinned wiring; plug; connectors.


Product lacks: Sidelights; center taillight (both required for trailers wider than 80 inches).

Product highlights: Bright LED array is highly visible. The watertight potted LED pod is protected inside the Fresnel housing. All hardware is stainless steel.

Best application: Freshwater or saltwater trailering. Low amperage draw spares the vehicle’s power system.

Downside: Impressed by Wesbar’s watertight Fresnel housing, SeaSense chose a different tack, shielding a watertight light pod behind the Fresnel. The Fresnel drains quickly and the design may actually provide added protection to the LEDs.

52722-5 Rectangular LED Taillight


Product includes: License-plate ­illuminator; side-clearance, stop, turn and taillight equipment.

Product lacks: Waterproof connectors; sidelights; center taillight; wiring.

Product highlights: It was proved watertight in our dunk tank. We tested a single light but kits are available from Grote.

Best application: This product serves as a handy driver-side taillight replacement — admit it, you’ve backed into a tree or hydrant before. It is watertight, making it ideal for saltwater use.

Downside: Grote’s watertight housing was durable, but we cut it open and found the LED electronics unprotected by potting and vulnerable to water if cracked. Also, it lacked LED reflectors to intensify the light, accounting for its low score.

60521 Square LED Kit


Product includes: Wiring; two LED taillights; license-plate bracket; two amber side-clearance lights.

Product lacks: Water-resistant connectors; stainless-steel hardware; sidelights; center taillight.

Product highlights: This was the only kit to include side-clearance lights — most were optional. For use on 80-plus-inch trailers, a center taillight is required.

Best application: For use with dry land trailers only.

Downside: The HaulMaster light leaked through the wiring and Fresnel gasket into the light chamber, making the LED panel vulnerable to water damage. What appeared to be potting around the wiring was hot glue and it didn’t seal. It’s not submersible in our book.

TLL160RK Rectangular LED Kit/Pair


Product includes: Wiring; license-plate bracket; stainless-steel hardware.

Product lacks: Watertight Ancor heat-shrink connectors; sidelights; center light.

Product highlights: Optronics’ LED lights feature a watertight, potted, ­polymer LED pod protected inside the Fresnel and housing.

Best application: Freshwater trailering or RV trailers; they lacked the corrosion-resistant, life-extending tinned wire we prefer for saltwater use.

Downside: Boat trailers — and boats — should be wired with tinned wire. These lights were not. That can be mitigated, however, by making all connections watertight with Ancor heat-shrinking watertight connectors.

TL16RK Rectangular Incandescent Kit/Pair


Product includes: Driver-side light with license-plate illuminator; passenger-side light; wiring; hardware; connectors.

Product lacks: Watertight Ancor heat-shrink connectors; tinned wire; sidelights; center taillight.

Product highlights: A watertight bulb pod safely inside the Fresnel completely protects the bulb from water — a feature that will greatly extend the life of the lighting system, making it a good buy.

Best application: Freshwater trailering or RV trailers; it lacked the life-extending tinned wire for saltwater use.

Downside: Incandescent bulbs pass rigorous high-vibration shock testing, but bulbs still last only a few thousand hours instead of 100,000 hours for LEDs.

407560 LED Low-Profile Taillight Kit


Product includes: Wiring; stainless-steel hardware; license-plate bracket; driver-side taillight with license-plate illuminator; passenger-side taillight.

Product lacks: Side-clearance lights; center taillight (both required for trailers wider than 80 inches).

Product highlights: Totally watertight with tinned wire for better corrosion protection. Taillight connector plugs are greased for added protection. The electronics aren’t potted but they are doubly protected by a waterproof housing and a tough-to-crack inner light pod.

Best application: Saltwater or freshwater marine trailering application.

Downside: Why not supply silicone-sealed butt connectors ­— or perhaps heat-shrink connectors?