LED (light-emitting diode) lights...aren't those what are being used more and more for traffic signals? And as taillights? Well, sure, you've probably seen scads of LED taillights-on the back end of big rigs and transit busses. But on a Corvette?
Hey, why not? Thousands of C5 owners have swapped out their stock, red lights for the units GM puts on European/export models. These are the lights with either a yellow or a white crescent at the bottom of the lens. There's no particular advantage to installing a set of Euro lights on a C5, except that they give the car a slightly different, rather distinctive look.
There are some distinct advantages to LED lights. In the right applications-like Corvettes-LED lights look cool. They look, well, high tech. And once you get beyond the gee-whiz factor, LED tail, stop, and turning lights, with their seemingly retina-piercing intensity, really do make your car show up better. Unlike incandescent bulbs (like the no. 3057 bulbs used in C5 taillights), which take fractions of a second to light up or shut off, LEDs are instant-on/instant-off. Having something that might just catch an errant motorist's attention a split second or two sooner in an emergency could very well make the difference between a close call and a badly wounded C5-not to mention the harm that could be inflicted upon said C5's occupant(s) if the car takes a hard whack on its hind quarters. LEDs also use substantially less energy than do equivalent incandescent bulbs. An incandescent bulb creates light through heat being generated by electricity being conducted through a filament, and they are fragile and burn out on a regular basis. An LED makes its light from the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material. LEDs don't make a lot of heat, are more efficient, and don't burn out.
All it takes is someone to come up with the necessary funds to develop the units for a specific application, and then tool up for production. LED units don't always just slip inside an existing light housing. Most taillight lenses, Corvettes included, have elaborately designed patterns molded in to act as reflectors of outside light beams and to diffuse and refract the light from incandescent bulbs within the unit. Because of the nature of LED units, the refractive lens is not wanted or needed; to be DOT compliant, a portion of the lens, usually a ring around the outer edge, must be reflective. LED conversions for C5s require an entirely new taillight housing; late ('91-96) C4s and all ZR-1s retain the original housing and replace the stock lens and bulb with a special LED lens and LED lighting panel that fits flush to the lens.
Adjure, Inc. has developed and is marketing DOT-approved LED taillight assemblies for C5s. We recently installed a set of Adjure's new LED taillights (PN CV103-4) on our Light Pewter Metallic '00 coupe, along with their diamond-cut red lens side marker lights (PN CV103SM-R) and custom chrome-with-diamond-cut-lenses Back-Up Light Plate (PN CV103BU). The taillight units are direct replacements for the OEM lights, but require a supplemental solid-state, electronic flasher and "pigtail" harness, which are supplied with the kit. The supplemental flasher is needed because LED lamps draw so little amperage that the OEM flasher "thinks" that a light is burned out; the additional, electronic flasher and harness, in effect, fool the stock flasher into sensing the proper level of amps. The stock flasher is located within the dash panel. On most C5s, installing Adjure's flasher and harness entails little more than reaching up between the carpet and the bottom of the dash on the driver's side of the tunnel, finding the harness with the foam-wrapped flasher, pulling it out, and installing the new pigtail and extra flasher. The exact locale varies depending on the model year and from car to car, and, occasionally, one pops up that can give the installer fits. Our '00 coupe turned out to be one of those anomalies, and we ended up needing to pull the console, center and driver's side instrument panel facings, the instrument cluster, and the climate control unit and radio out to locate the (bleeping) flasher.
The diamond-cut side markers are direct replacements for the stockers. We found it easiest to access the two retaining nuts on each side marker light by removing an outer taillight and reaching through the hole in the bumper with a ratcheting 11-millimeter box wrench or a 1/4-inch drive ratchet and 11-millimeter socket. The light bulb is removed from the stocker and popped into the diamond-cut unit before it's fit in place. The custom back-up light plate is even easier to swap-remove the license plate, unfasten the four bolts holding the stock panel in place, pull it away from the car and remove the light bulb on each side, then reverse the procedure with the Adjure diamond-cut plate.
The result of our labors was a subtle but distinctive change in the coupe's appearance (the jeweled effect of the LED taillights is even apparent when the lights are off) and greatly enhanced visibility. In a sea of red light, the LEDs really stand out, and the diamond-cut back-up lights create a lot more light than did the stock light setup-which is especially helpful if backing up in an unlit area at night. And they do look cool!