Selecting LED Bulbs for Your Gauge (Instrument) Cluster
We often receive customer requests for assistance selecting bulbs for instrument clusters for which we do not offer a premade LED conversion kit. In order to respond to those requests, we have prepared the following guidelines. Please note that these are general guidelines and are designed to provide information that provides the best results for the average gauge cluster.
Identifying Your Bulb Type
The first step in selecting LED bulbs for your instrument cluster is identifying the type of LED bulbs your gauge cluster uses. If your vehicle uses the 194/168 type or the metal based BA9S bulbs like 1895 or 1445, then we can provide LED and SMD products to meet you lighting needs. If you need to cross reference your factory installed incandescent bulb part number, please check out our Bulb Conversion Charts for assistance.
Determine the Bulb Purpose
Gauge clusters use lights for two general purposes: 1) Illumination of the Gauges and 2) Indicator and Warning Lamp Illumination. The type of LED bulb that you need should be based on the purpose of the bulb in the gauge cluster and how the cluster uses the light from the bulb.
Instrument Illumination Bulbs
Vintage American made vehicles generally use a backlighting method that places the bulbs behind the gauges and requires the light to "bounce" off the walls of the gauge cluster housing to reach the face of the gauges. As a result, the best bulbs for lighting these types of gauge clusters are bulbs that emit light from the sides. Our specially designed 5SMD (15 LEDs) and 5XS (7 LEDs) bulbs were designed with gauge cluster lighting in mind and are the best bulbs you can buy for that purpose. We highly recommend using either the 5SMD bulbs or our 5XS bulbs for your gauge cluster lighting. The 5SMD bulb is by far the best bulb for lighting the gauges, but either bulb does the job well. In addition, using the 5SMD bulbs, will also help to retain proper dimmer function on the headlamp switch. Here are links to those bulbs:
|194 Type 5SMD Bulbs||BA9S Base 5SMD Bulbs|
|194 Type 5XS SMD Bulbs||BA9S Base 5XS SMD Bulbs|
Selecting the color
As for the color, if you want to preserve the factory appearance, the warm white bulbs are the same color light produced by an incandescent bulb. They produce a white light with a very slight yellow tint. The cool white bulbs produce a white light with a very slight blue tint. In other words, they are just two different shades of white light.
Of course, nothing prevents you from changing the color of the light in the cluster. If you prefer a green or blue light, simply select the bulb that you like. It can always be changed back with little effort.
Warning and Indicator Lamp Bulbs
For the other bulbs in your cluster, we would recommend that you use a different type of bulb, as the bulbs above may be too bright to be used as warning or indicator lamps. Ford ht purposes of instrument lighting, it is always best to match the color of the LED to the lens that you are illuminating. In other words, if you are lighting a green turn signal, a green LED light bulb will work better than a white light. The same goes for red warning lamps. Using a red LED bulb will provide better more even color and better contrast compared to the rest of the instrument panel. The best bulbs for this purpose are our single SMD bulbs which contain 3 LEDs per bulb and distribute their light in a 140 pattern. Here are links to those bulbs:
|194 Type SMD Bulbs||BA9S Base SMD Bulbs|
Alternative (Economy) Lighting Options
While the bulbs above are our recommendation, there are some economy choices for those who want to convert to LEDs and are less concerned with light output and more concerned with a lower cost option. Our recommended bulbs all use the newer SMD technology, but some customers are satisfied with the older LED technology. The following bulbs use that older type of LEDs.
Economy Instrument Illumination Bulbs
Our 5X LED bulbs have been around a long time. We have carried them for over ten years and they still remain a popular bulb with our customers. While newer bulbs have begun to replace them, many customers are satisfied with the slightly lower light output in exchange for the lower cost. Each of these bulbs contains 5 LEDs that face in different directions for even lighting in an instrument cluster. They usually work with the dimmers, if other bulbs on the circuit remain incandescent. Here is a link to those bulbs:
|194 Type 5X Bulbs||BA9S Base 5X Bulbs|
Economy Warning and Indicator Lamp Bulbs
Our single LED bulbs each contain a single LED per bulb. They come in two varieties, Inverted Lens and Round Lens design. Each of these bulbs designed for a specific purpose. The inverted bulb directs its light to the sides, while the round lens bulb projects its light form the end of the bulb. When using these bulbs, it is important to consider how the light is produced and match that to your lighting application. To make this easier, we break instrument lights into two typical types, Warning Lamps and Turn Signals. Keep in mind that it is always best to match the color of the LED to the lens that you are illuminating. In other words, if you are lighting a green turn signal, a green LED light will work better than a white light. The same goes for red warning lamps. Using a red LED bulb will provide better results.
For Warning Lamps, we have found that the best economy bulb 95% of the time is our inverted LED bulb. Here are, links to those bulbs:
|194 Type Inverted LED Bulbs||BA9S Base Inverted LED Bulbs|
In contrast, we find that the Turn Signals as well as many high beam indicator lights, most often benefit from the use of a round LED bulb. That said, the inverted design would provide suitable results as well. In the majority of the gauge clusters we have tested, there is only a slight difference between the results of the two designs for turn signals. As a rule, if the bulbs are directly centered behind the turn signal lenses in the cluster, then use the round lens bulbs. If the bulbs are offset to the lenses, then we would recommend using the inverted bulbs instead. Here is a link to the round bulbs:
|194 Type Round LED Bulbs||BA9S Base Round LED Bulbs|
You may notice that the design of the bulbs for the turn signals and warning lamps are constructed with single LED per bulb. In most vehicles, these lights are not a serious problem that requires a significant increase in brightness.