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How to Wire 12v LED Strip Lights in a Car

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One less popular yet exciting place that LED strip lights can be installed is in cars. However, being a rarely considered approach, you probably have no idea how to wire the strips. Don’t worry, this guide will help you learn how to wire 12v LED strip lights in a car.

How To Wire 12v Led Strip Lights In a Car

Wiring LED strips lights in your car is not much different from doing it in any other place. So if you installed LED lights before, you should find this guide fairly easy to follow. 

What you Need

The following are the basic materials required when installing LED strips in a vehicle: 

  • 12V cigarette lighter power adapter
  • Digital test meter 
  • Ring terminals
  • A small Phillips screwdriver
  • Scissors
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire nuts
  • Dimmer with a wireless remote
  • LED single color strip lights
  • In-line fuse holder with appropriately sized fuse
Car with LED strip lights

After getting everything you need, follow these steps to wire the LED strips in your car. 

Step One: Determine your Wiring Options 

Depending on which LED sets you buy, you can either get one with a cigarette lighter plug or a direct 12V connection. While it is possible that you will get a LED strip set with a cigarette socket adapter, we recommend that you hardwire the LEDs to the car’s wiring system. This will enable the LEDs to turn off with the ignition instead of manually switching them off.

So if the set comes with the cigarette socket adapter, you should first cut off the cigarette plug adapter then hardwire it to the LED strip light to your car’s wiring system. Otherwise, if your light set is designed for a direct 12V connection, you can hardwire it to a power supply without cutting anything. 

Step Two: Identify the 12V Accessory Wire 

Since you are using 12V LED strip lights, you will need to hardwire it to a matching 12V accessory wire. For the best results, this wire should be able to switch on and off with the ignition. Depending on the make of your car, there are several places where you can find the 12V accessory: 

  • At the back of the car stereo. This will usually be the first option
  • At the Fuse box in the interior of the car
  • At the Cigarette lighter socket wiring

Below is a more detailed description of how to find the 12V accessory wire in your car. 

Identify your Vehicle’s Wiring Color Codes

Contrary to popular belief, all vehicles do not come with standard wiring colors. Usually, wire coloring will depend on your car’s make, model, or year of manufacture. So, how do you identify the appropriate wiring colors for your specific car? 

For starters, you might have to learn the basics of car wiring and be able to read your vehicle’s electrical diagram. 

If that is too much work, you can use sites such as the12volt.com. These are online resources that provide technical information to help you navigate and identify your car’s wiring system. 

Explore your Dashboard Until you Find the Right 12v Wire

If you don’t know what to look for, you can do trial and error until you find the right 12V wire. In this case, you may need to use a digital multimeter. The reason why we recommend this is that, in most modern vehicles, not all wiring is 12v. On top of that, some of these vehicles contain signal lines or maybe some wiring voltages below +12v. 

You can simplify the process by first removing the radio and place the ignition at the ACC position. Then, carefully look at the wire until you find +12v wires. 

Check the Fuse Box

If trial and error doesn’t work, you can try tapping off your fuse box. You can usually trace the fuse box on the left side of the dashboard at the lower-left-hand side of the interior or under the panel in the dashboard itself. 

We recommend that you read the vehicle manual to understand the purpose of each fuse. If you find a fuse for the radio, this will be the perfect option for powering your 12v LED strip lights.

If you can’t get your hands on the manual, you can try using the test meter to check the fuse power. When drawing power from the fuse box, we recommend that you use a fuse wiring adapter to make the whole process easier.

Wiring a 12v led strip lights in car

Step Three: Connect the Wiring

After identifying a reliable source of 12v power, you’ll now need to connect the LED power wire and ground the negative power wire. 

Generally, there are three methods you can take advantage of to complete the connection. These are:

  • Using a 12V cigarette Lighter Power Adapter 
  • Using the existing wiring system
  • Using the car battery 

Method One: Using a 12v Cigarette Lighter Power Adapter 

The first thing you need is to cut off the end connector and strip the cable back for a length that is approximately a quarter of the entire strip, and identify the polarity of each wire. In case you are using a dimmer that has a wireless remote, ensure that the screw is loose for the input terminals and matching of the polarity. 

After that, you can now insert the stripped cable into the power side of the receiver module. To secure the connections, retighten your screws appropriately. If you need to connect the LEDs to the output of the receiver module, then you have to repeat the steps from the beginning.

If you are not using a dimmer with the wireless remote control, group all the positive and negative leads. Then match the polarity to wire from the cigarette adapter. For effective connection, use wire nuts. When you are done with the connection, LEDs will turn on automatically once the vehicle is started and it will continue functioning until the adapter is unplugged from the car

Method Two: Using Existing Wiring System

This method has its benefits since it allows you to power your LED system using the existing interior wiring of a car. This means that you won’t have to add a fuse or any control device. 

Your LED will work automatically if the car has an existing lighting system initially installed by the manufacturer. To make the connection easier, you first have to identify the central lighting source where you will install your cables.

Here is how to identify the central lighting source: 

Select Your Light Source 

The central source of light can either be at the door lights, trunk light, or any other location light in the car. With a lot of care, exposé the wires in the selected light source and identify the specific spot that you need to make the connections. 

Once you have identified the location, you can now cut the cable strippers to expose both the negative and positive leads.

Use a Dimmer with a Wireless Remote

Alternatively, you can use a dimmer with a wireless remote. In this case, ensure that you have a length of 18-22 AWG wire that will help you in tying the wire nuts with both sides of the existing cable. 

After tying, loosen the screw terminals attached to the wireless receiver module. Also, ensure that the polarities from the stripped cable are matching then retighten the screws.

BMW car
Connect Without a Dimmer 

You can as well decide not to use the dimmer. In this case, it becomes easier for you since you are only required to group the entire positive and the negative leads. You then match the polarity with the wires located on the overhead car light and the ones that are situated on the existing electrics. 

Then take the wire nuts and the connection will be complete.

Method 3: Using the Car Battery 

In this method, you make a direct connection to your car battery. You start by cutting off the connection between the positive and negative terminal on the car battery. 

Also, you need to be extra careful to prevent your LED from damage that comes from power fluctuation. Do this by getting yourself an in-line fuse and connect it to the positive terminal before moving to your lights

Just like when using the car’s existing wiring system, you can also decide to use or not to use a dimmer when tapping power from the battery. 

How to Connect with a Dimmer

If you are using a dimmer with a wireless remote, connect your 18-22 AWG wire from your battery to the input of the wireless module receiver. Next, loosen the screw terminals that are attached to the wireless module and retighten the screws. 

Replicate the process and connect the wires from your wire from your LED to the receiver module.

How to Connect without a Dimmer

You can also choose not to use a dimmer with the wireless remote for control. Again, the process is simple; all you need to do is match the polarities from your power cable to the polarity of your LED system. 

You can successfully do the connections by using the wire nuts while connecting both the positive and the negative leads. Also, you can use the power to directly connect to the first screw terminal in the series.

Step Four: Test the LED Strip Lights

Having undergone all the necessary steps, you need to test if the process was successful. First, turn on the vehicle to provide power to your LED lights. Check the controllers and the connections to ensure that they are properly fixed.

Once you are certain the LED strip lights are working properly, remove the adhesive backing on the LED light strips and stick them where you want on your car.

Conclusion

Wiring LED strip lights in your car can be frustrating if you don’t know what to do. The most important thing is to determine your wiring options then choose a reliable power source for the LEDs. Also before sticking the LED lights on your car, test to make sure that they are working as desired. 

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