Hell Yeah I Painted My Headlights Yellow

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I’ve wanted yellow fog lights on my truck forever. I finally attempted to realize my dream, screwed up a lot, screwed up some more, and eventually triumphed. Come along and ride on this fantastic voyage with me.

Yellow fog lights were first made popular by French cars, nationally mandated over there in the 1930s, introduced to me by JDM tuner cars in the 2000s, and have been looking awesome since forever.

My 1975 International Scout’s previous owner had a set of round fog lights already wired up and mounted to the truck’s front bumper. I figured swapping those for some yellow ones would be a cinch.

In hindsight, that assumption was idiotic. Nothing is a cinch.

What I learning about installing painted lights.

Besides the fact that my truck now looks awesomer than ever, I have a few big takeaways from painting and installing an extra set of headlights correctly:

  • Hand-drawing a copy of a wiring diagram really helps you understand it and find it less intimidating. Try that if you’re having trouble deciphering one.
  • Spray-painting for this kind of job loves to be applied with a whole bunch of thin coats. When you’re not sure what that means, just do the thinest coat you can apply until you’re happy.
  • Don’t dismiss wandering down random hardware store aisles for project inspiration. Who knew I’d find a headlight mount in the fence section?
  • Crimp all your wiring connections correctly and give them all a test-tug to make sure they’re not going to separate mid-project (or mid-drive.)
  • Be real careful around metal tools and electrified wires.
  • Be super careful when you’re trying to reverse-engineer a previous owner’s home-done switch wiring. Or consider bypassing it altogether and starting over.

On to the saga.

Stage One: Learning yellow fog lights don’t really exist

Yeah, there might be some fancy European ones you can order, but hours of searching auto parts stores and the internet netted zero buyable yellow fog lights for me. I did end up ordering some amber ones, but no. They were for turn signals on snow plows, a far cry from the cool vintage look I was going for.

Stage Two: Learning how to change the color of white lights

There are a few ways to tint light lenses. You could use a film (challenging if the lens surface is curved, like they are on round incandesent sealed-beam bulbs) or you could use paint. Then there are multiple ways to paint a headlight lens.

There’s the good and correct way, where you paint the inside of the lens and use a clear coat, as laid out by this comprehensive article on all-things yellow light, or you could buy a can of glass paint and just hit the lens with a bunch of coats until you get the hue you want. I opted for the latter.

Stage Three: Over-accessorizing and breaking my first set of fog lights

“Yellow lights are going to look so cool,” I said to my steering wheel on the way to the hardware store to pick up some Krylon Stained Glass Canary Yellow, which was recommended for headlight tinting purposes by the Driving While Awesome Instagram account.

“But caged yellow headlights, oh hell yeah that would look wicked.”

I had already done lots of research on where to get light cages, from the one time I thought about doing it to my Suzuki GS450 motorcycle. The clear answer was plastic gutter guard, stretched over the lens and secured by the headlight housing. At about $2.00 per 10-foot role, I could make like 50 headlight cages for pennies a piece.

Back home with my hardware store treasures, I took my fog light housing apart to do the test fitting. The plan was to just plop the grille over the lens and let the frame hold it in place. Then I lost the frame that secures the lens in said housing. Without it, my fog lights were useless.

Stage Four: Might as well buy some brighter fog lights anyway

After a temper tantrum and several search attempts, I was inspired to revisit my light project weeks later when I saw a beautiful pair of 100-watt halogen fog lights with chrome housing on sale at O’Reilly Auto Parts.

They looked extremely 1970s, and would fit my truck’s aesthetic perfectly. I picked them up, test fitted them to the bumper, and realized they were way too big to fit in the little space my old PAR46 lenses would have gone.

Stage Five: Inventing a mounting system

My giant new lights introduced a new problem: How was I going to fit these monsters in the small space between my winch and battering ram bumper piece? The question vexed me for days, and I scoured auto parts stores and hardware stores looking for a mount that would be both long enough to get the light out of the way and be strong enough to not wobble and also still look cool.

Are you seeing a pattern here? I spend a lot of time walking around auto parts and hardware stores.

I found salvation at Orchard Supply Hardware, a fancy home supply store that has recently opened a location between my house and Home Depot. I’ve been going there often.

A weighty slab of shiny steel with a curved edge and three holes in it, intended for use as a barn door hinge by the way, fit my purpose perfectly and was bolted onto my bumper by me. Like, oddly perfectly. Not only do these hinges hold my giant lamps in just the right spot, but the middle hole was right where it needed to be for the lamp’s chrome wire loom to be tucked in to.

I used one hole to bolt the hinge to an existing mounting point on the bumper, and had to bore out the headlamp-mounting hole a little. But my Harbor Freight power drill and sacrificial bits were up to the task.

Stage Six: Oh yeah, back to light painting.

Turns out, painting a light lens is hella easy. The housing came right apart, I taped off the edges, and hit both my fog lights with about ten light coats of Krylon. I let them dry for days before laying the plastic cage on top of it and reassembling the lamp, which was a huge pain, because the housing didn’t want to go together all that easily with the plastic gutter guard in its joints.

But after a little squeezing and swearing, I triumphed.

Stage Seven: Relays, or how not to burn your truck down, or, hey, let’s learn about proper wiring. 

I was ecstatic when I saw the lights, yellowed and caged, on the front of the truck. It looked exactly like I’d always imagined it! All I had to do was wire them up and flick them on.

“I should probably check the previous owner’s wring first,” I said to nobody in my dark and dank garage.

The lights had been wired simply: just one line from the battery to a switch in the dash and back to the bulbs. If you Google “how to wire high-wattage fog lights,” as I did, you’ll learn that this is bad.

Forum warnings about “way too much wattage running through a switch” and “burning the truck down” lead me to learning about relays. Relays take the load of power-hungry accessories away from weak switches, and apparently I needed one.

That meant I also need a bunch of decent-gauge wiring (ugh) electrical connectors (ugh) and a new fuse (why didn’t I just pay somebody to do this?).

Setting up a relay is straightforward, but I was intimidated by this technology I didn’t understand. I googled the science behind the relay itself, and I recommend you do too if you’re curious, but I actually got over my fear of wiring one thanks to hand-drawing the diagram before laying wires. It really helped me get an earnest grasp of what I had to do.

I also hemmed and hawed over where to put it in the engine bay, and which color wires and connectors to use. I dithered so desperately that the project took half a day. A few times I even got to make sparks fly by touching metal to something charged. I screamed like a startled parrot.

Stage Eight: Eventual triumph

I hated wring that stupid relay so much. Why did my connector crimps keep falling apart? Why couldn’t I find a good place to ground? Why do I have to drill a hole in my engine bay metal?

I was so sweaty and frustrated that I didn’t even want to test my switch when I was done. If I flicked it and the lights didn’t work, my self-loathing would spike dangerously. So I just went back upstairs to crack a beer and vented my rage on video games like the petulant child I become when I have to spend hours underground.

The next day, I had made peace with my frustrations and would be able to accept failure. But lo, I didn’t have to! The lights freaking worked!

See, dear reader? You too could enjoy this emotional roller coaster yourself, if you just follow my useful steps.

Now I just need to beautify my wiring with some loom and I’ll be ready for my next saga. Will it be painting my rear bumper, building myself a center console, or detailing my engine bay? Find out next time I post a bunch of incoherent ramblings about wrenching.