Install: D-Max Tail Lights

These tail lights had been sitting in their box for about a year. Just over a year, in fact. They weren’t waiting to go on the S15 for the first time though, but to go back on for good. Confused yet?

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If we rewind to last summer, you may recall that the S15 briefly ran a set of smoked, LED D-Max tail lights. They didn’t stay on the car because the smoked finish ended up being considerably more smoked in person than I’d expected and I wasn’t the biggest fan. The OEM tail lights returned before long and I ordered another set – not smoked this time – to replace them.

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D-Max makes a few different versions of tail lights for these cars and after much debate between the style you see here and another, I ordered….the other. But these arrived instead. I was in touch with the retailer and upon realizing the mistake they offered me the choice to either return these for the set I wanted, or take the cost difference and keep these. Looking at them in person I decided I was more than okay with keeping these (I suppose in the end I really did like both versions equally) and so that was settled. Off to install them, I went.

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And that’s when one of these little pests broke. These lights, instead of featuring a full replacement harness (since only the running/brake lights are LED, the turn and reverse lights use the original bulbs), plug into the OEM harness effectively just replacing the bulbs with the new LED boards. So, with one of these connectors broken, that half of the LED board wouldn’t work. I knew exactly what I had to do to fix this – and knew it wouldn’t be the biggest task in the world – but I just got fed up at this point and put the tail lights away to deal with another time.

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Fast-forwarding to last fall, David ended up buying my original smoked D-Max lights and in trade for the price being lowered a bit was able to provide a donor set of OEM tail lights complete with harnesses, for me to then use for the repairs. Thanks again David!

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I certainly enjoyed the look of the original lights on the car but another stab at installing these was certainly overdue, so this week I pulled everything out of storage and started with removing the harnesses from the donor OEM tail lights.

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In essence the fix was going to be as simple as cutting off the plugs and wiring the LED boards directly to the OEM harnesses, with the only real trick being to figure out which wire connected to which as – ground aside – they were different colours. However, there was one not-so-unimportant detail to address along with this, and that was sealing off the holes on the D-Max units where the OEM plugs would slot in. After all, water and dirt getting inside these would not be ideal…

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The solution was easy enough however; the OEM plugs were disassembled, gutted, and slotted into place on the D-Max lights. The new wiring was then run through the original rubber seals/caps/thingamajigs which were slid back into place, and will now keep the guts of the lights protected from the outside world.

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Before any of this though I had done quick twist-together connections to test the wiring and figure out what went to what, so with the plugs in place I was able to get right to soldering all of the connections and covering them in heatshrink. Incidentally, the OEM-to-D-Max wiring went like this, in case you find yourself in the same situation:

Green with white stripe to Green

Green with yellow stripe to Red

Black to Black

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At this stage the lights were now functional and ready to throw on the car, but I couldn’t leave the 20 year old wiring looking like 20 year old wiring. All of the original tape was removed from each harness before new was applied. I didn’t aim to replicate the factory’s original tape (this isn’t some chalk mark restoration) and you can see I took a slightly different approach with the second light as compared to the first, but now it all looks much nicer and is sealed with new tape instead of old, gummy, falling-apart tape.

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D-Max kindly includes amber turn signal bulbs with the lights as the new clear turn signals require them, so I’m using those for the time being until some LEDs inevitably make their way in. I did transfer over the LED reverse lights I’d previously fitted to the OEM lights however.

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With those in, it was now time to pop the lights in for good. The tail lights are secured with 4 nuts each, accessible by pulling back the trunk carpeting. One connector ties each light to the body harness, and feeds through the large hole in the rear panel of the car.

Side note, before someone bugs me: yes, I still need to fit LEDs to my license plate lights. The housings are actually so shallow I’ve had a bit of trouble finding LEDs to fit without hitting the lenses. I also still need to center my license plate – Doug and I will be machining a bracket at some point for that, it’s on our jobs-to-do list.

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With everything in, verified as working, and the garage somewhat cleaned up, it was off to bed for me. The next evening was the N/A meet and I was excited to bring the car out to see how the lights really looked, when I could not only stand further back but also see them in the light.

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I think these lights have proven to be just right for the car. They modernize it that little bit while not being so modern that they look out of place, and they fit well with the look I’m going for.

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The look of the LEDs is hard to beat, and the turn signals especially are extremely visible too. An interesting design element of the D-Max units is that the reverse light is moved up top to make way for a wider running/brake light beneath, but still earns a bit more real estate in the housing itself. The fact that the split between the turn signal and reverse light lines up with the trunk/quarter panel seam is just nice attention to detail too.

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With the only notable changes to the back end of the car being the OEM spats and now the lights, I’m quite pleased with the impact they’ve had and am largely set on leaving that area of the car as you see it now. It’s no secret that these lights can be found on many S15s the world over (locally, Giuseppe runs them on his and both Lowcals David as well as David who gave me the OEM lights had them on theirs) but it’s easy to see why. They just work, visually.

And now mine do too, functionally.


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