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F150 Lighting Overview (2018-2020)

By:  Connor MC  / Jun 17 2019
F150 Lighting Overview (2018-2020)

Why upgrade the lighting on your F150? Well, first off, who doesn't like to see better at night outside, or have improved interior lighting as well? Given the utilitarian nature of the F150, having some extra lights pointed in front and towards the bed will help navigating treacherous terrain and when unloading and loading the truck in low visibility conditions. Halogen lighting is old, tried, and true. Most recently, HID and LED lighting systems are what dominant the market, both of which provide better visibility and are more efficient.

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Having the right lights improve safety and provide personality to your F150. Make sure your truck is equipped with the right lights to get the job done.

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What are HIDs?

High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, also commonly referred to as xenon lights, have been around for a while. Originally introduced on luxury vehicles, HID lights are found in many different vehicles today and can be ordered from the factory as an upgrade on all late model (2014 ) F150 pickups. Sealed inside a quartz capsule, xenon gas is excited by an electric arc between two electrodes, producing a very bright and powerful light – considerably brighter than a regular halogen bulb. Electricity is provided via supplementary ballasts that produce the necessary voltage to create the arc and excite the xenon molecules. 

F150 2009-2014 LED Headlights
2009-2014 LED Headlights

 What “LED” Stands For

Light emitting diodes (LED) have become the latest rage, not only in the automotive world, but in global lighting supply chains. Bright and efficient, LEDs are a semiconductor device that produce light by the flow of electrons between a negative and positive layer. As the electrons move, they emit photons of light that are visible to the eye. In comparison to a halogen bulb, an LED produces a much whiter and brighter light. With manufacturing techniques progressing rapidly and cost coming down, LED looks to be lighting the future.

F150 2015 DRL Headlights
2015 Projector Headlights w/LED DRL

Which is Better for my F150, HID or LED?

This is a battle that has been going on for years, and luckily for you, I am here to give some answers. Both types of lighting, HID and LED, are far better than conventional halogen bulbs – there is no dispute there. However, there are some major differences between these two lighting methods.

In terms of reliability, an LED has an HID lighting system beat. LEDs are solid state, meaning no moving parts or fragile materials, thereby making them pretty much impervious to vibration and the like (great for an F150 that likes to venture off-road). LEDs last longer and suffer less degradation. As an HID bulb ages, its lighting capacity reduces (so does an LED, but at a lesser rate). Furthermore, HID lights can take a few seconds to “warm up” before producing their maximum amount of light, and require a very specific range of electricity to operate. The ballasts are constructed to produce and regulate the voltage, but in the process, introduce a secondary piece to fail. If an HID is not illuminating, it could be the bulb, the ballast, or both. Some LED lighting systems also require a ballast or controller, but these are older style LED systems and are quickly being replaced with integrated LED bulb/controller systems.

All that being said, it seems like LED lights are the clear-cut winner. They last longer, are more durable and energy efficient. Are they the pinnacle of aftermarket F150 lighting? Yes, for everything but headlights.

Presently, HID lights are still king in regards to headlights. Current LED headlight kits are still a ways away from the illumination ability of xenon systems due to design constraints. Due to space and projector restraints, LEDs that can match HID illumination ability have yet to be developed (many F150s come with LED accent lighting in the headlights, but the main lights are still always HID or halogen). If you are looking to upgrade your F150’s lighting ability via the headlights, factory or quality aftermarket HIDs (there are plenty of cheap HID kits available that will have poor performance) are presently still the better option. For any other type of lighting, such as fog lights, tail lights, interior lighting, spot lights and light bars, LEDs are the premier choice.

F150 Aftermarket Fog Lights
HID Fog Lights

F150 Headlight Improvements

Aftermarket headlight assemblies are readily available for all 1997 through to 2018 F150 pickups and will not only significantly boost night visibility, but are styled to provide a new look to the front end of your truck. From 1997-2008, Ford equipped all their F150 pickup trucks with reflector style head lamps. 2009 and up saw the introduction of projector style lamps, which are vastly superior to their older reflector brethren. As such, the majority of aftermarket headlight assemblies feature projector style lenses, and it is definitely worth upgrading an old, oxidized reflector setup for a newer projector assembly (plus, projector lenses look way better).

Chrome assemblies add a nice touch of flash and are a classic staple in the pickup world, whereas blacked out assemblies providing a stealth look are gaining momentum. LED or HALO perimeter lighting further accentuates the design of the head lamp assemblies and adds a very nice flair when illuminated.

If your F150 is already equipped with a projector lens and yet the lighting capacity is still not to your liking, you could either upgrade to a better halogen bulb, an LED system, or an HID system (from worst to best). If you want to upgrade your F150's halogen headlights to an HID setup, you must first verify that you have projector style lenses, as an HID bulb in a reflector style housing will cause the beam to scatter all over and blind oncoming traffic.

Year​​ Factory Headlight​​ Factory Fog Bulb​​
1997-2003​​ 9007 dual filament​​ 9006​​
2004-2008​​ H13 (9008) dual filament​ H10​​
2009-2014​​ H13 (9008) dual filament
D3S (factory HID)
2015-2017​​ H11 low beam
9005 hi beam
D3S (factory HID)

F150 Fog Light Improvements

Upgrading the fog lights on your F150 follows a similar path to as to the headlights. If the OEM units just aren't cutting it for you, the easiest solution would first be to change the bulb with either a more powerful halogen or LED bulb. HIDs are not as practical for fog lights due to the small size of fog light housings and the low placement of fog lights often means they are subject to bumps and bruises. A secondary option would be to replace the housing entirely with something else, but even better than this would be to supplement the factory fog lights with some accessory round or cube lights.

Equipping your F150 with Accessory and Off-Road Lighting

Back when the tenth generation F150s were rolling off the factory floor, the pinnacle of accessory lighting was to throw several 5-7" round spot lights up on the roof, and then upgrade the battery (or even the alternator) in order to feed them. The next big step forward was the introduction of HIDs, however they were considerably more expensive, and while providing much better lighting power, were still just as fragile. Today, the king of the F150 accessory lighting market is the LED. Powerful, durable and versatile, mainstream production of LED technology has flooded the F150 market with highly capable LED systems at very friendly prices.  When outfitting your rig with off-road lighting, here are some factors to consider.

Spot Beam vs Flood Beam: The former, as the name implies, provides a spot beam that focuses mainly directly ahead with  lower illumination of objects to the side. These types of lights have good range. A "driving beam" is similar to a spot light. The main concentration is straight ahead, with lesser scatter to the sides.

A flood beam, on the other hand, illuminates both in front and to the side, however does not carry as far forward.

Round vs Cube: Is around LED better than a cube LED, or a cube LED better than a round LED? The truth of the matter is neither. For all intensive purposes, it is mostly an aesthetic difference. Round LEDs come in a larger variety of sizes (2.75"-6" in diameter) and will usually have a narrower beam at around 30 degrees. 3" diameter is the standard size for cube lights and they usually feature a slightly wider beam spread in the neighborhood of 40 degrees. The factors you need to focus on is appropriate size (dimension wise), beam style and light output. The higher the lumens rating, the more powerful the light. Furthermore, not all diodes are created equal. One light may feature 4 small diodes that together produce a total of 1200 lumens, whereas another version may only have 2 diodes (larger) with a total output of 1400 lumens.

LED Bars: LED light bars are the latest to the market, and perhaps the best of the bunch. It is entirely possible to hang a honking big 50" dual row light bar atop your windshield in order to turn night into day, or place a smaller LED bar atop your bumper with lesser results, but equally as satisfactory. 

Like your F150, LED light bars are extremely versatile. They can feature multiple rows of diodes, and even better than that, have multiple beam patterns on the same bar. For example, the center portion of a light bar may have a lens that provides a spot beam, whereas the left and right extremes of the bar have a lens producing a flood beam. This would result in both excellent forward lighting and peripheral lighting - all from one light. The same concept applies to curved LED bars, where the straight portion in the middle would serve to light up directly ahead whereas the curved ends project off to the side. 

Water and Dust Proof: When selecting an off-road light to mount on your F150, look for an IP67 or higher rating. This means the light is sealed from water up to 1 meter deep for a length of 30 minutes and is dust tight, ensuring the light will survive routine weather patterns and anything extra thrown at it when off the beaten path.

Installation: Most, if not all, accessory and off-road lighting components are universal fit, meaning they can be installed on any vehicle. Occasionally some may come with a bracket specific to your year F150 in order to facilitate mounting, but most work and come with a universal bracket. As far as wiring goes, accessory lights are mostly plug and play, installing with a harness that only need be connected to a power source and a switch. Typically, the harness and switch are sold separately.



F150 Off Road Lighting
Dual Light Bars

Other F150 Lighting Upgrades

Some other areas of your F150 that could use some attention, in terms of lighting, would be the interior and other often-forgotten exterior lights. Replacing all the conventional interior bulbs with an LED variant will greatly improve interior lighting and make it very easy to find the change you dropped under the seat. If you aren't sure what kind of bulb you need and can't find it in your F150's owner manual, the code is usually written on the bulb itself if you look close enough (frequently at or near the base).

Swapping out turn signals, brake lights, license plate lights etc with an LED bulb will add more flair to your truck and also make it more visible to others. If swapping out the turn signals for brighter LED versions, you may need to install an inline resistor or a new flasher unit in order to prevent hyperflashing.

Fitment includes: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, XL, XLT, Lariat, Lightning, KingRanch, HarleyDavidson, STX, FX2, FX4, Limited, SVTRaptor, Platinum, FXTremor