Tesla has the market cornered on EVs with weird gimmicks like seats that fart, doors that dance to the music, and steering that jerks toward the guardrail when you pass a highway offramp. My cheap-as-hell Nissan Leaf doesn’t have any of that. It’s just a normal everyday economy hatchback that happens to not take any gasoline. So I decided to give it a little more flash with a cheap set of LED underglow lights. As edgelord Elon might tweet, ‘for the epic lulz’.
This story begins as many good ones do, I was three sheets to the wind and cruising eBay. These kits are all garbage, so it doesn’t really matter which one you pick. My alcohol-addled mind chose a “rock light kit” meant for big off-road trucks because I figured it would come with longer wires and a more hearty enclosed LED housing, rather than just a strip of bare LEDs susceptible to road debris.
In fairness, I was right about the second one. This kit came with several lengths of wire, but none of them were long enough to reach from the 12v battery supply to the rear bumper. This is a small car, so clearly the jacked up Toyota Tacoma on the package didn’t use this kit. Aside from the short wire length, however, I’d say this kit isn’t too bad. It came with everything I needed to steez up my shoddy little zappy boy Nissan. All I had to do was supply the power.
The first thing I did was “bench” test the lights to make sure they all worked before going through the hassle of routing wires and installing the lamps. Then I routed the lights to see where they would fit best. I ended up deciding to run three lights in the front bumper, two under each side of the car, and two at the back in the rear diffuser.
On Monday night I went out after a full day at the blog mines to get a bit of wrenching in. I did these three in proper fashion. I lowered the aero pan in the front and affixed all three lights with double-sided tape, then drilled holes for a machine screw affixed to the pan itself with a washer and nut. The wires for these three are routed up through the pan, zip tied to the radiator support (yes, it has a radiator). I even removed the plastic shroud above the radiator to get the wires routed in a slightly less ugly fashion.
— Bradley "Concept Car From 1991" Brownell (@BCBrownell) December 22, 2020
While that panel was off, I routed the main pushbutton switch for the system into the cup that houses the charging inlets at the front of the car. I can easily keep the system on permanently and just use the keyfob or remote to power the lights on at will, or I can keep them off and push that button to turn them on while the car is charging, which is the cooler option.
The kit didn’t provide a way to properly mount this button, so I forraged through my supplies to find some 3M double-sided trim tape. I bought this stuff to keep my rocker panels on my old Mazda3, so it should be plenty strong to hold this button in place.
On Tuesday morning I got up early to finish the job. It only took maybe three or four hours from start to finish, and it’s not a particularly difficult job, it’s just fiddly removing and reinstalling underbody panels. This little round of work was dedicated to installing the six additional lights at the sides and back of the car.
Because the battery is mounted on the driver’s side of the car, I ran the two lights on the driver’s side and the two at the back down the back of the firewall, behind the wheel liner on the driver’s front corner, and down the full length of the underbody panel on that side. The lights exit from the panel and zip-tie directly to it through some small holes I drilled in that plastic cover. The passenger’s side lights are routed across the top of the “engine” compartment, down that side of the firewall, and underneath the same plastic panels in the same fashion
The lights are mounted in a fashion that no part of them goes below the lowest point of the plastic undertray. The wires on both sides are exposed and potentially slightly vulnerable at the point where they exit the bottom of the wheel liner and slip into the underbody tray.
When I get the car up on a lift next, I’ll remove both of those panels fully to see if there is a better way to route the wires through the body of the car instead, using a grommet to protect them from abrasive damage. I do plan to lower the car, um, well, substantially, so that’ll be the best move in the long term.
The above photo shows the lights at their dimmest setting with the car’s lights on. I was actually kind of angry at this point, as I thought it was a lot of effort for something so dim. Then I found the button on the keyfob to turn up the intensity. Which brings us to the final product. OK, yeah, not too bad.
Not only does this LED kit offer the full RGB colour palate, but you can Bluetooth it to your phone and the lights will blink on and off with your selection of music. Is it worth $US67 ($88) and four hours of labour to add underglow to a $US2,000 ($2,639) Nissan Leaf? You bet your arse it is, underglow rips!
Because I bought a ten-light kit, but only nine of the damn things would actually fit around the car, I decided the best course of action was to add the tenth light under the hood because the Leaf didn’t come with any under hood lighting. I may eventually play with the positioning of this light, however, as you can see it illuminating up through the gap between the hood and the headlight, which I will probably always find annoying.
Maybe this isn’t quite as cool as OG underglow neon tubes were in the early 2000s, but I like that I can change colours depending on my mood. LEDs will also draw significantly less power from my car’s battery, and should be less susceptible to breakage.
After all of that, I’m pretty happy with the outcome of this particular “upgrade”. The world needs a little more whimsy these days, so why not be the change you hope to see in the world. Little projects like this are fun and easy and quick. They make me happy. I hope they make you happy, too.
And since so many of you mentioned it the last time around, I finally took the time to remove those unsightly California HOV decals. That was actually a harder and more time-consuming job than the underglow install, believe it or not.
There, I made it through the whole thing without a Fast and Furious reference.