For those of you that aren’t sure, a tailgate light bar is designed to add more visibility to your existing rear lights – turn signals, brake lights and running lights. It’s usually just a strip of LEDs, colored either red, white and amber (if the vehicle uses amber turn signals) or just red & white.
Most tailgate light bars can be plugged directly in to the vehicles wiring system through the use of a generic, flat 4-pin towing plug – exactly the same as you’d use for when connecting a trailer, but if your vehicle doesn’t have that, they can be hard wired into the lighting system.
They come in a range of sizes, but 60” (5’) is pretty common – it’s basically the width of the tailgate, and it sits just underneath the opening. They’re simple to fit (often requiring no tools) and provide an instant boost to the rear lights.
The Best Tailgate Light Bar
1. OPT7 Redline LED Tailgate Light Bar
It uses a ‘TriCore’ of LEDs – red, bright red and white, and these LEDs are around 35% brighter than other LEDs on the market, at least according to OPT7. There’s a slight discrepancy in the marketing information, some info says 90 individual LEDs, while other parts say 72 LEDs.
The light bar syncs perfectly with the regular lighting on the vehicle, and it gives a huge boost to the turn signals (in red), reversing, brake light and general running light … as OPT7 say: “When they’re behind you, they’ll know you’re ahead”.
The bar itself is waterproofed to IP67, and uses a silicone to fill the gaps – no rain will get into this light bar, it’s completely sealed to the elements. The frame for the lights is made from rust resisting and lightweight aluminum, and the whole light bar fits easily without the need for drilling holes or screwing it down – it uses 3M adhesive tape which is rated at 45lbs, you could almost swing off this thing when its fitted.
Wiring is taken care of by a standard 4-pin plug (OEM on most trucks) that connects to the tow connector, or it can be hardwired if that’s what you prefer. All in, I’d say that this is perhaps right up there on the list – easy to fit, semi-rigid, made with aluminum and excellent lighting ability, all for sensible money.
2. Nilight TR-04 Truck Tailgate Light Bar
Another 5’ strip of LEDs, 504 LEDs in total, with similar designs as the OPT7 – using a triple row design to give five full functions; white reversing light, sequential turn signals (in amber), sequential strobe light, dark red running light and bright red brake lights.
The Nilight is super bright. The triple row design means that light output is around 300% greater than standard LEDs, and although Nilight don’t actually state the waterproofing level, it’s believed to be of the same standard as the others – IP67 due to being fully silicone sealed.
This LED tail light is completely flexible, which may make it slightly more difficult to fit – keeping it perfectly straight and level, but just the same as the others, you don’t need to drill holes or screw the light bar down, it uses an adhesive strip that is ‘tough as nails’ to glue it down.
Rated for around 30,000 hours, but remember that would be 3.5 years of 24-hour usage, so in theory, this thing should last for anywhere between 5 – 9 years of normal use. Connects to the vehicle with the standard 4-pin plug for towing, however, some consumers have reported that their vehicle (fitted with trailer sensing technology) has reported a fault because the tech doesn’t recognize the difference between trailer fitted and something plugged in to the vehicle socket.
3. Partsam LED Truck Tail Light Bar
90 LEDs (60 red, 30 white) spread across a 5’ light bar, all of the LEDs are listed as ‘super bright’ and giving 30% more light than other LEDs. It has the usual functionality – red turn signals, braking, general running and a white reverse light, all in a super flexible strip.
Despite being the least expensive light bar here, it still does exactly the same job. The only place you’d really notice the difference between this and one of the more expensive bars, is that due to the lesser number of LEDs, you tend to find that you can see the individual lights on the bar when lit up – lots of little light spots rather than an illuminated strip.
The Partsman LED tailgate light bar still uses the 3M adhesive strip that you find on the costlier light bars, and it fixes to the vehicle in exactly the same way – peel of the backing, and press firmly (a good clean with some rubbing alcohol or paint thinner first is advisable), but again, it includes clips and screws in the kit.
High quality build materials, and a one year warranty. You can get light bars with a longer warranty, but for this price, even if it goes kaput after a year, that works out to less than fifty cents a week.
Uses the standard 4-pin connector, and some consumers have mentioned that the wiring instructions leave a little to be desired.
For the money, it’s a great choice, definitely deserves its place in the list of best cheap tailgate light bars.
4. Putco Blade Tailgate Light Bar
OK, let’s get this out there … the price of this is … at the higher end, in fact you could buy 8 of some of the other products here for similar money. It’s a BIG but … this truly is high quality and extremely well made, I can see why it costs the money that it does.
Using more than 2,000 high power COB LEDs (COB is Chip On Board), this light bar absolutely rocks, and is waterproof to IP69, probably due to the (tinted) polycarbonate housing which keeps everything out, and the LEDs safe. These have been custom designed to fit all trucks, and it’s an award winning design, with patents awarded, and some patents pending … this most definitely isn’t a few LEDs stuck to some rubber with a wire hanging out … this is first class design and engineering.
It uses the 4-pin plug for connection, and this also has an additional power wire modification to ensure that it works with vehicles like the new F150 from Ford … the ones equipped with safety tech like lane keeping assist, or any other towing technology package.
Not only that, but the wiring is quality copper wire of 16 gauge, and there’s over 3,000 lumens of light … this looks like a solid strip of light rather than individual LEDs, and that just adds to the overall feel of quality and design. Of course, it does the running lights, reversing, brake and turn signals.
What You Should Know
Some of this information is ‘common sense’, but you’d be surprised at just how many people fall in to the trap of doing it differently, either through not thinking, or being too impatient.
Yep, the light bar is brand new, straight out of the box, so in the perfect world, it just works and that’s that. BUT … do you really want to go to all that trouble of permanently fitting (usually with adhesive tape that has only one use – it can’t be reused) and wiring the light bar in, only to find it doesn’t work or there’s some sort of defect? Of course you don’t … do a dry run first – wire it up (even just temporary) to the vehicle to make sure it works as it should, and THEN fit it.
Equally, how many people rush right in, fix it on, wire it up and then realise that they’ve stuck it down in reverse, and when the right turn indicator comes on, the left hand portion of the light bar flashes? Plenty is the answer.
You should also know that some of the newer trucks with some ‘towing technology’ fitted (which is great for … towing trailers) can be affected when you plug in a light bar into the harness. Either showing up as a fault, or disabling the safety tech like blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist because it registers that you’ve plugged a trailer in.
And finally, if you need to hardwire the light bar, a bit of tape and twisted wires isn’t hardwiring. Personally speaking, if I need to tap into a vehicle’s wiring, I solder all the connections to guarantee that they won’t cause a problem, or fail at a later date. Having said that, I appreciate that not everyone has that sort of equipment, but … don’t just twist the wires together.