I always wished for better lighting when backing up my van at night, and last summer I built a custom system that provided that and much more. In addition to wanting reverse lighting, I wanted the ability to light up the area around my van while driving or in camp or while loading kayaking gear at the take-out. The solution I came up with did all that and more.
I settled on four high-power 27 Watt LED lamps from Amazon mounted to my roof rack and facing at 45 degree angles. When the front left and front right lights are turned on, the front of the van is lit, and when the front right and rear right lights are turned on, the right side of the van is lit. The lights are mounted to the roof rack using standard Yakima clips and the wires are run under the inside of the poptop to the back of the van where they are powered.
An intelligent, custom, solid-state relay (Smart Switch) provides power to the four lights while providing overcurrent protection (10 Amp shut off) and low voltage protection (off at 11.8V, on again at 12.3V). And to satisfy the main requirement for this system, the Smart Switch automatically powers the back lights when the transmission is shifted into Reverse.
For manual control of the lights, a low-voltage switch panel is located on the dashboard with pushbutton switch and indicator LEDs for each lamp. While searching for good campsites, it’s trivial to switch on the right-side lights while driving. And if some light is need by the sliding door, no problem—the perimeter lighting system is designed for every scenario.
After using the LED perimeter lights for a year, I have to say that they are incredible. The light output is shockingly bright, the 45 degree/4-light system is perfectly matched to the van dimensions, and the Smart Switch makes everything work the way I always hoped it would work. It’s hard to imagine a cooler, more effective exterior perimeter lighting system on a van.
Also, be sure to check out the little video I put together that shows off the LED perimeter lights: