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Buying guide for best trailer lighting kits

Whether you have a camper, a utility trailer, or a trailer to transport your boat to your favorite lake, you’re going to need a decent set of trailer lights. Lighting is an important safety element on your trailer, providing valuable information to other drivers about the location of your trailer and what your intentions are as the driver of your vehicle.

When choosing a lighting kit for your trailer, you have many factors to consider. First, you need to know which lights are required by law; this is based on the width of your trailer. You’ll also have to make decisions about bulb shape and wiring type and determine how much you’ll need to pay.

Because lighting is so vital for a trailer, you shouldn’t skimp and go with a lesser-quality lighting kit. 

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Some manufacturers go the extra mile by coating their trailer lighting electronics in epoxy. This adds an additional layer of protection against moisture.


Which lights do you need?

To determine which lights your trailer is required by law to have, you only need to measure it. Trailers under 80 inches wide are required to have stop lights, tail lights, turn signals, side marker lights, and side and rear reflectors. Trailers over 80 inches wide must have all of these in addition to clearance lights on both sides of the trailer and three red identification lights on the end of the trailer.

How rugged are the lights?

Trailer lights tend to take a beating on the road, so you’re going to want something rugged that can handle dirt, grime, and the occasional rock kicked up by the trailer wheels. The lights need to be able to withstand constant vibration and occasional contact (if you ever back up into fence posts, curbs, or other objects accidentally).

Trailers used with boats will encounter their own set of difficulties. These include everything from contact with the water to thermal shock when the hot lights hit cold water.

How hard are they to install?

While not overly complex, a trailer lighting kit requires a moderate amount of wiring skill to install. Know what you are wading into before you begin any installation. Are you installing the system from scratch, or are you adding it to an existing trailer lighting system? While adding to an existing system may be easier, a clean install of the whole system will likely leave you with fewer problems down the road.

The installation instructions accompanying the kit should be detailed, preferably with illustrations, and written in fluent English. Be sure you read all instructions thoroughly before attempting an installation so you’ll have everything you need in hand and won’t run into any surprises.

Are the lights waterproof?

All trailer lights guard against moisture to some extent, but if you plan on using the lights on a boat trailer, you should aim for lights that are submersible or waterproof. Of the two, truly waterproof lights will provide you with the greatest protection against moisture and the resulting rust and corrosion. While submersible lights help keep water away from the bulb and other components, sealed lighting like those found in LED systems are best for trailers that endure considerable exposure to water.

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For longevity, go with LED lighting over incandescent. LED lights can last up to 50 times longer than incandescent lights.


Light shape and type

Trailer lights come in various shapes and types, and different lights may have different “responsibilities” in a lighting kit. Some kits contain more lights than others; some combine lights in different ways.

  • Shape: Trailer lights are made in a variety of shapes, but rectangular ones tend to fit a trailer better. Low-profile lights are less likely to come into contact with curbs, sign posts, and other obstacles.

  • Type: Tail lights, stop lights, and turn signals are the core lights in the majority of trailer lighting kits. These can be in separate lighting modules, but they are usually all built into two single units — one for the left side of the trailer and one for the right. A kit may also include clearance lights for the trailer sides, a license plate light (usually built into the left tail/stop/turn light module), and backup lights.

LED vs. incandescent

Where incandescent light bulbs used to be the standard, these are rapidly giving way to LED bulbs for a variety of reasons. LEDs last longer, they are permanently sealed against moisture, and they handle thermal shock better. They also tend to light faster and be brighter — great safety advantages.


Be sure you receive enough feet of wiring in your kit to completely wire your trailer; coming up short is a recurring problem with some kits. Ideally, wring should be heavy-duty copper for durability. (Note that some manufacturers use copper-coated aluminum instead.) A UV-coated jacket for wiring will help to extend the wire’s life.

A four-pin wire connector is standard here, and the wiring harnesses themselves will be one of two types: split Y, which splits at the front of the trailer and runs down both sides, and crossover, which runs down one side to the taillights and then across the back of the trailer. Of the two, split Y is the more common, but you should definitely know which you will be using on your trailer before placing your order.


Some kits ship with a variety of extras, which may include the following.

  • Mounting hardware: Ideally, all mounting hardware necessary to install your trailer lighting will ship with the kit.

  • License plate bracket: This addition solves the problem of how to attach your license plate to the trailer.

  • Reflective tape/stickers: Required by law, these provide an additional level of visibility to the front and side of your trailer.
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Did you know?
Submersible lights allow water in but are protected by an air pocket and the bell jar principle, which keeps water from the bulb.

Trailer lighting kit prices

While you can find some simple trailer lighting kits for under $20, the majority of them are in the $30 to $50 range. Those under $20 tend to be less waterproof and have fewer extras. They are often incandescent-based.

At a higher price point, you can expect to find a better build, low-profile sealed LED lights, and more lights and extras. Expect to pay up for complete lighting kits for trailers over 80 inches wide.


  • Consider picking up a 12V probe-style circuit tester before installation. While not required, it can find and solve a number of problems during the installation process.

  • Be sure that any trailer lighting kit conforms to the safety regulations of the country you live in. These can vary significantly from country to country.

  • In the U.S., any trailer that is over 80 inches wide is required to have mounted rear clearance lights. For trailers under 80 inches wide, these lights are not required, but they are still recommended for safety reasons.

  • Before taking your trailer on the road each time, have an assistant operate the brakes, turn signals, and other lights within the tow vehicle. Stand behind the trailer, and watch to verify that everything works.

  • If possible, install a trailer light kit when the trailer is empty. Having to work around a boat or other trailer load will lead to a more difficult installation.

  • In the majority of cases, it is better (and cheaper) to replace the entire bulb and wiring system on your trailer than to do it piecemeal. This is particularly true with a trailer with older wiring and lighting.

  • You may need some tools beyond what is included with the kit to complete installation. This may include wire cutters, wire strippers, electrical tape, and wrenches.
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Looking for a simpler installation? Some trailer lights can be mounted to your trailer via a magnetic base.


Q. Do these kits include backup lights?

A. While some trailer lighting kits include backup lights, they are not a standard feature. If a kit that you are considering does not include them, check with the manufacturer to find out if they sell backup lights as an add-on option with their kits.

Q. How are the lights mounted to the trailer?

A. The lights in trailer lighting kits frequently ship with studs built right into the backs of the them. Others have separate bolts. Lights can be mounted on the trailer using existing holes (if there are any), or you may need to drill your own. Kits should ship with all washers and nuts necessary to complete the installation.

Q. Do my trailer lights need to be grounded?

A. While some trailer owners rely on the trailer hitch to work as a ground, you should ground your system using the wires included within your trailer light kit. Grounding wires in these kits (usually white) are simple to install. Check your kit’s instructions for details on how to ground your trailer lights.

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