Vanagon South African Grille & Light Installation
1986 & Later Volkswagen Vanagon
I assume that you will be using standard 55W/60W H4 bulbs will be used in the 7” (Outer) Lens-Reflector Units, or other headlamp configuration which does not significantly increase the electrical load beyond the original headlamp configuration. If you are using higher wattage lamps, you will need to perform wiring upgrades and relay installations which are not addressed in this document. Please note that there is a detailed discussion at the last section of this document regarding permissible voltage loss, and rationale for using or not using headlight relays.
These instructions address grill and light installation with H4 Lens Reflector Unit which include the city-light and employ the city light as the only parking light. In hindsight, I believe that it would be better to use the city light in addition to, not instead of, the stock parking lights.
1.1 Prerequisites - Parts:
1.1.1 Outer headlight buckets from pre-1986 Vanagon; The best way to get these is as a complete assembly with the sealed beam, sealed beam retaining ring with screws, connector with pigtail still attached to the sealed beam and the screws which mounted the bucket to the doner Vanagon. You would like to have one left and one right, although the plastic mounting / alignment tabs can be changed to effectively invert the unit. If the plastic mounting inserts are cracked or damaged, replace them NOW. Replacement plastic inserts are readily available and readily inexpensive. The ideal part looks like this:
1.1.2 You will need 16 of the small sheet metal screws which mount the buckets to the Vanagon for the SA light units. Ideally you will get 8 with the buckets you purchase at the recycler, and have 8 from your existing rectangular light assemblies.
1.1.3 Misc Parts
Shrink tubing appropriate for 12ga wire (1/4”??)
Shrink tubing for spade connectors (3/4”??)
Heat gun for shrinking tubing
4 Female spade connectors (City lights only)
2 Male spade connectors (City lights only)
12ga Wire (10 ft)
1.2 Prerequisites – Tools:
Drill and Bits
Large flat-head Screwdriver
Large Phillips Screwdriver
Small Phillips Screwdriver
Soldering gun and solder
2.0 Removal of Existing grill and lights.
Remove the existing grill by turning the mounting clips ¼ turn, then pulling the top of the grill away from the body of the Vanagon, lifting the grill as soon as it clears the lights.
The rectangular light unit consists of two Lens Reflector Units mounted on a single sheetmetal “bucket”. The bucket is secured to the Vanagon with 4 sheet metal screws which are now visible. Remove (and save) the screws, then remove the rectangular light unit. The extracted unit:
3.0 Electrical Quality Validation
With the lamp units physically detached from the Vanagon, but electrically connected, turn on the lights and check the voltage at the yellow and white wires (low/high beam). The high beam (white wire) is easily checked at the inner light connector, the low beam (yellow) may require probing into the wire insulation. DIN standard 72552 indicates maximum permissible voltage loss for consumer items on a 12V electrical system is .8V. Turn off the lights, then unplug the wiring harness from both Lens Reflector Units. Check continuity from the brown wire connector to ground. If either voltage loss on the yellow or white wires is found, or resistance to ground is found, the new headlamps will not operate properly. These problems must be rectified before the installation continues. Once the electrical tests are complete, disconnect the battery. There is a detailed discussion at the end of this page regarding permissible voltage loss, and rationale for using or not using headlight relays.
The naked Vanagon.
4.0 Remove 1986-Later special mounting tab
The retangular lamp unit requires an additional mounting tab which is not required for the SA lamps. The tab on my Vanagon was riveted in place. It is easily removed, undamaged, by drilling out the centers of the rivets. Pay attention when drilling that you don’t bang the drill chuck into the painted surface.
5.0 Prepare electrical connectors
5.0.1 Inner lamps: Using an small nail or awl, insert the point into the small rectangular hole near each of the female connectors. Your objective is to depress a small tab on the connector which holds the connector into the plastic housing. When properly depressed, the wire and connector will easily slide out of the back of the connector. The picture shows the nail inserted for one connector, and the insertion point highlighted.
5.0.2 Outer Lamps: The 9004 connectors are sealed with epoxy, therefore the connector must be cut off of the existing harness, and the conventional wiring connector pigtails soldered to the existing wiring harness. The harness colors are identical. I prefer to butt splice the connection, then use shrink tubing as weatherproof insulation material.
220.127.116.11 There should be two ground (brown) wires on the pigtail, one is connected to the vehicle harness, solder a female blade connector on the other to provide ground service to the city light. The completed harness will look like:
Note: In order to facilitate proper placement of the inner lamps, we complete the installation of the outer units on both sides before addressing the inner lamps. This requires that the wiring for the city lights be put in place at this point in the process. I did the “replace existing parking light” procedure, but have subsequently decided that having the front parking lights illuminated is desirable due to increased visibility of the Vanagon from the side. I offer both procedures here. If you are not installing city lights, skip this section and go to 7.0.
6.0 Prepare wiring harness for city lights (replace existing parking lights with city lights): 6.0.1 This is a moderately elaborate procedure, but it insures that you can easily return to the conventional parking light wiring arrangement without additional modifications.
Remove the turn signal assembly, then carefully peel back the rubber boot from the back of the unit. You will expose three wires. Carefully determine which is the connector for the parking light, and unplug it from the assembly. Using a piece of the large shrink tubing, create an insulating jacket over the connector on the wire and shrink it into place.
Take a new 5 ft section of wire, carefully pass one end of the wire through the rubber boot on the turn signal assembly, then solder a male space connector onto it. Using a piece of the large shrink tubing, create an insulating jacket over this connector and shrink it into place. The idea is to insure that when these two wires are plugged into each other, they cannot short out against anything. Plug the two connectors into each other, then carefully slide the boot back onto the back of the parking light assembly.
Fish other end of the new wire through the opening parking light assembly such that it comes out at an appropriate length matching the city light ground wire you prepared during 18.104.22.168. Solder a female spade connector onto this end of the wire. The completed task is shown below (note new solid green wire). Continue to 7.0.
6.1 Prepare wiring harness for city lights (parking lights with city lights): Remove the turn signal assembly, then carefully peel back the rubber boot from the back of the unit. You will expose three wires. Carefully determine which is the connector for the parking light, and unplug it from the assembly. Take a new 5 ft section of wire, carefully pass one end of the wire through the rubber boot on the turn signal assembly, then solder it to the existing connector you have identified as the parking light. Reconnect the newly created “double” connector to the light assembly. Carefully slide the boot back onto the back of the parking light assembly.
Fish other end of the new wire through the opening parking light assembly such that it comes out at an appropriate length matching the city light ground wire you prepared during 22.214.171.124. Solder a female spade connector onto this end of the wire.
7.0 Install Outer Lamps:
7.0.1 Install the H4 unit into their respective headlight buckets using the retaining ring and screws which previously were used to hold the sealed beam.
7.1 After the Lens Reflector Unit is mounted in the bucket, perform all electrical connections. Note that the ground connection should go the outer shell of the socked for the city light. The completed, wired assembly using an H4 Lens Reflector Unit and city light:
7.2 Mount the outer assemblies with some of your 16 sheet metal screws, initially using the outer holes which secured your rectangular units. It may be necessary to drill holes for the inner mounting points. On my Vanagon, the inner mounting holes were already in place.
8.0 Install Inner Lights:
Take both inner lights, and place them in the correct approximate position inboard of the outer light assemblies. Carefully fit the new grill into place, using only the top outer clips. As you mount the grill, slide both inner lights into their appropriate positions. I also determined that some vertical alignment, as well as horizontal alignment, must be performed. You now have your first picture of how your Vanagon will look with the new lights and grill.
Note: The clips on the SA grill do not have the screw heads the original grill had, therefore there is a risk of damaging the grill during removal. I found that applying pressure with large flathead screwdriver inserted from the outside edges of the grill eased the stress on the grill during the removal process. Remember to use a cloth between the screwdriver and your paint to avoid chips!!
8.1 When the appropriate position of the inner lights has been determined, carefully remove the grill insuring that you do not move the lights, and temporarily duct tape them into place. Replace the grill and make sure they’re in the correct positions. On my installation, new holes were required for all of the mounting points of the inner lights. They did not line up with any existing holes on the Vanagon.
8.2 Using a punch, mark the placement of the mounting holes for the inner lights, and carefully drill the appropriate holes being careful not to nick any existing wires or plumbing, and not to bang into the painted surfaces with the drill chuck.
8.3 Complete the wiring of the inner lights by plugging the connectors removed from the connectors for the rectangular lights (step 5.0.1) to their appropriate positions within the connector on the new inner lights.
8.4 Mount the inner lights using the remaining 8 sheetmetal screws. Install the grille, and perform a test to insure that the proper lights are illuminating at the appropriate time.
9.0 Aim Lights:
European code H4 are very bright, and when mounted high, as on a Vanagon, it is critical that they be properly aimed. An excellent guide and procedure for aiming headlights is available at http://lighting.mbz.org/tech/aim/aim.html.
10.0 Add Center Grill Attachment Point:
My SA grill did not come with the appropriate hardware to attach the center of the grill to the Vanagon. It did, however, come with the appropriate hole. Looking at the old grill, you will find that the attaching screw is held in place by a rubber grommet. Carefully slide the grommet off of the attaching clip on the old grill, and install the attaching clip onto the new grill in an identical fashion.
Stand back to admire what a fine job you have done, and be relieved that you fill finally be able to see when driving at night.
Rationale and assessment to determine if additional relays should be employed:
I believe that there are two fundamental conditions which precipitate relay installation; a weak wiring harness which exhibits voltage loss or the installation of significantly higher wattage lights than the original wiring harness was designed to support. For my installation, neither were true, therefore I did not install any additional relays. Replacing the North American 9004 lights with the H4 lights actually reduces current consumption by 4% on high beam. I also believe that additional components introduce additional opportunities for failure, therefore I am an advocate for the simplest solution which meets my requirements.
Note: There are factors related to current loss due to length of wires which I do not take into consideration during the following discussion in the interest of simplicity.
The factory harness is designed to support the factory lighting configuration with no "reserve" factor, therefore any compromise to the circuit or modification which increases electrical load results in a significant problem.
The design configuration for 1986 and later Vanagons is for
two H4 outer lamps and two H1 inner lamps on the front of the Vanagon.
Standard wattage for the H4 lamp is 55W Low and
60W High Beam. For the H1 lamp (inner) standard wattage is 55W.
This is the standard lamping configuration for everyplace on Earth except
When a North American configuration Vanagon has Low Beam headlights, it is drawing 90W or 7.5Amps total (45Wx2). When a rest-of-world Vanagon has Low Beam headlights, it is drawing 110W or 9.17Amps total (55Wx2). A USA Vanagon running High Beams is drawing 240W or 20Amps total (65Wx2 + 55Wx2). A rest-of-world Vanagon running High Beams is drawing 230W or 19.17Amps (60Wx2 + 55Wx2).
The power distribution wire from the battery to the light switch, from the light switch to the Hi/Low/Flash relay, and from the Hi/Low/Flash relay to the fusebox is 2.5mm. The fuses are 10A. The wires from the fusebox to the lamps are 1.5mm.
Per DIN 72552, a 2.5mm wire is rated for a peak of 25Amps. A 1.5mm wire is rated for a peak of 15Amps. Per this standard, the maximum headlight wattage supported is limited by the runs of 2.5mm wire (25Amp peak). Both the European and USA Vanagons run close to the peak current rating of the wiring loom between the battery and the fusebox on High Beam, with the USA Vanagon being 4% worse. Allowing for a 20% safety factor, the maximum wattage for any headlight configuration is 240W, exactly what the North American Vanagon uses in the stock configuration. It is also 10A per side, which is exactly the fuse rating.
The leads between the fusebox have a much greater reserve than the other sections of the wiring loom. These leads are 1.5mm wire, permitting a peak of 180 Watts (15Amps) per side. Allowing for a 20% safety factor, this permits a total 144Watts per side.
For applications less than 144 Watts per side on your Vanagon, the recommended point of relay installation would be just in advance of the fusebox, running a fused 4mm wire (40Amp peak) directly from the battery to a pair of relays physically mounted as close to the fusebox as possible. The current input leads to the high and low beam fuses (output leads from the existing Hi/Low/Flash relay) would be employed as the relay triggers. A new, short, 4mm wire would be used to carry current to the input side of the high and low beam fuses from each relay. The only changes to the factory wiring configuration would be moving the output leads from the Hi/Low/Flash relay to the new relays. Additions to the factory wiring would be the fused 4mm lead from the battery to the new headlight relays, and the short 4mm wires from the relays to the fusebox.