Blue LED Car Radio Mod

For quite a while, I’ve been looking at the radio in my truck and thinking it would be cool to replace the standard white backlighting with blue LEDs. Now that I’ve finally done it, here’s the write-up on how I did it. Obviously the designs of radios vary dramatically across manufacturers, but hopefully you can get some ideas on how to make your own modifications.

The radio is the Delco AM/FM/CD model that appeared in many GM models anywhere from 1996 – 2002. The buttons and labels on the faceplate are backlit with a number of 12V incandescent bulbs. As you can see in the “Before” picture, two of the bulbs were already burned out, and they are just plain boring white bulbs. I initially set out to do a direct replacement of the bulb on the circuit board. In the end, the implementation was a little different.

Due to the space constraints, right away I knew I would need to find an LED with an integrated resistor. They do exist, but they are quite expensive and I could not find any in blue. So at this point the best thing to do was to remove the incandescent bulbs and glue the LEDs into the faceplate, creating wire leads to solder to the circuit board.


The faceplate essentially snaps on to the front of the body. A flat screwdriver easily pries it off. Four screws remove the bottom of the body that exposes the two connectors that interface to the faceplate. Those easily disconnect and the new faceplate can be removed.

The incandescent bulbs were removed very quickly and easily with some solder wick.

So, I purchased some standard 5mm ultra bright blue LEDs off EBay. I got 50 of them for $5. I also bought an identical radio on eBay (pretty cheap) that had a broken CD player that I used as my “test” bench. I actually made the modifications to the faceplate of the broken radio and then swapped it with the good radio when I was done.

One thing to keep in mind is the viewing angle of the LEDs. I knew this may be an issue with this project. The layout of the bulbs was done such that one bulb illuminates two or more buttons and is placed between them. Since the incandescent bulbs basically have a 180 degree viewing angle the light is generally pretty uniform. LEDs focus the light at the top. In my situation, I was quite lucky in that the LEDs were not directly behind the button. Otherwise they would have likely been too bright and very uneven. So the ultra-brightness of the LEDs compensate for the smaller viewing angle, still giving the desired effect.

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54 Responses to Blue LED Car Radio Mod

  1. Jamie Zannetti says:

    Good Job Jason, can you do that to our car! : )

  2. Josh Vogelgesang says:

    Out of curiosity, would it be feasable to replace all of your in-dash lights with LEDs? White, blue or otherwise?

    -Josh

    BTW Nice Job!

  3. Jason says:

    Josh, glad you like the project!

    The feasibility of replacing all the in-dash lights will of course vary between manufacturers. The only way to really find out is to start tearing stuff apart and see how they do it. From a high level, you just need to determine if you can disable the existing backlight, and re-purpose the “enable” output for the light. If the light is normally always on when ignition is on, it may be very easy to get ignition voltage and turn on your LEDs.

    In most cases if you are replacing incandescent bulbs, the LEDs will draw much less power, so you shouldn’t have to worry about that, but it would be a good idea to measure that before replacing the bulb.

    It’s really not very complicated, just a little time consuming and all you need is a multi-meter.

  4. Rob Brooks says:

    Hey Jason, You wrote a great article, I just have a couple of questions before trying to tackle this jsut a staight basic bulb replacement.
    – I think I saw the words “simple” and “Soldering” mentioned along the way. I am thinking “mututally exclusive”? Any furhter guidance there?
    – Do you normally work on electornics or just figured this out from commonsense without prior experience. I am finishing first year electrician and just now starting to learn voltage calulations. I appreciate that you make it sound simple, but wondered what perspective you are coming from.

    Just want to say that it just really bites that they design these stereos where the bulbs are freakin’ soldered, makes no sense. Buy a new stereo or send it out for a rebuild ($300+ at my dealer’s aftermarket shop), just for a little bulb that they KNOW will burn out. Such complexity is jsut not necessary. they replaced backlight on my blue-display ’89 Ford Ranger in 20 minutes. Doesn’t sound like you can do that here.
    (I have the same gripe about “Timing belts”. How often do you hear people complaining about breaking their “Timing Chain”? About….Never. Why can’t we get a class action suit against these guys for tying the lifeblood of an engine or stereo to such overly complex or obsolescent designs? (Dealer replaced my brother’s timing BELT 30k miles ago and it broke anyway, now needs a new engine! ridiculous.))
    And thanks for letting me vent 🙂
    Rgds,
    Rob

  5. Jason says:

    In Response to Rob Brooks:

    Rob, thanks for the comment. To answer your question, yes, I’m an electronics nut so I have quite a bit of soldering experience. However, “simple” and “soldering” do not necessarily need to be mutually exclusive. Soldering some resistors and LEDs together is really quite easy. It will take a little practice, but it’s not that bad at all. Just get some of those “Third Hand’ tools (like Jameco Part #26690)

    As far as the voltage calculations, I referred to that website where you just need to punch in the numbers and it does it for you. Although, all you really need to know is V = IR, which, as an electrician, you’ll become intimately familiar with.

    Obviously a project like this isn’t for everyone. It certainly helps to have an interest in electronics and taking things apart.

  6. Pingback: Crazy Factor » Blue LED Car Radio Mod

  7. Clay says:

    I have a silverado with the same radio and it has some bulbs out. I like th e blue LED idea. I do have a couple of questions though.

    Does the factory lamp output have enough resistance to keep from blowing the LED’s or did you have to use a resistor on the anode?

    Is the circuit board printed with a positive and negative so that you know the anode/cathode points, or does it matter?

    Thanks,

    Clay,

  8. Jason says:

    Clay,

    I did not do a direct replacement of the bulbs. It was much easier to remove the old bulbs from the board and then glue in new LEDs to the faceplate.

    It was also easier to just run a wire and directly connect it to Illumination pin on the connector inside the radio. You should be able to see that in the photos. So, in the end I really just removed the bulbs to give me the space for the LEDs.

    To calculate the resistance, you need to know what the forward voltage is for the LED you are using. For example, if the forward voltage for one LED is 3.2V, you could put three of them in series, giving you a total voltage drop of 9.6V. Subtracting from 12 you’ll get a 2.4V drop across the resistor. That’s the first half. Next you need to figure out how much current you can handle. The LED will have a maximum rating, so use something less than that. This may take some experimentation to determine how bright you want the LEDs. So assume you settle on 20mA.
    The resistor is calculated by R = V / I ; R = 2.4V / 0.02A = 120Ohm.

    It’s also good practice to verify the wattage for the resistor. P = IV = 0.02*2.4 = 0.048W. Most resistors are 1/8W or 1/4W. This is way below that, so the resistor size is not a concern.

    It does not matter if you put the resistor on the anode or cathode side.

    — Jason

  9. Jeff says:

    Jason!!!!!

    You may be my last resort! I have a 99 Saturn SC2 with a stock Delco cd player. One of the LEDs burned out on the face plate and I am attempting to replace it. First, I’m unsure if it is, in fact, an LED or is it a bulb! I “un-soldered” the old one from the circuit board and after a trip to Radio Shack have been unsuccessful with the new one. I purchased 5mm White LED 3.6 volt, 20mA, 1100mcd, with no reasoning at all. They don’t know anything about the one I’m replacing, there’s no info at all, (ie. amps, voltage, etc). No one, is able to give me any information! Where do I find these replacement bulbs/LEDs and more importantly how do I which ones I need!!! Please help!!!!!!

    Thank you!

    Jeff
    Philadelphia, PA

  10. Jason says:

    Jeff,

    My guess is that it’s probably not an LED. The ones I replaced were incandescent bulbs. Back in 1999, white LEDs would have been way too expensive. You’ll probably have a hard time finding a replacement. But you’d just be looking for a 12V bulb that looks the same size. Even if you do find something, it will probably look either brighter or dimmer than the others. I would recommend looking for a busted radio on eBay for parts.

    — Jason

  11. Jeff says:

    I purchased the 12v “mini lamps” from radioshack for $1.49 they work beautifully. Thank you very much for your help; I would have been searching for an “LED” until who knows when.

    Thanks again,

    Merry Christmas

    Jeff

  12. Jose says:

    Hey man.

    It looks so SWEET..I want to do the same and I was wondering if you could send me a parts lists of the resistors and the LEDs you used. How wide was your viewing angle?
    Thanks man!

  13. Stefanie says:

    Hi there. You seem to be one of the few sites that I have found that offer any bit of assistance!

    I have a 99 chevy blazer with the factory cd player. The lights lite up (the buttons for the presets and such), but the actual display (where you see the time and the radio channel) does not light up anymore.

    Could you give me some advice?

  14. Jason says:

    Just for the record, here are the bulbs that Jeff (above) used as replacements:

    http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2103780&cp

  15. Jason says:

    Stefanie,

    If it’s the same radio as mine, that LCD display is soldered directly to the circuit board of the display. It looks difficult to repair… you might get lucky and just have a broken solder joint at the connector.

    You might be able to find a similar radio on eBay that has something else wrong with it and just replace the whole faceplate. It’s not all that difficult if you’re comfortable taking stuff apart like this. It would not require any soldering to replace.

    Good Luck!

  16. Mike says:

    For those looking for blue leds w/ integral resistor, check out this site.

    http://www.lc-led.com/View/itemNumber/146

  17. Wayne says:

    Jason: great page! i have a 2001 Chevy Tahoe 4wd with a stock Delco CD Stereo (looks identical to your photos) – i have had these burnt out bulbs for months and the dealer said a swap out would cost $270 for the radio and $150 labor – but i don’t get my old radio back – they keep it, refurbish the unit and turn it over for a profit – what a racket – the temp control unit below the stereo also has blown bulbs and they said they would swap that out for an extra $155; all told $575 – yikes! anyway, your site gave me all the info i need to fix it myself and save HEAPS of money! thanks sooo much!

    One quick question – the LED next to the volume control that you replaced with a blinker, what did the original do? mine doesn’t work and i don’t remember if it ever functioned – what size and part number (radio shack?)was the original, do you know? – cool as the blinker is (and the blue LEDs) i think i’ll keep it simple and stick to the original set-up – thanks for a great page and all your help!

  18. Jason says:

    It just so happens that last weekend I had to replace two of the LEDs in my radio. I initially thought that I did a lousy wiring job, but once I took it apart, I discovered that two of the LEDs had actually failed. This was somewhat surprising. My only theory is that I was overdriving them with too much current (even though I was still under the rated value.) So, my suggestion to anyone else attempting to do the same project is to limit the current through the LEDs to as little as necessary to get your desired brightness.

    The LED next to the volume knob never did anything on my radio either. I could never even get the radio to output any voltage to the board trace. So I suspect they designed it in, but never used it. So, I think even if you replaced it, it still wouldn’t do anything.

  19. Paul says:

    The little red lite is for the theftlock.
    If you put security code in radio- this lite blinks when ignition is off
    to warn would be thieves that if radio is stolen it would be locked up
    and unusable.
    Read your owners manual how to set code- write it down.
    If you remove radio or lose power to it in any way (replace starting battery) you will need this code to unlock radio.

    Paul

  20. Michael says:

    Jason: Like everyone else, I started losing lites on the radio and air control panel on my 2000 Silverado and really got disgusted when I found what was involved to make repairs.Found your article and it was very helpful.Ordered blue 12v LEDs off the site Mike suggested on 1/24 /07. These I soldered to boards after removing old bulbs. Polarity does make a difference with these. I really like the way the project turned out. Thanks once again for the info.

  21. David says:

    Is removing the dash in a 2001 Tahoe easy?

  22. Michael says:

    Jason- A little heads-up if you try to relamp the air control panel in your rig… the back lighting for the push buttons on the bottom of the panel are connected in parallel.12v rated LED’s are a little bright here,maybe 14v rated would work out better. The four bulbs that back light the rotary switches are connected in a series-parallel circuit.In this case 10vrated LED’s might do a little better.I used 12v for all and the result is acceptable,but could be improved upon as far as brightness is concerned.I don”t have a picture but thought this might help out.

  23. Charlie says:

    I have just completed the mod above without all of the wiring. I just replaced a couple of the jumpers that feed the lights with the proper resistors and viola……. Instant deep blue color. The way I did it is a little more involved and only soldering skills are required. As long as you know the voltage your system runs at (the voltage in my truck is always about 14v so calculated for 13.5v) and the amprage that the leds should run at then you can use the online calculators. Doing this mod on the Board leaves everything nice and neat( no wires or exposed led tails to short out).
    In all it took me about half an hour, 10 bright Blue leds and only the cost of the LED’s plus an assorted package of resistors from radio shack. If anyone else would Help just email Bishop8192003@yahoo.com

  24. Charlie says:

    Oh by the way all of the lights do work and I left the incadecent by the volume knob so that the color goes from light blue to deep blue, as well as the seek button light blueDeep Blue

  25. Keith says:

    Great article and website! My bulbs in my delco radio also went out and I just took it out the other day to see what i could come up with. Finding this page saved me from lots of headaches of having the hassel of finding the right bulbs and soforth. Since I’ve only got one bulb out I like the idea of using Jeffs idea of the 12v mircolamp. Are those microlamps close in color to the factory ones, and can you use the existing connections to hook it up?

  26. Pingback: DIY:happy » Blue LED Display Stereo Mod

  27. Robb says:

    Hah…. the same exact LEDs went out on my 2001 Chevy Silverado’s radio!

    Time for some hacking, and good job man!

  28. Andrew says:

    If you do something stupid like forget to check which directionthe voltage is going and short out your radio by putting your leds on backwards, whats the chance that it can be fixed simply by switching the leds to be connected correctly.

  29. Pingback: Slow Train » Blue LED Delco Radio Mod

  30. Troy says:

    On a 98 Silverado, how do I remove the trim to access the radio?

  31. joe says:

    hey jason all of my lights are burnt out acceped the seek button and i have the exact same radio in my chevy s10 and hav expiriance in auto body,painting and some soldering but not sure how id get the raidio appart is it really hard?by the way my little light were the cds go in is out to is it replacable?

  32. Juan says:

    Hi, stumbled upon your entry here and had a question about heat. I have the same radio that I took out of my 2000 S10 and I want to use it as a garage radio. This would be something cool to do to it too. My only question, though, is how the LED’s stand up to heat. When the radio was on, it would get really hot. Do you think that is why your LED’s burned out?

  33. Jason says:

    Juan,

    I don’t think heat was really an issue. LEDs can withstand a lot of heat. I think it has to do with the quality of the LEDs and the current driving them. If you decide to give it a try, please let me know how it goes. Send a picture too!

  34. Keith says:

    Jason,
    Way cool mod! When I read about the LED failure I wondered if you “know” the bulb/LED voltage source is 12V? Automotive systems push sytem voltage as high as 16.1V in could weather. Granted the radio could have a clean regulated source for sensitive electronics, but would anyone at DE ever try to attach that to the bulbs? I think they are really on a who cares circuit from the dash dim pot on a rig like yours. Therefore there is some chance that an additional 4V is enough to push your LED to the wall. If I was to pick an average running system voltage on car I would pick 14V. Just my 2Volts. Keith

  35. Kyle says:

    Well, the lights in my 98 Silverado are still good, but boring! And most of the lights in my dad’s identical truck are out, so I smell a father-son soldering day this weekend!

    I LOVE the look of the blue, and was thinking about all the other lights in the cab, they can be replaced as well. Replacing them would probably be easier than the whole radio thing. I might do them first to get the hang of it, but I’m pretty good with soldering. My only worries would be getting the polarity right (voltmeter time) and resistors (sites you linked to).

    I would like the lights to match though… Should I go for blue dash and head liner lights, or do red all around? I’m leaning towards red because that won’t ruin your “night vision” when they come on. I have a feeling a bunch of white LEDs coming on after a ride in the middle of the night would result in blindness and lots of cursing and stumbling to the door…

    I know they have multi-colored LEDs, and I’m thinking there are LEDs that slowly change between colors, now THAT would be a pretty sweet effect if they all changed at the same time, if not, it’d look kinda stupid, in my honest opinion.

    Either way, GREAT writeup! And I kill you for doing what I’d been thinking about for ages! 😉 Kiddin man.

  36. NickV says:

    Hi Jason – I have a Delco radio just like the one you’ve updated wiht blue LEDS. I need to replace (1) button (P-Scan) on the radio (not lights). Can you offer me any “how to” advice” for removing the old button and installing the new one – including any need to address DELCO’s Theft Deterrent feature. If you’re able to provide pics for explanation purposes – it would be much appreciated.

    Thanks.

  37. Jason says:

    Hi Nick,

    From what I remember, the buttons were pretty standard, you should be able to find a replacement. You’ll need to be comfortable soldering though. They’ll need to be de-soldered from the circuit board and a new one in it’s place.

    Regarding the theft deterrent feature… if you have it enabled, you just need to make sure you know the code for it. If you disconnect power, it will require the code when you plug it back in.

  38. SANDY says:

    I have a 2001 Chevy Blazer with a Delco CD Player. My battery went dead and now the radio is locked and I don’t know the code. How can I get the code to unlock or is there another way around it? Please Help!!

  39. Bain Says says:

    I have found the bulbs for the heater control group on 95 – 99 Tahoe can be replaced with sylvania #37 bulbs available at Advance Auto – I found that the bulbs are very hard to remove – a pair of neddle nose will grip them and do the trick. Cost to repair – $6.00

  40. Rob says:

    You should offer your services to people with this same problem. I’d be willing to pay you to have my radio done. Half my bulbs are burned out, it’s quite a pain.

  41. Chris says:

    what mike said on January 24th, 2007 at 5:24 pm. If I got his leds with the intergral resistor will I not need to get resistors?

  42. Jeff says:

    Hi Jason,
    Great write-up! You have certainly helped a lot of people who had no where to turn, including me. May I suggest to those reading this page that if you want to get the blue look without wiring up the LED’s or if you want the factory white lights, a seller on ebay sells 10 packs of blue and white bulbs – search for “GM radio replacement bulbs”. The seller is “corvetteradioscom” and actually has their own website: http://www.corvetteradios.com/corvetteradios_013.htm – but you get a better deal if you buy the bulbs through ebay. Hope this helps!

  43. rob says:

    I replaced the 4 bigger bulbs in the climate control on a 2002 silverado which backlite the three control knobs. I got them from corvetteradios.com and was told they are 13.2 v 80ma bulbs. For some reason they are very,very dim and are not working out. Almost like there is not enough voltage to them. The bottom four smaller bulbs are also burnt out that are for the buttons. I have not replaced those yet and I’m wondering if that has anything to do with the intensity of the bigger bulbs. The pads are very fragile on the board and I had to scrape some of the print clean to make a good connection. Any thoughts what is happening here? I hate to buy a new control just to get the lights back.

    • Paul says:

      The 4ea bulbs for that climate control unit is not 13.2v, they sell the lower voltage that are OEM from Delco parts supply company, they only sell what calls for, we buy all the radio bulbs we need from corvetteradios.com

  44. Chris says:

    http://www.allelectronics.com/make-a-store/category/340600/LEDs/12-Vdc/1.html
    $0.55 for one if your only buying ten. cheaper then Mike’s suggested site. has only 3 colors. i am a student in high school so anything cheaper would help. i am sure these will help a lot of you. has the 12V integrated resistor. will be trying this on my chevy radio and my dad chevy radio. but same as above. only mine is a cass instead of CD.
    Cheers to CHEAP LEDs

  45. Chris says:

    the lights i listed do i work. i used blue ones on my chevy radio, they are the perfect brightness. had to solder all 10 of them directly to the motherboard. the only problem i had was my dad worring about me screwing the radio up, that was the hardest part of the whole project, took me about 3 hours to get the radio apart, replace the bulbs, and put back together. worth the time. now i have to do it to two more radios…. thanks for the ideas jason

  46. PHIL says:

    FOUND THIS SITE LAST WEEKEND, ORDERED THE BLUE BULBS FROM LC-LED AND SPENT NEW YEARS MORNING REPLACING ALL 10 BULBS(9 WERE BURNED OUT!). IT TOOK SOME TIME TO FIGURE OUT POLARITY, DELICATE SOLDER, ETC. THE RESULTS ARE AWESOME!! COOL BLUE LOOK AT NIGHT, NO MORE FUMBLING WITH BUTTONS. THANKS TO JASON AND ALL OF THE POSTS!

  47. Chris Moses says:

    i have done the mod with the bulbs i listed and it looks great. i also replaced the bulbs all alone my dash to be blue. one thing that i am woundering in your final picture it looks like your display is blue, is it or is that just the camera. and if it is how do i change that

  48. Jim says:

    Chris, I have a question about wiring the LED’s does the cathode go to the Ground?

  49. Henry says:

    I purchased these bulbs http://www.allelectronics.com/make-a-store/item/LED-12B/12V-BLUE-DIFFUSED-LED-5MM-T1-3/4/1.html which produce a great blue look as in the picture and the cathode (flat side on these) is the ground, they require no additional parts or wire due to the built in resistors and are dimmable.

  50. Chris says:

    easiest way i found is look at the LED. the one that has a short lead is the negative. the round lip on the bottom of the actually bulb will be flat on the same side as the short negative lead. hope this helps

  51. Randall Nations says:

    What is total number of lights to be replaced in the radio? I would like to order the LED’s before I pull the radio. I have a 1999 new body style with the delco radio/cassette with the separate CD player.

    Thanks for the great thread!

  52. Ryan says:

    My radio has two sets of lights – one green and one orange. Can I replace both sets?

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