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Tinted rear lights DIY. The STR look on the cheap

Lazlo Woodbine

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I always prefer an understated look with cars, lots of chrome just doesn't do it for me. What has always really stood out to me on my S-type is the rear lamps, they just look a bit, cheap, maybe even chintzy.

What I've always liked is the STR units, I've only ever seen them in photos but they have that dark look to them. However, I'm not prepared to pay the sort of prices they seem to go for when that money could be used to make my car go/stop/handle better. What I needed was a cheapskates alternative, and I think I've found it.

I got a pair of spare standard tail lamp units off a scrap car and went about trying to figure out the best way to tint them slightly darker. I hate the completely black look and peeling paint or film just looks rubbish so I needed a subtle, durable solution. I figured getting rid of some of the chrome inside the unit was the way, after all it is this you can see through the lens and is what gives the lamps that light, shiny look. The problem is that the lens is heat-bonded on to the main part of the unit.



Drastic action was required.IMG_2769.thumb.JPG.f09f54f4a288f0bdb4a7d90b39ea99bf.JPG


The problem with cutting ABS plastic is that it melts so easily. I started off with a slow speed to try to avoid this but it still melted, and clogged. I ended up on the highest speed and melted it purposely.


Once I'd been all the way round the lens prised off, be careful though as the plastic is brittle.


The lamp unit is made up of three major parts as seen here.IMG_2774.thumb.JPG.6bbb6ab080ac6110d1ac1311da66c3c0.JPG

It's that part in the lower left corner that I'm going to make black.

I'd considered paint but then there's the risk of runs and it not sticking properly. On the back of this part there was some chrome missing, and joy, it was black! All I needed to do was remove all the chrome.. Enter a bottle of poundshop bicycle cleaner.


This stuff will take the anodising off aluminium and the skin off your hands, in fact I'm not sure it's bicycle cleaner at all.IMG_2782.thumb.JPG.a0321d8405df9be5cd9ee8bb0d5263c9.JPG

I applied it to the part and stuck it in a carrier bag to stay wet and get to work on that chrome. Had I had more, or was able to go get it today, I would have emptied a couple of bottles or so into a pan and submerged the part in it, it's only £1 a litre after all and probably still fine to use on my bike afterwards.


After repeated sprayings and baggings the chrome just rubbed off with a rag. Some bits were a little awkward, mould lines and some acute corners needed a bit more elbow grease.IMG_2771.thumb.JPG.9c6d5ceefc5033940f4f68df5e5f3acd.JPG


Here's a freshly de-chromed one compared to the standard finish.IMG_2780.thumb.JPG.8442180d958b572385271bb0da0d73f5.JPG


Here it is sat in the main part of the unit. None of the reflectors have been touched and the operation of the lamps will not be affected in any way.



I've now glued the lenses back on both units with 2 part epoxy resin. The house will still stink of it in the morning. Whilst the seam is of course visible it will only be when the boot is open, no big deal to me. These are my first set and I'm sure improvements can be made and incorporated into the next pair.

Tune in tomorrow for pictures of the completed units in the car and comparisons with the standard ones.

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Well done Laz, sounds creative and effective! Interested to see the pics of them on the car to help decide whether I want to do this on mine :yes:

PS. I have that same bike cleaner, didn't realise it was so caustic!

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Thanks. To be fair I have seen a similar thing done to headlamps so I can't take full credit. But I've not seen sealed units like this opened up to do it before. I'm really hoping they don't look rubbish on the car, I don't know yet because it's tipping it down here. Hopefully it either stops raining soon or I stop being a wuss and go out in it. The smell of araldite had faded just in time for me to get it out again to fill in some little holes I missed, the last thing I want is for moisture to get in there.

That bike cleaner is notorious round here, well in our little mountain biking circle anyway. Just don't leave it on anything too long, I wasn't joking about the anodising. I suppose it says it all that when I want to remove any finish off anything I think of the pink terror.


To re-attach the lenses I coated the cut edge of the lens with just a smear of epoxy knowing that the majority of it wouldn't touch the main part of the unit. I placed the lens face down on a rubbery mat and placed the main part on top then weighed it down with a box of cat food (it was heavy and to hand). Where there was a sizeable gap between the edges I put a wedge under the lens to exert more pressure on that spot to close it. My epoxy is the quick stuff so after half an hour it was as stuck as it would ever be. I then mixed up some more and started filling in the gaps all the way round. It's messy stuff and actually the standard rather than quick drying epoxy would be much better for this as you wouldn't have to rush to use it up before it hardens. This is probably the slowest part of the job and it stinks. 

Here's the seam that is visible within the boot aperture.IMG_2793.thumb.JPG.9eebdcb12ec75f75e8cabd3921d31f4f.JPG

Once the gap is filled completely I could sand off the excess glue but as these are the first attempts I will opt for reliability over looks and leave it.

These spare lights weren't immaculate to begin with and I did actually manage to put a small crack in one of the lenses so, assuming they work, one day I'll do another pair and use what I've learned this time to make them neater and better.

One thing I really want to improve upon is cutting them open. Melting my way though is messy and inaccurate and so if I can find a tiny hand saw that would cut this stuff I'd rather take the time doing it neatly. A miniature jigsaw might work if such a thing exists.

The weather's drying up now so after lunch I'll go and fit these things.

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The rain hasn't made it to the Isle of Wight yet but is on it's way I expect! A neater way of cutting and sealing would be nice, I might be able to score it through with one of the lasers or the CNC router I have on order, but TBH, using hand tools is likely to be the best bet if the pieces aren't completely flat, and setting up the job could take longer than doing it with a hand tool! Perhaps a bladed cutter rather than the abrasive disc would generate lass heat? I have various tooling here that might work and relatively cheap couriers for collecting and sending stuff about the country if we could get hold of some for testing. There are probably a few light units locally I could track down as well :yes:

Some sort of black silicone / mastic could seal and neaten them up, and or a strip of rubber or perhaps black ABS over the edge might help. I have various things I could cut and send you if of interest?

Didn't know you were a fellow cyclist! I've mainly been hitting the road this year as I'm doing L'Etape in July, but still love my MTB when I get a chance to ride it. I'll be careful of the 'pink terror' in future. Don't want it attacking the carbon fibre!

Cheers, Russ :wink1:



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I don't think there's a flat surface on them! My dad's got one of those electric oscillating tools, a bodgers friend as he calls it. I may well try that, my only worry is that it may shatter the plastic lens which is probably the most brittle part. You can only go in about 10mm before hitting the part that gets de-chromed (we should officially name these different parts for ease. But that said, I named the piece of water pipe from my suspension bush thread "the pusher" but my dad kept singing Steppenwolf every time I said it so I had to just call it "water pipe"). You can actually see where I caught it in one of the photos above, fortunately it's not visible when re-assembled.

The standard lamps go for naff all money on eBay, my guess is they don't fail or get broken too often. There's certainly a lot of bumper sticking out past them! If a Jag breaker would do a big box of them that would probably be the way to go, certainly as far as delivery costs go. The chap I bought my grill off was very fair, he chucked in a badge that goes for a tenner or so on eBay for free just with me asking what he wanted for it.

Thank you for the offer of bits but I'll pass the moment as I don't know how soon I'll be able to do another set. Mastic's a good idea, if the edges could be cut neater than I did it then a nice bead of that could probably take the place of glue on that face. It's the one that really needs sealing as the water from the boot gutter flows down that way.

I suffered a broken back last year and have only just started cycling again, very gentle forest loops on the XC bike so far. I hoping to be hitting some bigger stuff by the end of the year and maybe get back to doing some DH riding. I recently got my first carbon part, some bars for my "hardcore" hardtail but I'm not entirely confident in the fancy wonder plastic yet, I think they will be going on the XC bike instead.


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I fitted the lamps. I think they look quite good...


..compared to the standard ones.IMG_2799.thumb.JPG.6c2bd9713bba5d3570e78f7834823d73.JPG


Here's a picture of the car with one of each, unfortunately there's a water droplet on the camera lens over the original lamp.IMG_2797.thumb.JPG.d5c917b36affec75d99da4932902c576.JPG

I did consider leaving chrome on just the bevelled edge around the clear section of lens to give a little detail. However removing the chrome as I did made that tricky, maybe I'll try it with another pair.

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Very nice Laz, I think I like that a lot!

Sorry to hear about the broken back, wishing you a full and speedy recovery! 

PS. I've had a carbon fibre MTB since 2005, and carbon fibre road bikes since 2008, done right, it is the wonder stuff :yes:

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  • 2 months later...
On 5.6.2017 at 1:19 AM, Lazlo Woodbine said:

These are my first set and I'm sure improvements can be made and incorporated into the next pair.

That's usually my thinking as well. And I suspect you and I are alike in that we're not afraid to try things we haven't done before.

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On 5.6.2017 at 1:11 PM, Lazlo Woodbine said:

One thing I really want to improve upon is cutting them open. Melting my way though is messy and inaccurate and so if I can find a tiny hand saw that would cut this stuff I'd rather take the time doing it neatly. A miniature jigsaw might work if such a thing exists.

Could it be possible to use a drill press at the lowest possible speed (200rpm or something like that) with a router bit?

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On 23.8.2017 at 9:45 AM, R2e said:

I've been thnking about this. It should be possible to attach the sawblades to a miniature screwdriver (or a larger screwdriver) with a chuck, like jewellers and watchmakers use, and turn it by hand. I've done it a lot with drill bits when I repaired cameras in the olden days, and Laz is willing to spend some time on it. :smile:

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Thank you. It does seem to have worked out well.

However the one lens I put a small crack in has developed a few more in random places. So I would say, don't try to remove the lens when cutting it off, just cut away until it falls off itself.

I haven't really looked at doing another set yet. The originals off my car are still languishing in the shed so I should really get round to it soon. The wood blades look promising for sure, though I can't help thinking that the plastic's a bit brittle for them to work.

I'll have a look as soon as I get a chance and let you all know what method I try.


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