If you have driven your Vanagon at night more than a couple times, you've probably noticed that the performance of the stock headlight system falls somewhere between a bit inadequate and downright dangerous. Luckily there are a few relatively simple and affordable modifications that can help to improve the quality and quantity of light coming from your van.
The Vanagon headlight circuit runs all of the current for the headlamps through the headlight switch, the high/low beam selector and the ignition switch. The small contacts inside these switches, added connectors and the added length of thin wires needed to complete this wiring run all limit the amount of power available to the bulbs.
Most headlight bulbs are rated for 100% output at approximately 13.3V. This is a fairly average operating voltage for a healthy automotive electrical system. A voltage loss of only 5% (12.64V) will result in an output of only 83% of the bulbs rated output. At a loss of 10% (11.97V) the bulbs will only be capable of putting out 67% of it's rated lumen output. The results get progressively worse as voltage decreases.
The easiest way to supply the maximum available power to your van's headlamps is to add a set of headlight relays. A properly designed set of headlight relays will help to increase the amount of light coming out of your headlamps in two basic ways:
1) The relay acts like an "electromagnetic bridge" that re-route's the electrical load away from the headlight switch on the van's dash. The lack of factory headlight relays is a well known weak spot in the design of the Vanagon's electrical system. This design flaw often results in a melted headlight switch and/or ignition switch.
After installing a set of relays, the van's headlight switch will only be used to trigger the relay to turn on. The electrical load of the headlights will also be removed from the hi/low beam selector, as well as the ignition switch. The reduced electrical load on these parts will allow all of them to run cooler and last longer.
2) The overall length of the electrical path running from the battery to your headlights will be shorter and the wires carrying the current out to your headlamps will be heavier gauge (thicker). This reduces some of the voltage restrictions inherent in the stock system and provides more juice to the bulbs.
Your relays will hook directly to the fuse block of your van and will be protected by the stock headlight fuses.
Unlike some vendors who sell a "one size fits all" headlight relay setup, I choose to offer two different relay kits made specifically for the model year of your Vanagon. The differences between the kits are based solely on the type of fuse block used in your van, so regardless of the style of headlights currently installed in your van, you should order the relay kit based on the model year of your van. The relay kits are always fabricated using 100% new materials to provide the longest possible service life.
Since I make the relay kits myself in small batches, I can make custom setups if you require a different wire length or different connectors to integrate with your wiring system. Email me at email@example.com with any questions about custom work.
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