Better backup lamps

Recently the overhead light bulb in our swank in-town garage burned out, so it no longer comes on automatically when the door opens. This made backing in the resident 911SC challenging, given its dim incandescent reversing lamps and the fact that it needs to be threaded in past a BMW motorcycle on one side (with protruding horizontal cylinders) and a hanging bicycle on the other.

The solution? Upgrade the reversing lamps, obviously. 

I know what you’re thinking: A 911SC isn’t exactly an overlanding vehicle. What gives? To which I could simply give you:

But seriously—the bits I’ll discuss here are relevant to a wide variety of more conventional OT&T-type models.

Most trucks and SUVs—even those designed for serious off-pavement travel—are equipped with backup lamps lit by incandescent bulbs invented when overlanding vehicles were still powered by oxen. Until recently, reversing after dark on a tough trail was a dicey proposition unless you mounted a decent halogen fog lamp hooked up to your reverse switch, as I did long ago on my FJ40.

But doing so was pricey and time-consuming—and not really something you want to do on a vintage Porsche . . . 

Enter the miraculous Light Emitting Diode.

My friend Tim Hüber has been upgrading his own Carrera, and sent me a link to, specifically here, for the 1156 CAN Bus 26 SMD LED tower BA15S retrofit.

Uh . . . huh? you might ask. CAN stands for Controller Area Network. The CAN Bus, introduced in 1986 by Robert Bosch GmbH, is a system in modern vehicles that allows all their various ECUs (Electronic Control Units—sometimes 60 or more of them these days) to communicate with each other and notify the central computer if something goes wrong. In the early days of LED bulbs, simply replacing an incandescent bulb with an LED, which has a different (lower) power draw, would result in a fault code. Modern LEDs incorporate what is called a supervision circuit to eliminate this flaw. The BA15S is simply the code for the original specification (and widely used) incandescent bulb. The new tower incorporates 26 LEDs for a 360-degree output that is not only brighter than the original, but draws significantly less power. While alarmingly more expensive than an old-fashioned bulb, it will probably last the life of the vehicle.

Replacing the old bulbs in the Porsche took all of 10 minutes, with a break in the middle to photograph the stark difference between old and new:

The improvement in rearward visibility is remarkable, and has allowed me to put off the odious task of getting out the stepladder and replacing that garage bulb.