I’ve long been in search of betterlighting in the Vanagon. I’ve still yet to add an IKEA puck light LEDs to the cockpit area, but I was nevertheless able to make two more light mods that really brightened things up. First, thanks to fellow vanagonaut Harold Teer, I acquired a second overhead galley light and mounted it above the stove. The improvement is incredible; gone are the days of cooking in the dark.
The second modification was to upgrade the bulbs yet again since LEDs have come a long way since I first installed them in Olly seven years ago. With new, brighter and warmer LEDs from superbrightleds.com, the interior becomes much less clinical, making it far cozier. The new warm LEDs also match the IKEA pucks better, giving an overall more uniform appearance when all the lights are on. One installation note: I did have to slightly bend the prongs in the galley lighting to accommodate the oversized festoons, but that was easily accomplished with a pair of needle-nose pliers. This could be avoided by using smaller LEDs than the 6451‘s I used, but some light output would be sacrificed.
As a bonus, the whole thing looks very vanagonish, as if the light fixture was always there.
The lighting additions I’ve done previously include a dome light over the front passenger seat and one over the sliding door. I’m using LED festoons to minimize the amp draw, and though the light is a bit diffuse and cooler than I’d prefer, when all are switched on, the cabin is lit well enough to enjoy a bit of nightlife. Reading is possible, but my eyes aren’t getting any stronger so it’s not entirely comfortable. So I decided to add some reading lights over the back passenger seat.
I picked up a set of Inreda LED spotlights from IKEA last year with the intention of mounting them in the cabin for additional lighting. Not only are they sufficiently bright to make reading enjoyable, but they’re also much warmer in color. As an added bonus, they pivot ever so slightly in their housings, allowing some small degree of directionality in their use. The lights are in plastic housings with an aluminum base. Like most things from IKEA, they’re not expensive (or expensively made) but their silver color and simple styling fit in well enough with the Vanagon aesthetic. The price of a package of four lights was around $45.
I decided to mount them on the cover for the Westy support bar so that they could be used as reading or task lights over the rear bench seats. Additionally, they are individually switched using rocker switches from Radio Shack. I mounted the switches to the sides primarily because there’s more depth in the air duct and shelf units that line the sides of the passenger compartment. The switches are simple and don’t look out of place in the van.
The wiring was straightforward: they are wired up in parallel with the kitchen light, so the lights can be turned on when the van is off, and I was able to do most of the wiring in the cover plate. Individually they each draw about 0.1 amps, so when they’re on with all the other interior lights, the draw is around 0.33 amps. I suspect that I’ll use the older interior lights less, as the light from the IKEA spotlights is plentiful.
The results are spectacular. Next I’ll have to mount one in the cockpit to better light that area. Also, I’d like to pick up some warmer toned festoons for the other light fixtures.
I’ve always thought that one oversight of the Vanagon is a lack of lighting in the passenger cabin. Obviously in Westfalias there’s the galley lighting, but that’s not triggered by opening the door. A closer inspection of the B pillar and the sliding door revealed that clearly it isn’t a complete oversight of VW: there is a cutout for the door switch, indicating it must be an option somewhere.
Adding the light wasn’t overly difficult, but did require a bit of experimentation. First I ran wires, tapping into the existing cabin lighting so that all the lights would be on the same circuit. This was made easier by the fact that I have already installed a light over the front passenger seat. Ultimately I got the wires in place using string and some bailing wire. That done, I had to engineer the trigger for the switch, since the door doesn’t fit flush where the switch mount point is. This I accomplished with a hex bolt and few nuts which allowed a fair amount of precision adjustment.
After that, it was just a matter of cutting the hole for the new light fixture in the right side air duct. I used the standard VW dome light for uniformity of appearance. Now I can see what’s going on when I open the sliding door, and the dome light provides some additional lighting when camping. Easily one of the best mods I’ve made on Olly so far.
The single driver-side dome light in the Vanagon tends to leave one in the dark, particularly when camping. I wanted a passenger-side light that retained the style of the original, and which could be controlled by the doors or switched on and off independently of the driver-side light. Fortunately, dome lights are cheap and easily available, and they’re easily installed.
I also wanted to replace the interior lights (both fore and aft) with LED lights which would generate less heat and consume less power when running on the battery. Two drawbacks to using LEDs is that they tend to have less light output (owing largely to their directional nature), and the light they generate tends to be colder than monofilament bulbs. I felt the “cool” nature of the lighting could be offset by having multiple light sources.
This project wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming. Removing the headliner (Bentley 75.7) isn’t fun, as it requires the removal of both the left (Bentley 76.4) and right (Bentley 76.5)curtain rails on late-model vans. I recommend following the Bentley procedures, as they take the guesswork out of what you need to disconnect. I would have saved myself considerable time had I done so.
After removing the headliner, I had to construct a metal bracket to hold the light, and cut a hole in the headliner. To make the bracket, I salvaged some sheet metal from an old computer CD-ROM case. It was a slightly lighter gauge metal, but was rigid enough to work. Measurements were taken from the existing bracket, easily visible with the headliner removed.
I cut the metal using an angle grinder for the outside and a Dremel tool for the inside. I shaped the bracket using pliers and a ball-peen hammer. When all done, I tested the fit of the dome light fixture before riveting it into the headliner.