Lamp Socket Fabrication

The usual problem with these military lights is water getting into the housings and then corroding the poop out of all the innards.  Since I've been through all this, I've had several people ask me how to repair or make a new set of sockets, so here's the info on cleaning or replacing the sockets.  If you want to know how to switch them over to 12V or 24V lamps, click here.

Keep in mind that even if you do get your old ones cleaned up, they will tend to keep on corroding unless you seal them with a clearcoat of some sort.  I tried cleaning my old sockets but I finally gave in and fabricated my own internals instead.  I've also picked up some NOS tail lights off of ebay, but the ones I made are still working so well I haven't changed them yet!

Note: once you get your sockets fixed or replaced, be SURE to put in a gasket or use some RTV to seal the lights up after EACH time you open them, or the corrosion will happen again!!

First I'll tell you how I cleaned mine and pass along a suggestion from a friend who restores old military stuff for a living, then I'll tell you what I did on the ones I have. Mine were so bad I had to clean the housings anyway, so I went ahead and tried to clean the sockets.  I got them to work OK, but I wound up replacing the sockets in the end.  Next I'll go into replacing the sockets by fabricating new ones.


My restoration friend said at this point I could install the lamps and then clear-coat everything inside with the lamps in place and this might arrest the corrosion process for awhile. I didn't like the sound of that, and the sockets were so bad I went ahead and replaced mine...


Photograph ©2001 Stan R. Day (13001 bytes)
1. Corroded original mil style sockets
First, I have to say you have only a couple of choices on this, try to fix the old stuff, or replace the old stuff. Unfortunately, the ultimate problem you run into is that once the socket assemblies are rusted and corroded, even if you clean them up they won't stay that way, they will continue to corrode. I'll include a shot of what mine looked like at first.
Photograph ©2001 Stan R. Day  (12639 bytes)
2. 85802 DC Socket
I went to AutoZone and got some new "ConductTite®" brand sockets (doesn't matter where you get them, however they DO need to be the "spring-loaded" style shown).  I think most of the chain-store auto places have these, see the close-up pictures.  The one shown at left is the double-contact (DC) style socket.  Use this type only if you want a single lamp solution.  My first attempt used a single socket like this with a double-contact lamp in it (a combo running light and signal light like the original civilian style taillights used). The double-contact socket AutoZone part number is 85802.  This will work OK and is very simple to do.
socket_with_lamp.jpg (11787 bytes)
3. 85804 SC Socket
However, I wanted something much brighter so I made some 3-socket versions to mimic the military style that was in there before. All three sockets are all the same, and are single-contact style.   The single-contact socket AutoZone part number is 85804.  I also added a new license plate illumination light which was a "Blazer" brand, number C149.

Note the aluminum RG59 cable strap in the foreground.

Illustration ©2001 Stan R. Day (14718 bytes)
4. Socket Illustration 1
Then, using some little aluminum clamps designed for holding RG59 cable TV wire to walls I fabricated some straps to hold the sockets in place (see the socket picture above; some hardware stores or electronic supplies should have these). I just flattened them out, then put them through the sides of the socket where they have a strong spring clamp action, and crimped them down. You could add a pop rivet too if you wanted too, but I felt they would be strong enough as is. So far, the 3-socket ones I have in use have been fine. I like these aluminum clamps since they are "pre-drilled," the only thing I had to do was to slightly trim the width with some tin snips so they fit into the sockets. I also had to put 2 straps together on the 3-socket version due to the length needed and I did use a pop rivet there.  
Illustration ©2001 Stan R. Day (18032 bytes)
5. Socket Placement and Spacers
This shows the relative spacing of the sockets.   I used small sections of 1/4" copper tubing for spacers to get everything to the right level, then installed in the pattern shown.

NOTE: If you want true military "blackout" functionality, you may need to add a metal plate between the upper lights and lower light like the mil harnesses use. In my case, I replaced the blackout lenses with street-legal all-red lenses so it didn't matter for mine.

Photograph ©2001 Stan R. Day ((13528 bytes)
6. Completed 3-Socket Setup
I created my own rubber gasket for the rear of the light that the wires pass through by cutting it out of an old tailgate mat.  This way the rear end of the light is waterproof too.

After that it's a simple matter of running the new wire out and hooking them up.

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