Fitting Reverse Lights

I have been asked to show how to fit reverse lights to a Series Land Rover, such that they illuminate automatically, not needing the driver to operate any switches.

Provision was made for this on all later SIIIs, with suffix D and later gear boxes, but it is a simple job to fit a similar system to earlier units.

If you look at the mounting bracket for the gear stick pivot ball, you may see a drilled hole on the rear face, towards the right hand side. This is for the reverse light switch. It is a spring loaded plunger switch, very similar to the brake light switch, and is operated by the gear box’s reverse selector shaft inhibit flap (the spring loaded flap that prevents the driver from accidentally moving the gear stick into the reverse gate). On the rear edge of this flap is a small steel tab, angled downwards. This simply presses the switch when reverse is selected.

SIII suffix C and earlier boxes have a slightly different flap, without the tab, and may also lack the hole in the stick mounting. It’s a simple mod to sort those out, though, using a strip of folded steel for the tab, secured by the flap adjustment bolt and some JB Weld (an epoxy for metals) or a couple of tack welds. The switch hole is drilled in line with the newly added tab (with reverse selected).

The switch was unavailable when I carried out the mod on my 109, so I used a standard brake light switch for the dual circuit brake system, which required the enlargement of the hole. Using a nut on the shaft of the switch on each side of the gear stick mount, I can adjust the position of the switch to prevent it blocking reverse selection and set it to activate the light at the correct point.

The power is fed to the switch by a dedicated feed from the fuse box. Make sure you include a fuse in the circuit – the first time around, I didn’t and had the start of an electrical fire when the switch output wire contacted the exhaust and melted the insulation, causing an unrestricted short. Thankfully, since I was reversing, I was able to shut off the engine instantly and use the battery isolator switch to cut off all the electrics. It’s amazing how fast an electrical fire fills the interior with choking smoke, thick enough to prevent all vision.

The rear light can be of whatever choice you prefer. I initially used a single rectangular light as used on the very late SIII Countys and earlier Defenders, but recently upgraded to a pair of NAS circular lights. Some use sidelights meant for the front wings, which work fine as long as you don’t use them long – at 5W (sidelight bulb, too dim for reversing) the heat generated is fine, but at 21W (reverse light bulb), the heat starts melting the sprung plastic disc in the light unit that carries the positive bulb contact. The light is then just earthed to the body or chassis. Simple!

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  1. Wayne Bridge says:

    Great reverse light article! Thanks -W

  2. carlyle wharwood says:

    hi nick i just want to say thank you for letting me know how to fit the reverse light on my 109 station wagon . I will send you a photo of it soon

  3. carlyle wharwood says:

    i forget to tell you, i use the reverse switch from a nissan 4×4 ,gear box and it work very well

  4. carlyle wharwood says:

    right now my lights are working very well .mY SERIES III is the only one that that setup

  5. Terrific article and a great help – just done this to my 71 SWB following your instructions.

    Thank you!

  6. Nick

    Where did you mount the actual light? How did you wire it in?



  7. Hi James.

    The switch is fed from the fuse box using 8A wiring (24W at 12V needs 2A, and I have a pair of lights plus reversing sensors,and wanted a large safety margin). The fog lights are mounted in the lower middle of the rear quarter panels, where a Defender has the individual fog and reverse lights, and the reverse lights are mounted at the same level inboard of them.

  8. Hiya nick. I couldn’t help but think that it can’t be a brake switch. The brake switches complete the circuit when the plunger is released. Like when a brake pedal is pressed moving it away from the switch. So a brake switch mounted to the bracket would leave the reverse light always on as the reverse gate wouldn’t make contact with the switch therefore leaving the plunger always fully extended

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I can’t make sense of that. Wouldn’t it require a switch that is normally open in its natural position. And closed when operated

  9. As I said in the article, I did use a brake light switch. They are about a quarter the price of the reverse light switch, more easily available and should be more robust (as brake light circuits have two 21W bulbs, not just one).

    The brake light switches are closed when pressed, so there is no need for any relay or other method to invert the switch output. The same is true when used on the brake pedal box, at least on dual circuit systems. The single circuit pedal box may have a switch that closes when the pressure on the plunger is released, but this is the standard switch for the dual line system.

  10. Great article! I have finally got round to fitting my reverse light on my lightweight. I swapped one of the rear fog lights for the reverse – they use the same wattage bulbs so all that was needed was a new ‘reverse’ glass.
    Thanks for the great website

  11. Glad it helped you. Reverse lights are a big safety as well as practical benefit, especially if the switching is automatic, and it’s not a difficult job when you know how!

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