1986-1993 Volvo 240 European (E-code) headlight conversion
...or here's an excellent write up for using 1978-1980 headlamps on later 240's!
OEM Brazilian made Cibié headlamps vs. DJ Auto aftermarket ones?
While you're at it, why not wire up the Daytime Running Lights (DRL's)?
Brazilian made Cibié headlamps
Euro lights (on
a particularly nice 240)
Why is this page here? Why do this?:
See Daniel Stern Lighting for excellent products and knowledge! If you do this upgrade, buy the electrical stuff (relays, bulbs, and connectors) from him. Your life will be much easier. Dan also caught some errors and misconceptions that I had made on this page. Not only is this page much improved because of it, the argument to upgrade your headlights is now much stronger. As with every exchange I've had with him, I also learned a lot more about lighting. Thanks, Dan!
Why is this page here? Partially because at first glance this seemed a little overwhelming, and I wanted to pull together the info that I had to find spread all over the web on a pile of different web sites, and from picking the brains of the folks on SwedishBricks ...hopefully this page will save someone else the "legwork" of tracking this stuff down. I also felt the need to get this off of my conscience, since this is the first real substantial not-absolutely-100%-necessary "mod" that I've done to this car, and consequently I feel like I've crossed some fine line of sanity (my roommates and neighbors know that I have). In short, by writing up this "Justification for Purists", I feel absolved of something...or other.
This page has also snowballed a little bit since I first put it together in 2005. The best part has been being able to correspond with other 240 enthusiasts around the world.
So, why upgrade your 1986-1993 Volvo 240 US DOT headlights to E-code headlamps and upgrade the wiring circuit? This was the question I struggled with. I like to keep things stock as much as possible from a philosophical and practical point of view. A little research of lighting codes and 240 history made the decision a lot easier:
Lighting Codes: Europe has different lighting codes than the United States. In the U.S., headlamps put out a "cloud" of unfocused light whereas in Europe, the headlamps put out a much more focused beam of light that cuts off sharply slightly below the horizontal. The running excuse for our inferior U.S. headlamps is that in Europe, overhead signs are lighted, whereas in the US they aren't, and consequently, in the US, these signs need to be lighted by headlamps. Thus, having headlamps illuminate things well above the horizon means that our US headlamps have to be restricted in brightness so as not to blind other drivers. This isn't at all true. Europe and the U.S. both have roughly the same mix of lit and unlit road signs. The truth is that while Europe and the U.S. have the same minimum limit for upwardly directed light for road signs, the U.S. has a much higher maximum. Thus, the "overhead sign" argument for U.S. lighting codes is effectively bunk. It seems that we're basically dealing solely with beauracracy... and only now are we coming of the "dark ages" of automotive lighting.... which is another story for another time, since none of this was resolved early enough to affect the Volvo 240.
Another deficiency of U.S. lighting codes is that as early as 1962, Europe was using halogen bulbs, which put out a great deal of light in headlamps. As usual it took the US over 20 years to figure out something obvious, so halogen bulbs weren't approved in the US until the 1984. In short, E-code headlamps illuminate the road much better, and yet are more friendly for oncoming traffic than their U.S. counterparts. When you live in populated areas with lots of overhead lighting, you may not need to have great headlights, but when you drive on dark rural roads (inhabited by deer) being able to see well is easily worth the price of upgrading. Ask me how I know.
Volvo History: The Volvo 240 was a monster that not even Volvo could stop. It was introduced to the world in 1975 (basically as a continuation of the 140/164 series introduced in the 1960's), and was popular worldwide. Since the US tends to be a major market for all automakers, Volvo complied by offering the 240 with good DOT approved sealed beam headlights. The front end sheet metal was slightly different sheet metal on US 240's from the European cars. By the early 1980's, Volvo had introduced the 740/760 model which was designed to supercede the 240. By then, the 240 was outdated and was slated to go extinct in the 1986 model year.
What happened? The 240 was so popular, that Volvo basically couldn't justify not to continue making it. In fact, the 240 stayed in production until 1993, while the 740 (a very fine car, BTW) which was designed to replace it was last produced in 1992! A rumor about Volvo, that if true is really quite remarkable, is that Volvo continued to make the 240 without profit to keep their employees with jobs. Good business sense? Obviously not, but pretty damn human. The big change in the 240 from 1986 until its end in 1993 was the front end. Presumably to cut costs, the U.S. 240 now had the European front end sheet metal (why have a version for the rest of the world, and one for North America?), which meant the headlamps now needed to be "euro-sized" yet conform to US DOT codes. Thus, Volvo used the plastic lensed headlamps that (20 years later) have long since clouded and yellowed... and generally suck. The light output was never sufficient for driving in back roads rural America. In short, the 240 was supposed to have the Euro-code headlamps. This is how 240's are equipped in every other market in the world. The plastic ones are a concession to deal with crummy U.S. lighting codes.
The lenses can be replaced, but genuine Volvo ones are expensive and rumor has it that the aftermarket ones are really a waste of money. Furthermore, the seal keeping moisture out eventually goes, and then you wind up with condensation inside the lens. Finally, E-code lamps have glass lenses that won't fade or yellow. Aftermarket Euro lamps can be had for not much more than new genuine Volvo US lamps. When the odds are that you'll eventually own another 240, the upgrade makes even more sense since you can transfer these parts to the next car! (Note: This is a dangerous philosophy, as it basically green lights all kinds of purchases: gauges, senders, sway bars, wheels, engine parts, strange factory accessories you can easily live without, etc. Soon you're into your 2nd mortgage and need help... but no problem, you can use this stuff on the Volvo wagon you're looking to get for your girlfriend.... the wagon that instead of being a 240 materializes as a 740... with Regina fuel injection.... so nothing is interchangable... doh!...)
Wiring Upgrade the Wiring?: Two points: First, even from the factory the headlamps didn't get the full voltage from the battery/alternator, since the circuit covers a lot of mileage going through switches, relays, and even the bulb failure sensor. Yes, I did a double take when I saw that in the Bentley wiring diagram! Second, the electrical system has aged 15-20 years which means corrosion has added resistance to the original headlamp circuit so the headlamps are getting even less voltage. The solution: install relays and fuses so you can power the headlamps directly from the battery/alternator which will allow full power to reach the lights. See Dan Stern's site for some excellent info. Furthermore, standard E-codes use a 55 watt filament for low beams, whereas standard SAE/DOT bulbs use a 45 watt filament.
What you Need:
9004/H4 Connector pin-outs -- note that the 9004 is the one on the car. A 9004 "adapter" would thus be reversed.
Upgrading the Wiring
Do this first. Well actually, in between: Pull the old lights out, do this, then put the new lights in (see below). I thought I could get away with doing all of the "hardware" first, and wiring second. Turns out I had to pull one of the lights out again to get the wiring in. Not difficult, just less parsimonious...
I'm using the relay kit from Daniel Stern Lighting, which has high quality parts of everything you need, except for some ring terminals, wire, and heat shrink tubing. Most importantly, with this kit, you won't have to cut any of the existing wiring. Basically, crimp and heat shrink where you need to. Use electrical contact grease (such as Oxgard) as well to protect connections. Here's a good how-to guide for crimping connectors. Don't solder. Dan Stern's web site has all the info you need, such as wiring diagrams. Dan Stern was a huge help as well.
I put the relay block in front of the battery, and ran the three lengths of 10-gauge wire to each headlamp (high-beam/low-beam/ground). I had some leftover 10-gauge around, but 12-gauge would have been better 'cause it's more flexible. The 10-gauge turned out to be crazy overkill, and it's stiff as anything. 12 gauge should be fine... I thought about using the alternator for power, but it's in kind of a bad place on the 240: under the water pump, and the valve cover sometimes leaks oil there when the gasket needs replaced. When we got my kid sister's 1980 245, we found that the previous owner had let a leaky valve cover gasket go long enough that it killed the alternator.
From the relays, I bundled up two sets of three wires (High/Low/Ground) each to run to each headlamp, and electrical taped the entire length. For the driver's side, the bundle needed to be a bit less than a foot. The lights now ground directly to the battery instead of the chassis. To run to the passenger side, I ran the wire through the opening in the sheet metal under the headlamp, then behind the grille and in front of the condenser, and finally back into the engine compartment via another opening, and finally to the headlight. To further protect it from chafing, I used some split tubing to cover the length where it passes through the sheet metal and behind the grille. From there, crimp and plug everything together. A little electrical contact grease and dielectric grease can do wonders. Dielectric grease is nonconductive, use this to protect places you don't want moisture to get into. Such as on the distributor cap, and around multi-pin connectors, and grounds. Contact grease, such as Oxgard and sparkplug antiseize has little bits of metal in them, and consequently, they ARE conductive. Don't use this on multi-pin connectors (such as turn signal connectors, headlamp connectors, etc) or you'll short them out.
Tip: With an extra 9004 plug, you can wire a redundancy into the system by wiring your now loose headlight connector into one of the H4 connectors.
I "borrowed" this image from a VW page...
If you don't use relays, at least the 9004 to H4 adapters....
General wiring overview
Turn signal layout
|The same wiring scheme (on a non-Volvo)|
| Part 2: Getting the old ones out and
the new ones in
Start by opening the hood and removing the grille. From the in the engine compartment, locate the three nuts securing each headlamp to the car. My car lived in the salty northeast for 15 years, and removing the old nuts was a bit more difficult than I expected: even with plenty of penetrating oil, all of the bolts were pretty much seized and then spun in the headlamp bracket. This, of course, required getting medieval since I had to work on the street: I pulled the lenses off (they came off by hand - two fingers on each side) and then carefully tugged the reflectors off (Pull the grille first). A bit dicey, but OK in the end (don't touch the shiny surface of the reflectors!). This exposed the heads of the bolts (which are recessed in the plastic), so I could then chisel just enough of the plastic away (which was stripped out and useless anyway) so I could get a wrench on them. In the end, I found that most fasteners were so rusty that most of the bolts broke rather than the nuts actually breaking free. New fasteners can be epoxied in afterwards, and there's plenty of plastic left should you ever wish to reuse your old headlights. Note: Someone smarter suggested that I probably should have just "dremeled" the bolts out from under the hood. Doh! Live and learn...
The turn signal electrical connectors were also a "sticking" point. If yours have found spiritual oneness with each other, I found that pulling them apart was much easier by disassembling the connector on the turn signal side (not the car side since you absolutely need to keep that one in good shape!), and then removing the wires individually, and then reassembling the connectors. This is easy to do and just requires a small flat screwdriver.
My original headlamps held up for a long time, but they were in rough shape. My E-code upgrade project quite literally turned into preventative maintenance.
Be mindful that you'll need to keep all of the trim from the original US lights: the chrome pieces, and the black moldings between the grille and the head light lens (see picture). The chrome trim from the turn signal, and the black molding between the light and the grille are a direct fit to the new E-code lights. The long chrome strip above the headlight itself will not fit on the new lights since the glass lenses are deeper. Last time I priced these new from Europe, they were close to $100 shipped to my door (used ones can be had from overseas).... As an experiment, I decided to "modify" my existing trim strips (think sculpture) with pliers so they would fit. I then stuck them onto the glass lens itself with heavy duty double sided exterior foam tape (basically the same stuff used on Volvo high mileage badges), so it looked OK from as close as a foot away. It took several layers of tape so the trim conformed with the top of the headlamp. If it doesn't hold up, who cares? They're free, were in rough shape to begin with, not useful for much else, and they can't really go anywhere. Plus, my car isn't a show car. An alternative to the tape is an adhesive goop product. Make sure it's good and strong, but still ultimately removable.
The new headlights went in pretty much without a hitch. The aftermarket lights were not a perfect fit, the passenger side fit perfectly, the driver's side was a little funky, and I needed to shim the upper, fender-side stud about a quarter of an inch with a stack of washers. If you have big hands, ask a neighbor if you can borrow their small child for an hour. Before putting the headlight assemblies in, first run your wires and install the relays, and then plug in your turn signal connectors and ground (much more room to work this way). On installing the headlamps, I found on the passenger side that the AC receiver/drier is very close to the headlamp, not touching, but close. On the driver's side, the intake "snorkel" will need to be carefully pushed down out of the way.
Original glazed over headlamps
More Results - Gratuitous pictures....
Was it worth it? Things I found, and conclusions...
Places to find European headlamp parts if you live in the U.S....
Volvo Part Numbers - for reference only
(from 2005 Volvo parts fiche - VADIS - click for larger version)
Internet Service Provider
Genuine Volvo Part Numbers - for reference only
(from Duncan LaBay's article in Rolling - 17(4) - July/August, 1999)
|1372394||Left headlamp, complete (HASY) -Countries with right-hand traffic|
|1372395||Right headlamp, complete (HASY)|
|1312058-9||Glass lens, Left (HASY)|
|1312059-7||Glass lens, Right (HASY)|
|1307439-8||Seal (Between glass lens and housing)|
|1307452-1||Attachment - attaches reflector to adjusting screw (3/unit)|
|1312062-1||Adjuster screw - (2/unit)|
|1307438-0||Clips - metal fasteners that attach the lens to the housing (8/unit)|
|1307451-3||Rubber seal - (protects back of H4 bulb, attaches to housing)|
|1259250-7||Moulding, Left - Chrome (L-shaped attaches to top and grille-facing edges)|
|1259251-5||Moulding, Right - Chrome|
|1259404-7||Moulding, Left - Black|
|1259405-7||Moulding, Right - Black|
Turn Signal Part Numbers
|1259260-6||Assembly, Left (no DRL) - Daytime running lights|
|1259261-4||Assembly, Right (no DRL)|
|1259262-2||Assembly, Left (DRL)|
|1259263-0||Assembly, Right (DRL)|
|1307253-3||Moulding, Left - Chrome (corresponding U.S. part will fit)|
|1307254-1||Moulding, Right - Chrome|
|1307255-8||Moulding, Left - Black|
|1307256-6||Moulding, Right - Black|