CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Get lit: How to decorate your vehicle with Christmas lights

Jazz up your car or truck with some festive holiday lights for parades or tailgate parties.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
3 min read

Lighting your vehicle is fun, but check laws and stay safe.

Alina Bradford/CNET

Each year, the family and I deck out our F-150 with Christmas lights to participate in the holiday light parade. Last year, we won second place in our division, so I know a little something about decorating vehicles for the holiday season.

Whether you're in a parade, or just like to show off your holiday spirit at your tailgate party, you can add lights to your vehicle easily... and without killing your battery. Here are some tips to get you WIP lit this holiday season.

Is it legal?

If you're planning on adding lights to your vehicle for everyday use, it's probably not a great idea. It's more than likely illegal in your area. You can always call your local police department to find out the laws in your area, but to be on the safe side, only decorate for events where you'll take the decorations off afterward.

When lighting your vehicle for a parade or when lighting up a tailgate party, you shouldn't have any problems. Police can be more lenient in these cases, especially if it's a nighttime light parade. Just make sure to turn on the lights after you get to the event to be on the safe side.

Start small


Snowflake lights.

Alina Bradford/CNET

Before going all-out, start with a simple decoration and go from there. I suggest starting with a wreath you can attach to your car's grill using zip ties. When you're done, the ties can be easily removed without damaging your vehicle. Light the wreath with battery-powered lights instead of the kind you plug in.

The lights come with their own small battery pack. All you need to do is switch them on before you go out.You can get battery-powered lights at most home improvement stores and some department stores and they come in a variety of shapes and colors. My favorite are the ones shaped like snowflakes. 

Battery-powered lights can also be wrapped around the grill for a little more bling.

How to get big-time lit

OK, so maybe going small isn't your style. Drenching your vehicle in bulbs is a little more difficult than just adding a wreath or some battery-powered lights.


First, you're going to need a power inverter to produce enough power for lights that have a voltage more than 12V. Most Christmas lights are 110V AC (alternating current). That's no good for car use because your vehicle can typically only power 12V DC (direct current). 

The inverter allows you to use normal Christmas lights by changing the DC current to a useable AC current. All you do is hook it up to your vehicle's battery by following the manufacturer's instructions, then plug the lights into the inverter.

You can get inverters at your local auto supply store or online. The Potek 2000W Power Inverter Three or the Ampeak 1000W Power Inverter are good choices.


Now, you're going to want to attach the lights really well so they don't fall off or drag the ground. I like to use large zip ties to secure light strands to my vehicle's running boards, mirrors, bed hooks, grill, bumper and other spots where a zip tie can easily be looped.

Some people also use strong magnets that you can buy from craft stores for temporary situations, like a parade. Just be sure not to drag the magnet across your car's finish when you remove the magnets. Always pull up on the magnet to avoid scratches on your vehicle's paint job.

Be safe

When you're in the big leagues of lighting, be sure to be safe. Use only lights rated for outdoor use and only use the lights when it's dry outside. These 110V AC lights can shock you, and not in a good way.  

16 Must-Know Christmas Light Safety Tips

See all photos