How to Change a Tail Light

Owning a vehicle and being a responsible driver means you should know a thing or two about your four-wheeler. These include knowing how to change a tail light if such a need arises and you can’t reach your servicer right away.

While you can drive around for a short time with a tail light that has stopped functioning, keep in mind that it is illegal and it can pose a threat for other drivers on the roads. Replacing a tail light bulb is a fairly easy process on most vehicles, and it can be done in just a couple of minutes. Yet, some car models may require a different approach. You might need to remove the whole panel in the boot itself or in the boot lid, depending on where the bulbs are located.

What Are Tail Lights on a Vehicle?

Becoming a good driver and a responsible car owner doesn’t only include reaching a certain destination safely while avoiding any incidents. Nor does it mean that you simply have to keep your vehicle neat and tidy and learn how to clean seat belts. Although all these things are certainly important, you should also learn a thing or two about all the parts in your four-wheeler in order to take good care of it and keep it in good condition. Tail lights are among the things that should always be operational. If you don’t know them by name, they are the red lights located at the back of your car. Whether you intend to drive a car for beginners or you’re buying a family vehicle for the first time, this is something you should get acquainted with properly. These lights will turn on every time the headlights are turned on, too. Once you begin braking, they will become brightly red instead of dimly red while the car is in motion.

The Location and Appearance of These Lights

Tail lights are found on the rear end of a car, no matter whether it’s a classic one or modern. They are positioned in such a way that they are facing rearward. Many vehicles (from the most expensive cars in the world to the president’s limo) can also have these lights with a reflective material behind bulbs that helps them amplify the light. They can appear even larger and brighter this way. Most American states restrict these lights to a red color.

How the Rear Lighting Works

Rear or tail lights work on a relay. Basically, this means that whenever the headlights are on, the taillights will be turned on, too. It is done in such a way that you won’t feel any driving anxiety about whether you’ve turned them on. They turn on automatically because they are wired to the same switch as the headlights. They are also wired directly to the battery and might run as soon as the car is on or when you press the light switch.

The Importance of Having a Fully Operational Tail Light

Tail lights are not something that’s installed in a vehicle just for the show. If you want to get some tips for driving at night or at any point of the day, you should ensure they are fully operational. It is to provide safety both for you and for other drivers that are driving in New York City or in any other city or town. They define the rear edges of the vehicle, which allows other drivers to estimate the shape and size of your car. They are also extremely important in bleak weather conditions because your car will be visible from the rear, even in rain and snow.

The Difference Between a Tail and Brake Light

Both brake and tail lights are located on the rear end of your vehicle, and both are typically covered by a single external housing element. So, how to tell them apart, or are they technically the same? The main difference between the two is in the fact that tail lights will be operational the moment you switch on your headlights, while the brake lights will operate only when you use the brake pedal

Both of these lights are red, but the brake one shines brighter. However, many vehicles have only one bulb, so it’s shared between these two lights, and with these vehicles, it’s true that when you replace the tail, you also replace the brake light bulb. Basically, as important as it can be to know how to add brake fluid to use your brakes properly, you should also notice whether your brake/tail bulbs are functioning in order to signal that you’re stepping on a pedal.

How to Change a Tail Light and When

Removing and changing the tail lights on your car can be really simple and straightforward – some would say much easier than replacing a valve stem or perhaps replacing U joints. They are usually located in a single unit that is effortlessly accessible from inside the boot. If the bulbs are filled with halogen gas, they are readily available, and the procedure will be quite simple. However, most modern vehicles, including popular import cars and those manufactured in the US, have LEDs, and the replacement is a little bit different. LED units usually have to be replaced in their entirety.

Which Tools Will I Need?

When we say that this is a straightforward task, we are not joking around. To replace a faulty bulb on the rear of your vehicle, you will only require the basic tools. So, before you start this process, ensure you have everything ready. You will need gloves and paper towels, replacement bulbs, a flashlight, a Phillips-head screwdriver, and a flat-head screwdriver.

A screwdriver on a desk
To change the rear bulbs, you will need only the basic tools

The Process Itself in Several Steps

Safety comes first, so in order to protect yourself (since you’ll be working with wires and bulbs) you should begin by disconnecting the car battery. The next step is to access the taillights through the rear hatch or the trunk, depending on the vehicle model. Remove the carpeting if it’s in the way, and ensure that the interior is well-lit with your flashlight. If you have a panel in the way, instead of carpeting, grab the screwdriver and remove the panel. From the rear side of the lamp, you should be able to remove the bulb holders with your gloves on. Replace the old bulbs with new ones. The next step is to remove the tail light assembly after you locate and remove the nuts. Keep in mind that you may require some oil or grease to help free them. Once you are ready to put the assembly back, hand-tighten the bolts before you use a ratchet. Don’t tighten them too much, so they don’t crack. You can then replace the bulb holders, and the next step will be to place the carpet or the panel back. Finally, reconnect the car battery.

When Should I Change Them?

We’ve already mentioned the importance of having fully functional tail lights because of the overall safety on the roads. If these lights are operational, you will avoid having someone careen into the back of your vehicle unless you are witnessing road rage (when lights don’t really matter). One more thing is also important when it comes to inoperational rear lights – you risk being pulled over by the police and being handed a fine because driving without them is not only risky but also illegal. 

So, as soon as you notice these lights are not working properly, you should change them. You can check them every time you set foot inside the vehicle, so you don’t drive around Los Angeles or any other place with the possibility of being pulled over. It can save you from unnecessary driving stress.

Why Should You Bother Doing This by Yourself?

You might be thinking that you are not the handiest individual in the world and that you shouldn’t touch anything regarding the parts in your four-wheeler. However, this is a job that most of us are capable of handling, without any mechanical experience or even one that involves vehicle bulb replacement. If you’re a first-timer, this is an ideal job for you that will also help you get to know your vehicle better. And most importantly – while a visit to the mechanic’s garage may cost you up to $100, a set of brake/tail lighting bulbs will cost you from $1 to $25 at most.

A mechanic using a wench
There are many parts on the vehicle that only a mechanic can handle, but you can replace the bulbs by yourself

How Can You Tell if Your Rear Lighting Has Issues?

Checking your rear lighting at least once per week shouldn’t be a problem. After all, it only takes a few minutes during the day to inspect and see whether all tail and brake lights are working. The rear lights should switch on immediately when the headlights are active, whether when you start the car or press a switch for all lights. However, keep in mind that these lights should also function properly when you press your foot on the brake pedal, so if you notice anything out of the ordinary, have the bulb replaced.

What Can Cause Bulbs to Stop Functioning?

If you’ve noticed that the bulbs in your tail lights aren’t functioning properly, there might be several causes for this. Here are the most common ones:

  • Burnt bulb – This is probably the most common reason for a non-functioning tail light, and it’s easily repairable.
  • Circuit problems – If you’ve changed the bulbs to no avail, you might be facing a circuit issue because of corroded bulb sockets or damaged wiring.
  • Blown-out fuse – Another typical culprit of non-operational tail lights is a blown-out fuse which can make rear lighting inoperable.
  • Faulty brake lighting switch – If you’ve noticed that the rear lights stay on even after you remove your foot from the brake pedal, or they don’t switch on at all, you might be facing an issue with a bad brake switch. Either the contacts stick together, which causes a continuous supply of power to the rear lighting, or it has slipped out of position.
Brake lights on a gray vehicle
If rear lighting is not functional, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a complex issue

What Kind of a Bulb Should I Install?

Typically, rear lighting usually has either Xenon or Halogen bulbs, but LED elements are becoming increasingly popular. So even when a vehicle has more traditional lighting already installed by the manufacturer, people are more and more opting to have them replaced by LEDs.

Is It Better to Install a Led Instead of a Regular Bulb?

Traditionally, bulbs used for tail lights were either Halogen or Xenon. However, there are several reasons why a LED bulb can be considered a better solution:

  • A LED bulb is more affordable than a traditional one,
  • LEDs are noticeably brighter,
  • They also tend to last longer and will be functional from 30,000 to 50,000 hours,

These types of bulbs use a lot less energy.

Get the Dim Out With the Best Bulbs on the Market

Although you might not be thinking about certain car parts until you need them (like when you notice bad fuel pump symptoms, so you must replace it,) here’s a list of the best LED bulbs on the market. If you are planning to convert to LEDs, you probably shouldn’t wait for the moment your rear lighting becomes inoperable. So, check this list out and pick the brand that sounds most promising.

Tail light Bulb brandProsCons
Alla Lighting LED strobe brake light bulbsBlinking brightThey might not be legal in your county
Phinlion red LED brake light bulb4.5-star red light with a bright beamA tad more pricey than equivalent clear lights
Bosch Long Life Miniature bulbIt fulfills your need, nothing complicatedToo plain and ordinary
JDM Astar PX chipset led bulbsDust- and water-resistantNot a versatile LED design
LUYED non-polarity super brightVersatile LED design, meets a variety of duty applications The brand is less known
Syneticusa red LED brake bulbsExtremely brightIt’s imported
Auxbeam LED Bulbs Cool WhiteAlmost a full 5-star ratingMore pricey than all the other bulbs on the list
Yorkim LED bright white bulbsExtremely affordableIt is not red

Be Prepared to be a Responsible Owner

Knowing what to expect, how to notice any issues and react accordingly is a part of being a responsible vehicle owner. If you can handle these simpler tasks by yourself, it will help you get to know your four-wheeler better. The more you do by yourself, the better the condition of your car will be, as you will maintain it regularly. It will also be easier to notice anything out of the ordinary right away. Tail lighting replacement isn’t a complex job and shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to complete, and doing it by yourself will also save you a lot of money.