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How to Fix a Taillight

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Fixing a Taillight Is a Beginner Job for Most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need to Know to Fix a Taillight at Home.

What Is a Taillight?

Taillights are the set of lights on your car located at each rear corner. They serve as nighttime or inclement weather driving lights and generally include the brake lights, turn signal lights, and reverse lights.

In the past, taillights used incandescent bulbs. Many cars still do, but LED taillights have become more and more common. While fixing an incandescent taillight simply involves changing the bulb in most cases, LED taillights are typically integrated into the housing. In this case, the entire taillight housing may need to be replaced. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to learn which type of taillights you have.

Is It Safe to Drive With a Broken Taillight?

Many drivers’ biggest worry when driving with a broken taillight is getting a ticket. The reality, however, is they can save lives when driving at night or in inclement weather. If your taillight is out, don’t wait to fix it. Get it glowing again as soon as possible to ensure other drivers can see you and what you’re doing.

When to Replace Taillights

Assuming your taillights don’t become damaged, incandescent bulbs typically last five or six years, while LEDs should last up to 12 years. You’ll know it’s time to replace them when they no longer illuminate properly.

To fix your taillight, you’ll need to get the proper replacement bulb or taillight assembly. They come in many shapes and sizes, and the right repair will depend on the make and model of your vehicle. Fortunately, it’s easy to get your hands on parts that fit. All you have to do is go to your local auto parts store and ask a staff member what your car needs. Alternatively, you can take care of it yourself using an online bulb finder to discover the best fit. Bulbs tend to be fairly inexpensive, with many options available.

What Are Common Symptoms Indicating You Need to Fix the Taillight?

The symptoms of a broken taillight are fairly straightforward:

  • Lights are not turning on.
  • Lights are cracked or broken.
  • Lights are dim.

How to Fix an Incandescent Tail Light Bulb

Step 1: Disconnect the Battery

When you’re dealing with any kind of wiring system in a vehicle, it’s always best to disconnect the battery first. Without the battery connected, you drastically reduce the chance of getting shocked during your work. You can do this by simply removing the cables from the battery posts. You don’t have to take the battery out. These are the same first three steps you’d take to replace a dead car battery.

Step 1: Remove the Bulb

Some taillights have an access point for the bulbs in the trunk or through a rear hatch. Others you will have to remove from the vehicle to reach the bulbs. You can then remove the bulb holders from the back of the taillight. Rotate them clockwise, and you’ll be able to get to the bulbs themselves. Be extra careful if the bulbs are broken and sharp.

Step 2: Replace the Bulb

Be sure to wear gloves while installing the new bulb. Oils from your skin can remain on the glass of the bulb, burn, and cause the new bulb to fail prematurely if you don’t keep it clean.

Add some bulb grease to the socket. This will ensure the installation goes smoothly, and the bulb has a good electrical connection to the socket. The new bulb should slide right in if you match up the nodes properly, which is easy enough to do just by looking at it.

Put the bulb and its holder back in the assembly, turning it clockwise to secure it in place.

Step 3: Button It Up

With the new bulb in place, it’s time to reattach the parts you removed to access the taillight assembly. Make sure everything aligns correctly with the vehicle, and replace any screws or bolts tightly and properly.

Step 4: Test the New Bulbs

Once everything is back in place with your new bulbs, turn your lights on to see if they’re working. Test the brake lights, reverse lights, and turn signals, too. If everything works fine, then you’re all done.

If you don’t have someone with you who can check the taillights when you brake or reverse, test them in front of a reflective surface so you can see the lights reflecting in your rearview mirror. Alternatively, you can simply turn off the lights in your garage and see the color and intensity of your taillights change by the way they light up the garage.

How to Fix an LED Tail Light

Step 1: Remove the Taillight Housing

Instead of bulbs, these newer taillights have LEDs soldered directly to circuit boards inside the taillight housing. They can not be removed or replaced individually, so you usually have to replace the entire housing itself.

Step 2: Unplug the Taillight Housing

There will be a wiring harness connected to the housing. Rather than each bulb having its own individual socket, this single harness controls all of the lights in the housing. Unplug it, and now you can remove the defective taillight from the vehicle.

Step 3: Install the New Taillight Housing

The replacement taillight should go in the same way the old one came out. Plug it into the wiring harness, and install it with the same screws or bolts as the original unless it came with new ones. Test it as described in Step 4 of the previous section, and you’re done.

Still Need Help?

Fixing taillights is only the beginning. You can make sure your vehicle gets all the care and attention it needs to run as best as possible for years to come. Get the FIXD sensor and free app today for a custom maintenance schedule based on your make, model, and mileage.

Want an expert mechanic on speed dial who can walk you through DIY repairs and answer any questions? Join FIXD Mechanic Hotline for unlimited access to our Master Mechanics Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Disclaimer: The guidelines in this story are general and not meant to replace instructions for your specific vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual or repair guide before attempting repairs.

FIXD Research Team

At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.

We’re here to help you simplify car care and save, so this post may contain affiliate links to help you do just that. If you click on a link and take action, we may earn a commission. However, the analysis and opinions expressed are our own.

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About the Author

FIXD Research Team

FIXD Research Team

At FIXD, our mission is to make car ownership as simple, easy, and affordable as possible. Our research team utilizes the latest automotive data and insights to create tools and resources that help drivers get peace of mind and save money over the life of their car.

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