The Frugal Car Owner: How to Fix a Tail Light

RelayRides blogger and automotive expert, Trent Fletcher, shares tips on how to fix a tail light in this week’s The Frugal Car Owner.

Hey fellow RelayRiders, we’re back with some more quick DIY repair tips for you! Have you noticed your signal blinking faster when you choose a direction than is does in the other? If so, you may have a burnt-out tail light. Aside from being a safety issue for you and other motorists you share the road with, it’s also a great excuse for the local police department to stop you for a quick roadside chat. We’re guessing you’d rather hob-knob with the fuzz on your terms, so let’s get that light fixed for your sake, and the sake of the drivers around you.

Check the Lights

To give you an idea of how easy this fix is, determining which light is busted is probably one of the hardest steps. If you don’t have another person to watch the lights as you check the lights, another option is to simply park with your car’s rear end facing a wall. Once parked, just try the various lights and keep an eye on the reflections on the wall to see which lights light up and which don’t. Once you’ve determined which bulb has kicked the bucket, you’re ready to get moving on the repair.

Take Out the Old Light

Most tail light assemblies make it fairly easy to determine where you remove the bulbs from. With tail lights like these, the whole tail light assembly is removed via removing the surrounding mounting screws. Other ones like these allow you to access the back of the tail lights from the trunk without removing the tail light assembly. Once the assembly is out (or the back is accessible), the bulb socket usually comes out by rotating the socket a half turn in the direction toward of the notch in the assembly housing that will allow the socket to slide out. Once the socket is out, the bulb should just pull out from the socket. Be patient and don’t force it – you don’t want the bulb to break in your hand. Once it’s out, check for a part number on the old bulb. If you can’t find one, simply take the dead bulb with you to the parts store and ask the clerk to match it – there aren’t that many different types of tail light bulbs, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

Replace It and Test

Once you’ve procured the replacement bulb, just plug it into the empty socket. If you have the means to do so, this is a good time to check to make sure the bulb is seated properly by having someone step on the brakes or turn on the tail lights to test. If all looks well, insert the socket back into the tail light assembly, rotate it so it locks in place, and button up any covers and/or mounting hardware you needed to remove to get to the bulb.

Voilà! You’re done. We told you it was easy.