How to Fix a Tail Light

When the taillights in your car aren’t working, simply replacing the bulb usually fixes the problem. But sometimes the issue is more complicated than that. The problem could be related to the tail light’s fuse or wiring, and fixing either of these is a much more detailed job.

To complicate things even more, different vehicles have different taillights, so the process of how to fix a tail light and the tools you need can change depending on the type of vehicle you have.

Learning how to fix a tail light yourself shouldn't be stressful. Following the steps in this article will help you figure out if you can handle the tail light replacement on your own or if you might need to get some professional help from a mechanic for the job.


Tools you will need for tail light replacement

Taillight repair steps

The most common reason for needing tail light repair is a burned-out bulb. You should try to replace the bulb before you spend time and effort checking the fuses and wiring.

Make sure the vehicle is turned off before you start, and wear gloves to keep oils on your skin from getting on the glass. 

Step 1

Open the trunk of your vehicle and locate the access panel to the taillights. In most vehicles, this is either going to be a soft, carpeted door that is attached with Velcro or a plastic panel with a twist latch. Open the panel to access the back of the taillights.

Step 2

You may need to unbolt the tail light housing from the vehicle to change the bulbs, depending on the vehicle. If this is the case, use the ratchet and the correct size socket to remove the nuts. There are usually three nuts. After removing them, gently remove the tail light assembly from inside its cavity.

**TIP**  If you need to unbolt the tail light assembly to access and change a bulb, it is a good idea to change all of them. Bulbs usually burn out at around the same time, and changing them all at once can save you from having to go through the same process again in the near future.

Step 3

Once you have access to the taillights, locate the socket in the tail light assembly and gently twist the socket counterclockwise (to the left) to remove it from the assembly.

Step 4

Examine the tail light socket and connector for any signs of damage. The wiring should appear intact.

Step 5

Once you can access the bulb, check to see if the bulb has a round base or a rectangular base. If it has a rectangular base, gently wiggle and pull the bulb out of its socket. If the base is round, gently twist the bulb counterclockwise (to the left) to unlock it, and then pull the bulb out of its socket. Inspect the bulb for burn marks on the glass or for a broken filament inside the bulb.

Step 6

Replace the old bulb with a brand new one. Wear gloves to prevent natural oil from your fingers from getting on the glass of the bulb. This oil can cause the bulb to crack when it gets hot. 

**TIP** You can also follow these steps to change your brake lights, reverse lights, and turn signal lights if they are located in the same tail light housing.

Step 7

After replacing the bulb, and before putting everything back together, turn on your tail lights from inside the car to make sure that the bulb works.

Step 8

Once you ensure that the bulb turns on, insert the bulb socket back into the tail light assembly and gently twist it clockwise until it locks into place. If you removed the tail light assembly, put it back in place and secure it with the nuts you removed earlier.

Use the socket and ratchet and turn the nuts ¼ to ½ turn past snug.

If the bulb still doesn’t work properly, follow the steps that are included farther down in this article to check the tail light fuse.


Fixing a broken tail light assembly

While you’re working on your tail light replacement, this is a great time to fix any minor cracks in your tail light assembly or even completely replace the assembly if the damage is more extensive.

Reflective tape is great for repairing minor cracks or small holes in your tail light assembly. You can purchase this online or from the same auto parts store where you bought your replacement bulb. Carefully follow the instructions included with the reflective tape to make minor repairs.

If the cracks in the tail light are big, if there is more than one crack, or if there are pieces completely missing that are leaving the bulb exposed, it is probably best to replace the part entirely instead of trying to patch it up with tape.

**TIP** Taillight repair kits may claim to be a good fix for damaged tail lights, but it is best to completely replace a damaged tail light to guarantee that water doesn’t get into the tail light assembly and damage the bulb and the rest of the electrical system.


Inspecting the fuse

Sometimes, replacing the bulb won’t solve your tail light problems. If the light is still not functioning after following the above steps, the next step in how to fix a tail light is to check the fuse. You will need to locate your vehicle’s fuse box. It is usually either under the vehicle’s dashboard or under the hood inside the engine bay. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual will tell you where the fuse box is if you can’t find it.

blown tail light fuse

The owner’s manual will also have a diagram to tell you the specific location of the tail light fuse inside the fuse box. After opening up the fuse box, consult the manual and find the correct fuse in the box. Using a fuse puller, pull the fuse to remove it from the box. 

Once you have pulled out the proper fuse, inspect it for cracks or damage to the filament inside. If the fuse looks burnt or not connected, replace the fuse with a new one of the right size.

After replacing the fuse, try turning on your tail lights again to see if they work. If so, congratulations! You’ve fixed the problem.

Professional help with your tail light replacement

If you follow the steps in this article, you will know how to fix a tail light in the vast majority of cases, but the problem could sometimes be more complicated. If the light still doesn’t function properly after replacing the bulb and the fuse, you may want to consider enlisting a professional mechanic to help with your tail light replacement.