How to Replace a Broken Tail Light

Written by arlene mason
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How to Replace a Broken Tail Light

Tail lights get broken, and if you have someone fix it for you, it could cost an arm and a leg. Save money and time by doing it yourself.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • New tail light assembly
  • Phillips head screwdriver

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  1. 1

    Know what kind of car you have, make, model and year, then shop for a replacement tail light. You can start with your local dealership, but their prices are usually very high. Then check the local salvage yards. They may have a nice one, and it may not cost you too much. You may also want to check eBay; you would be surprised what you can find there. Just be sure you know what you are looking for (i.e., the right tail light for a 1998 Ford Escort or the left tail light for a 1988 Chevy S-10).

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light
  2. 2

    Once you have procured the tail light, look at it. Make a note of where the holes for the screws are, generally on the top, or sides. Check for a tab at the bottom. If the car is old enough, it will have screw holes all the way around, but this will depend upon your car.

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light
  3. 3

    Now, look at the existing tail light. Try to locate the screws. You will have to open the boot or tail gate. You may have to move the carpet in the boot, or get under the car and go in through the fender or bumper. However, with the new one in hand you should be able to get a rough idea as to where the screws are located. On some newer cars it is fairly easy to find and remove the screws, because you would replace the light bulbs by removing the tail light assembly. Other cars may have the screws in plain sight; others you may have to search for them.

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light
  4. 4

    Once you have located the screws, get the Phillips head screw driver and remove all of the screws. This will loosen the tail light assembly.

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light
  5. 5

    Remove the light bulb housing. It should unscrew from the back of the assembly. Look at the new one to make sure, and do not break the bulb or its housing. Also don't damage the wiring by pulling on it.

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light
  6. 6

    Remove the tail light assembly and dispose of it.

  7. 7

    Place a new light bulb in the housing, if needed and then place the housing in the new tail light assembly.

  8. 8

    Place the new tail light assembly into the space the old one came out of. If your old assembly had tabs at the bottom, put those in first, then screw in the sides and the top last. If there is a rubber gasket around the tail light assembly, be sure to put it back exactly where it was. If you don’t, your tail light will leak and you will be replacing bulbs more often than you want to. Be sure everything is screwed down tight.

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light
  9. 9

    Now, turn on the lights. The tail lights should light up like new.

    How to Replace a Broken Tail Light

Tips and warnings

  • If your tail lights don't light up when you first try, make sure there are no kinked or broken wires to the light bulbs. Make sure the light bulbs are not broken or burnt out.
  • Be sure the car is turned off and has the emergency brake on while you are changing the tail lights.

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