How do I Make Custom Plastic Tail Lights?

Written by hugh patterson
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How do I Make Custom Plastic Tail Lights?
Damaged tail lights are a safety problem requiring immediate attention. (broken tail light 2 image by Tammy Mobley from Fotolia.com)

Tail lights are one of the visible indicators of a driver's actions. Tail lights and brake lights are an important safety feature on any car. However, tail lights are often damaged during rear end collisions. The replacement cost can often be high and, if the car is older, may be extremely difficult to find. Use a few basic shop tools and sheet acrylic to create custom tail lights, saving money and time in the process.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Sheet Acrylic
  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Drill bits
  • 120 grit sandpaper
  • Painter's masking tape
  • Double side masking tape
  • Grease pencil
  • Silicon caulking

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Create a template of the old tail light using a piece of thin cardboard. Many tail lights have a curved shape. Add the necessary curves to the template and cut it out with a pair of scissors. Test fit the template into the tail light's frame. The template should fit into the frame without being too loose. If the template does not fit, trim it down. A properly fitting template is the key to creating a good tail light.

    How do I Make Custom Plastic Tail Lights?
    A good template is the key to a tail light that fits properly. (hot tail image by John Sfondilias from Fotolia.com)
  2. 2

    Apply the template to the acrylic using double sided masking tape. The acrylic should be no more than 1/8 inch thick. While an array of coloured acrylic is available, choose a colour that complies with state laws regarding tail and brake lights. Use a jigsaw to cut the acrylic, making sure to follow the template closely. Leave the protective paper coating on the acrylic while working with it. This prevents unwanted scratches.

    How do I Make Custom Plastic Tail Lights?
    This tail light is a piece of red acrylic mounted in a chrome frame. (Classic Tail light image by Digital Photique from Fotolia.com)
  3. 3

    Fit the cut acrylic into the tail light frame to see if it fits. If it does not fit, use 120 grit sandpaper to reduce the acrylic's overall size. Sand the edges of the acrylic by hand rather than with an electric sander. Test fit the piece again, repeating the sanding process until the piece fits easily into the frame. Use a grease pencil to mark the positions of any holes that need to be drilled. Some tail lights have screws running through them to hold them to the frame.

  4. 4

    Drill any necessary holes. Acrylic can be difficult to drill because it can crack under pressure. Use a drill bit designed for use with acrylic. Mount a piece of scrap wood behind the acrylic when drilling, using double sided tape. This reduces the amount of vibration or chatter. Cracking can also be avoided by drilling a small pilot hole and increasing the drill bit size until the correct diameter hole has been drilled.

    How do I Make Custom Plastic Tail Lights?
    Acrylic used for tail lights should be red and transparent. (2006 mustang gt tail light image by Jorge Moro from Fotolia.com)
  5. 5

    Insert the new tail light into the frame. Normally there is a rubber gasket that seals the gap between the light and the frame. Check the gasket to make sure it is not damaged. Water can short circuit a tail light's wiring so it is very important to make sure the gasket is functioning properly. If the gasket is worn, use household silicon caulking to seal the area. Apply caulking if necessary and mount the new tail light to the frame. The project is complete.

Tips and warnings

  • For a temporary tail light fix, have a piece of acrylic cut to the size of the broken tail light. Plastic retailers will cut acrylic to your measurements. Use either epoxy or acrylic solvent cement to adhere the acrylic to any remaining pieces of the tail light still on the light's frame. Allow the glue to dry for six hours and the job is done.

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