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How to Replace a Tail, Brake or Reverse Light

by Contributor

Replacing a dead bulb on your car is almost as easy as replacing a light bulb at home. Perform this simple maintenance and avoid the hassle of receiving a citation for a missing brake light.

Determine how the bulb is accessed: On some models the lens (the red or white plastic part over the light) must be unscrewed from the outside, and on others the bulb is accessible only from inside the trunk. If there are no screws on the lens, you can assume that the bulb must be replaced from inside. Usually there will be a plastic cover that must be removed in order to access the bulb. There may be tabs, screws or small knobs that hold this plastic cover in place.

Unscrew the lens on the outside, or take off the plastic cover from inside the trunk, to reveal the bulb.

Unscrew the bulb. You'll have to push in and turn at the same time.

Take the bulb with you to the auto supply store to help you find an exact duplicate.

Clean the connection with a wire brush and/or wipe it clean with a rag if there's any corrosion.

Screw the new bulb into the empty socket. Again, you'll have to push in and turn simultaneously. Line up the tiny raised bumps on the base of the bulb in order to screw it in.

Replace the lens or the plastic cover.

Test your work by stepping on the brakes and turning on the headlights while a friend watches the new bulb to make sure it lights up.


  • For a broken brake light, red tape can be a temporary fix.


  • The police can stop you for burned-out bulbs and give you a 'fix-it' ticket, whereby you have a certain amount of time to fix the light. Afterward, you must drive to the police station to prove you've fixed the light in order to have the ticket cleared (the police officer who issues the citation will explain exactly what you need to do). You'll still have to pay a processing fee of around $10 to $15, but you'll have to pay a much larger fine if you don't fix the light in time. It's easier just to replace the bulb as soon as you see it's burned out.

Items you will need

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