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What Would Cause Your Tail Lights to Go Out?

Educational  ·  August 10, 2020

What Would Cause Your Tail Lights to Go Out?

Being a car owner is like being a parent. Your love for your 'baby' comes with inherent responsibilities. Every problem associated with the car is your concern and nobody else’s, from the small stuff like tail lights going out to major issues like the engine failing. It’s your car after all, so you cheerfully (you should, you know) sort them out the best, easiest, and least expensive way possible. 

While all car problems can be annoying, few are as irritating as your tail lights going out. Why so? Because typically, you won't know that your lights have gone and only find out about it quite some time later. Maybe a friend, family member, or someone in traffic notices it and calls your attention to it. 

If it’s not your lucky day, a police officer might pull you over because of it. The only way you can be sure your taillights are working is if you check on them regularly – which I bet you don’t. This article will help you understand what causes tail lights not working in the first place. 

What is a tail light on a car, and what is its purpose?

Before we go on, let's get on the same page about what purpose those tail lights have and why they're so important. Taillights (sometimes called 'taillamps') are always red in colour. Their primary purpose is to make your vehicle easy to see on the road, especially in low-light or dark conditions. 

Your taillights are typically connected to your headlamps. The idea here is that when you turn on your headlights, your taillights will turn on as well. This ensures that other drivers can see your car regardless of which side they're coming from. 

Now, let's not confuse your taillamps with your brake lights. Yes, both of them are red. Both of them are located at the rear, in the same housing as well. 

Some cars use two separate light bulbs; one for the tail light, one for the brake light. Others use the same bulb for both functions. Thankfully, there are rules in place to help us tell the difference. Brake lights are always much brighter than the regular tail lamp. That way, the two won't be confused.

What would cause my tail lights to not work?

Whether it's combined with the brake light or not, your tail lights not working is something that will happen eventually. Here are a few common reasons for your taillights to stop working:

1. A blown light bulb

Remember: the simplest answer is probably the right one. 

In the case of tail lamps, the first thing to consider is that the lightbulbs might be blown. If this is the case, all you need to do is get them replaced. Regular tail lamp bulbs are affordable and easy to replace. This is a pretty quick repair to do, either at the workshop or by yourself at home. 

2. A faulty light socket

Light bulbs need to be attached to light sockets to receive power. Over time, these sockets may get corroded, which affects their ability to power the bulbs in them. A faulty socket will look discoloured, or even have damaged pins inside. If this is the case for your car, the sockets will need to be replaced entirely.

3. A blown fuse or faulty light switch

If a blown bulb or faulty socket isn't the problem, then there might be an issue with the fuse, or the light switch instead. Just like a blown light bulb, a fuse that's blown needs to be replaced. Fuses for everything electrical, including your tail lights, are all located in the fuse box. Usually, it looks like a black box with a plastic cover and clips on its side holding it closed. Depending on your car, it may be placed under the hood or in the cabin. Check your car owner's manual to find out exactly where this box is located.

Remember: Always make sure that you're replacing a fuse with one that's got the same amperage as the old one!

If the light switch is the culprit, you should get your mechanic to inspect and replace it if necessary.

4. Wiring or grounding issues

If you've ruled out the bulbs, fuses and switches, you may have a more complicated problem at hand. A car's electrical system includes lots of wires running through the entire vehicle. This wiring carries electrical power from your car battery to all electrical parts, including your tail lights. 

The wiring to your tail lamp may have been damaged somehow. Or, perhaps there's an issue with the grounding of your car's electrical system as a whole.

It's always best to get a qualified professional to troubleshoot complicated issues. This is especially true for electrical problems like this one. 

Remember: You may get hurt if you're working on electrical systems without the right knowledge and training.

Why are my tail lights not working, but the brake lights are?

Now, here's a mystery that confuses a lot of people. What if your tail lights are not working, but your brake lights are perfectly okay?

Well, firstly, think about what I said earlier. For some cars, the taillight and the brake light are two separate bulbs. Perhaps one bulb has blown, but the other one is still working.

This could also mean that the wiring, fuse, or grounding for the taillight, in particular, is faulty.

In newer car models, this problem might also be caused by faulty ambient light sensors. These sensors control your tail lamp based on how bright or dark your surroundings are. If the sensors fail, it may never turn your tail lights on because it mistakenly ‘thinks’ that it's still bright outside.

You Can Get New Tail Lights Online

Once you've figured out the problem but find it a hassle or unsafe to buy the replacement parts from a physical shop, you can get them online. Check out's Parts Finder! All you have to do is fill out a form, and we will send your request to 500+ suppliers all across Australia. Then sit back and wait for their offers to come in. Once you place your order, your tail lights or other car parts will be shipped right to your doorstep!

By Ray Hasbollah

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