How to Change a Brake Light

Got a brake light that's not working? In less time than it takes to drive to the auto repair shop, you can fix that light yourself.

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Eventually, all light bulbs burn out, and this applies to exterior lights on your vehicle, too. Changing a faulty brake light is something anyone can learn to do. A replacement bulb costs about $10, and replacing it on your own will save about $20 in labor and the time it takes to travel to the shop and wait for the work to be done.

Tools Required

  • Flashlight

Materials Required

  • Brake lightbulb

Project step-by-step (4)

Step 1

Identify the Faulty Light

There are usually several lightbulbs underneath each tail light lens, and one of these bulbs is the brake light.

  • Have someone sit in the vehicle, pressing and releasing the brake pedal several times while you stand behind the vehicle and check brake light operation.
  • Identify which bulb under the taillight lens cover is the burned out brake light. There may be several bulbs under each lens, but only one is the brake lightbulb. Identifying where the brake lightbulb sits in under the lens may help you later when you’re searching for the correct replacement bulb.

Identify the Faulty LightSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 2

Find and Remove the Brake Lightbulb

Most modern vehicles allow access to all tail light bulbs from inside the trunk.

  • Open the trunk and look directly behind the tail light lens with the malfunctioning bulb. You’ll see the wires and a plastic base where each tail light bulb is located.
  • Use your head lamp or flashlight to determine which bulb in the housing is the brake light.
  • Turn the brake light holder counterclockwise to release it, then pull the bulb holder and bulb into the trunk.
  • Remove the bulb from the holder.

Find and Remove the Brake LightbulbSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 3

Acquire New Brake Lightbulb

You don’t necessarily need to bring the burned out brake lightbulb with you when you shop, but having it in hand helps you make sure you’re getting the correct replacement bulb.

  • Visit an online supplier and search for the correct brake lightbulb for your make and model of vehicle. Amazon offers a wide variety of automotive bulbs and the opportunity to input your vehicle details to verify that the bulb will fit.
  • Alternatively, visit an auto parts supplier with your old bulb in hand.
  • Consider buying two bulbs and keep a spare in your glove compartment. If one brake light has burned out, the other will probably go soon.

Acquire New Brake LightbulbSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 4

Install and Test the New Bulb

  • Insert the new bulb into the holder.
  • Push the holder and bulb into the tail light assembly and rotate the holder clockwise to lock it in place.
  • Check that the bulb and holder are solidly engaged in the tail light assembly.
  • Have someone sit in the driver’s seat and work the brake pedal while you check light operation from behind.

Install and Test the New BulbSteve Maxwell for Family Handyman