Tail Lights Not Working But Brake Lights Are, Causes and Fixes

tail lights

Have you encountered problems like the tail lights not working, but brake lights are? If you have, then you may be wondering if the tail lights and the brake lights are the same units?  Or there may be something wrong with the tail light fuse or brake lights fuse. 

There are many reasons why there are no tail lights, but before we answer these questions, let's first learn about how tail lights work.


How do brake and tail lights work?

The brake and tail lights system in many cars is a simple wiring system. When the driver hits the brake, he slows down or stops the vehicle and, at the same time, activates a switch that lights up the brake light. And together with the brake light, the tail light is lit as well.

It's important that the lighting system is fully-functional all the time as the driver from behind won't be able to tell if you're moving or not. At night and during rain, fog, or snow, a car with a broken tail light may be difficult to see on the road. Accidents such as collisions can happen.

Why your tail lights won't turn on?

There are many reasons why your brake lights are not working, but your tail lights are working fine. Some drivers even encounter a very peculiar problem that pressing the brakes will turn off the tail lights; these may not start working unless you step off the brake pedal.

Blown Light Bulbs

If the brake lights are blown out, then these will not work even if you press the brake pedal. This is the most common reason why brake lights stop working. It's easy to check if your brake lights are kaput by simply using a brand new set of brake lights.

To do this, you will need to remove the bulb lens from the trunk. If you're unsure where the screws are located, check your vehicle's manual. When you have access to the bulb, push and then turn this counterclockwise to take it out of the socket.

Check the bulb for any darkening or any blown filaments. Replace this with a new bulb.  Remember to select replacement bulbs with similar wattage and bulb type.

If you have a European car, the same type of bulb works as a tail and brake light. If you look closer, the bulb has two filaments, so if one of these is burnt, the other one will still work. For this kind of double-filament bulb, you may need to order these from a special distributor or supplier. 

Problems Of The Electrical Ground

If the brake lamp switch is working, you may need to check for faulty electrical ground. Sometimes this can happen because of loose wiring, damage, or corrosion of the ends of the wires.  

To check if this is the problem, connect the switch to a working ground using a jumper wire.  Step on the brake pedal; if the light turns on, then the problem is the ground connection. This must be fixed ASAP.

Problems With Fuse Box & Light Switch

Locate the fuse box or the PDC (power distribution center). This is a wire panel located under the dashboard while the PDC is found under the hood. The light switches for the brake is also located under the dashboard. Once you find this, check if the plunger works with the brake arm pedal. Take note that even a small problem with the PDC and the light switch will stop the brake lights from working.

If you find that you have a blown fuse, change it immediately. Just like changing the brake lights, you must be certain that you have the correct amperage. Also, you need to locate the cause of the problematic fuse; if this is not fixed, the problem will only recur. 

Trouble With Wiring

If you check your brake and tail lights wiring and everything seems okay, you need to go deeper and identify the problem's source. The fuse panel is connected to the brake light switch while the switch is connected to the sockets and lights. The wires may be corroded, frayed or loose, and these can pose a huge problem.

Check Your Turn Signal Switch

The circuit for the brake lights may work alongside the turn signal in other car models. If this switch is faulty or damaged, the brake lights may not work. Study the wiring diagram and locate the wire that connects the turn signal switch and the brake lights. Find the turn light electrical connector and switch on the brake light switch by stepping on the brake pedal. Check the wire with a test light. If the test light won't power on, then there is a problem with this wire.

As much as you can troubleshoot your car's brake lights, it's best to have these checked by a professional. This must be done right away; otherwise, you'll only place yourself and your passengers in danger. 

Will you get caught when you drive a car with no tail lights?

Yes, you will be flagged down by police if your lights are not properly working. You may be given a warning if you are caught the first time, but you will be given a ticket and a fine if you are caught the second time.  Take note that different states and countries have different rules when it comes to driving without tail lights or brake lights. Fines also vary, so you must check your lights before you drive.

If your car tail lights are not working, fix this right away. If you cannot troubleshoot, ask a local garage repair center to help you out. Dysfunctional lights can be due to burnt-out bulbs, damaged wires, electrical problems, and blown fuse issues. If you need to replace any part or component, order genuine parts from authorized dealers.

Never overlook tail and brake lights problems. Regular car maintenance can help prevent most problems, including tail lights and brake lights issues, so don't forget this as well.


About the Author JamesL Davis

James is a certified auto technician specializing in commercial vehicles. With 30 years of experience under his belt, James has encountered almost every type of automotive issue there is! Besides his day job at the repair shop, he is also an amateur race car driver.

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