Archive for Monday, August 15, 2011

Fix-It Chick: Save on service costs and replace your own taillights

August 15, 2011


Automotive tail lights and turn signals tend to burn out at the most inconvenient times. You do not have to take your car to an auto mechanic to fix the problem.

Step 1: Determine how to access the burned-out light bulb. Check the car’s owner manual for instructions. Older cars have lens covers that are held in place by screws, accessible from the car’s exterior. Newer cars have removable panels on the interior of the trunk that allow access to the individual light bulbs.

Step 2: Remove any screws, panels or clips to access the burned-out bulb.

Step 3: If the bulb is enclosed in a housing, pull the bulb housing out a few inches to allow access to the bulb. If the bulb is held in place by a retaining nut, unscrew the nut by turning it counter clockwise.

Step 4: Remove the bulb from its socket. Typically this is done by applying a slight downward pressure and turning the bulb counterclockwise. Some bulbs simply pull straight out. If the owner’s manual does not indicate the proper way to remove the bulb, trial and error will have to suffice.

Step 5: Take the bulb to the local hardware or automotive store to find the correct replacement. Often there are numbers printed on the bulb that will indicate the bulb type. Many bulbs look the same but operate with different voltages. If possible use the number printed on the bulb to select the correct replacement.

Step 6: Examine the bulb housing and socket for any cracks or corrosion. Corrosion can be cleaned away with a soft bristle brush or cloth. If the housing is cracked, it should be replaced by a professional mechanic.

Step 7: Once the housing has been inspected and cleaned, insert the new bulb into the socket.

Step 8: Replace the housing and test the light to make sure it works.

Step 9: Re-install the lens cover or access panel and test the lights again.

Now put away your tools and relax knowing you have successfully avoided a ticket for a non-working tail light or turn signal.

— Linda Cottin can be reached at


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 8 months ago

I would like to point out another option for step # 5. Sometimes the number on the bulb is not readily apparent, or even on the bulb at all, and I believe that there are also some cases where the exact same bulb is available with two different part numbers on it at the auto parts store. And, do you have a guarantee that the correct one was installed last time? It's best to check your owner's manual if you can.

If you have the owner's manual for your car, the correct bulb will be listed for you, and it is very quick and easy to find. Use the index.

I felt very stupid once quite some time ago, when I never bothered to do any work at all on my car, since I had plenty of money and didn't want to be bothered with it. I told the dealership that a bulb was burned out, and I wanted it to be replaced.

So in addition to everything else I wanted done, I was charged for the bulb, as well as $9 for the labor to install it. That was in the middle 80s, and $9 for labor was certainly much more money than it would sound like today. I never thought twice about it, I just paid the bill.

Some time later, I had the hood open, and I noticed that from the inside, under the hood, it was just a drop in replacement, you didn't need a screwdriver or any tool at all to replace that bulb! I had been charged $9 for less than one minute of labor.

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