Everything You Need to Know About Tail Lights

The long list of driver assistance, vehicle control and emergency systems finding their way into all new cars reflects the growing concern for driver and pedestrian safety. Many drivers have come to appreciate the countless close calls these aids have prevented. And while new technology is conceived as we speak, there’s one automotive part that’s the epitome of safety – lights. Both head and tail lights in some form or other have existed for as long as cars themselves, and car makers and legislators have long recognised just how important they are. While headlights light up the road in front and allow drivers to see, it’s the rear tail lights that inform others behind you of your presence.  

There are strict federal and state laws governing the use of both head and tail lights. Driving without these on at night and during hazardous weather conditions can bring you a hefty fine and demerit points. A defective, dim, or broken back tail light may soon become a safety trap, especially in urban settings with high traffic flow. 

back tail lights
source: corvettemods.com

Why Tail Lights Matter? 

Tail lights are the red lights at the back of the vehicle. They’re on for as long as the headlights are. To differentiate them from brake lights, they shine a less intense shade of red. Some will also be fitted with reflective materials that amplify the light, making the tail light shine brighter. The slightly different hues of red inform drivers behind you whether you’re continuing with driving or coming to a stop. 

In more inclement weather, a back tail light depicts the edges of the vehicle so other drivers have a better idea of the size and type of vehicle in front. This includes periods of heavy fog or during downpours, where the bright red of tail lights is the only indication that there is a vehicle, or vehicles ahead. Driving with one or both tail lights blown or damaged greatly increases the likelihood of a rear-end collision.

How Tail Lights Work and Common Issues 

back tail lights
source: ffperformance.co

Tail lights are wired to the same relay in charge of the headlights. So, when turning on the headlights, the taillights come on as well. Vehicles with auto lights do this for you. There’s no needed driver input as with the brake lights. Drivers aren’t required to get out of the vehicle to check if they’re functional unless, of course, a warning light in the dash tells you there’s something wrong.  

Checking the fuse for the tail lights in the fuse box is the first thing to do. Another common issue is that the bulb has gone. This may mean that you’ll be removing the back light cover to reach the bulb. Or have access to it via the side panels. Another common issue is corroded sockets. This is due to water and moisture buildup and easy recognised by discolouration and disfigured connecting pins. In addition, issues can arise because of frayed, cracked, or missing wires. In cars with auto lights, ensure that the ambient light sensor is functional, as this will also mean that the headlights won’t come on when dusk sets.  

Replacing Tail Light Assemblies 

back tail lights
source: mbworld.org

Tail light assemblies include the back tail light, the brake light and the indicator. These are often grouped together in most vehicles and will include the white reversing lights. Some cars, however, may have separate brake and tail lights. Any visible damage to the housings and lenses needs prompt attention and could lead to demerit points and fines. These are different in different states.  

Vehicle Compatibility 

Lights will be sold in left and right variants, and many times sold in pairs. Have in mind that bulbs and wiring may be sold separately. Genuine parts are the same as those used in the vehicle straight out of the factory and will carry a higher price tag. The benefit here is that they are built to fit and work with the existing wiring.  

Aftermarket replacements are often cheaper, retain the original looks and dimensions and work fine. Have in mind that any lights that aren’t ADR compliant will also see you digging deep into your back pocket. Or may void insurance claims if your car has been involved in an accident and the back tail lights have been found wanting. For both genuine and aftermarket replacements, ensure that the lights you get match your vehicle model, trim, and production year.  

Back Tail Lights Upgrades 

Here better parts than what you previously had can go a long way in improving overall appearance, increasing legibility in bad weather, and helping with longevity. It’s common for many car owners to get lights with black housings in ‘smoked’ lenses. The looks are definitely there, however, these are illegal in Queensland and NSW.  

More often, drivers change out worn halogens for LEDs. These have much lower power use for the same brightness and benefit from resistance to higher temperatures and moisture. They’re also rated to last much longer, so fewer issues and costs down the road. The only thing to make sure of is that you also get the right wiring and connectors and that they don’t cause issues with the car’s ECU.