Replace Your Car’s Burnt-Out Bulbs in 4 Simple Steps

Vehicle Maintenance

Every bulb on the outside of your car has a safety function. This may seem obvious, but think about how often you see somebody driving around with a tail light out, or with only one brake light. The fact is these little bulbs are often neglected. Many people don't replace them until they get pulled over and have to try to avoid the fine. It only takes a second to inspect all of your bulbs (check out our back up light trick for testing those guys.)

Take five minutes every now and then and do a walkaround. Even if you find a dead bulb, rest assured these are easy to replace. The last thing you want is a ticket or an accident.

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Unscrew the Tail Light Housing

Remove the tail light assembly screws.
Remove the tail light housing screws. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

The bulbs for all of your red, white and yellow lights are hidden behind a colored lens. In most cars and trucks they're all in one place but some vehicles used a few separate lens assemblies. Either way, the same process applies.

First, you need to remove the lens housing from the car. It's usually held in place with a few Phillips-head screws. Be sure to put them someplace safe. Now's not the time to lose a screw.

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Pull Out the Light Housing

Remove the assembly for bulb replacement.
Tail lamp assembly coming out. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

Now that you have the screws out and safely stowed you can pull the entire bulb assembly, or housing, out of its hole. You won't be able to pull it out too far because of all the wiring holding it in, but you don't need much space. Just don't pull hard on the wiring. Most assemblies will pull out as a whole, but some have a removable outer cover. These are even easier so if you have one you should count your tiny blessings.

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Unscrew the Bulb Holder

Removing the brake light bulb holder.
A quick turn and you have access to the bulb. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

The bulbs in your brake light or tail light assembly are held in place using a plug that holds the bulb, that also screws into the light assembly. Follow the wires to the back of the light that you need to replace, that's the bulb holder you want to unscrew. It doesn't actually screw, it only takes a quarter turn or so to unseat it and pull it out.

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Pull Out the Old Bulb

Remove the old bulb and replace.
Remove the old bulb and replace. photo by Matt Wright, 2008

Finally! You can see the light (or lack thereof) at the end of the tunnel, a dead bulb. Your bulb either pulls straight out (most do these days) or requires a quarter turn twist like the bulb holder did. Remove the bad bulb and put the new one in. Now you're legal and safe.