How To Check Your Brake Lights Without Help

The brake light test trick.
The brake light test trick in action. photo by Matt Wright, 2009

When brake lights go out, you are not only prone to danger on the road such as getting rear-ended, you could get pulled over by the police and receive a ticket. Ensuring that your brake lights are always in working condition is a good way to stay safe on the road. Are all of your brake lights operating correctly? How can you test them by yourself without anyone looking at the rear of the vehicle while you pump the brakes on and off?

While there are several methods out there, here are a few that work well.

Use a Pole to Check Brake Lights

All you need is a broomstick, mop, painting pole, or basic pole to test your brake lights. You can even use the whole broom if you are okay with the broom end being in your vehicle. Take one end of the stick and press the brake pedal, then prop the other end firmly against the seat cushion. Now walk around back and check your brake lights. There are pole-like products on the market to do this, but a simple broomstick will do.

Use a Rearview Mirror to Check Brake Lights

Another easy method to check your brake lights is to park facing a glass storefront. When you look in the rearview mirror and pump the brakes, you should be able to see in the reflection if they are working properly. You may want to check your brake lights any time you are parked opposite of a reflective surface, as it is an opportune time to make sure your lights work properly.

Brake Light Testers

There are also tools you can use to check the brake lights. These may be feasible if you often attach a trailer to a vehicle and need to ensure the lights are working properly. Circuit testers are a good way to see if all of the circuits in a vehicle are fully operational. You'll find a wide range of inexpensive plug-in testers that can take the hassle out of knowing if you are connected correctly.

What to Do if a Tail Light Goes Out

A front headlight going out is quite simple to detect as the light won't show up on the road when it's dark and you can simply look in front of you. Rear brake lights are a bit trickier as we've discussed, but you can detect when one of them is out without help from anyone else.

When you notice that a bulb is out, replacing it is necessary. You can probably replace the lightbulb fairly easily on your own instead of going to a mechanic. Most vehicles have all the bulbs in a specific location (right and left sides) under separate lenses. It is simple to purchase a new bulb at an auto store or online automotive parts supplier.

To install it, just unscrew the colored or clear light lens with a screwdriver. Remove the housing, keeping a close eye on the screws (they are custom-fit to the housing and losing one means you'll have to find another part to replace).Then remove the assembly that holds the old bulb, insert the new one, fit the lightbulb assembly back in, and screw the housing back on. Learn more about replacing tail lights.