The lights on a vehicle that are perhaps the most easily ignored by the driver are tail lights and brake lights. While the other drivers behind you on the road may notice you first by your tail lights or brake lights, you may rarely think about them – out of sight, out of mind. The lights on the rear of your vehicle, however, are so important in keeping you out of trouble that they should always be the subject of any periodic safety check you make on your car or truck.
The rear-facing lights are bright red, of course, and, depending on the age and design of your vehicle, might all be under the same lens as the brake lights and also the rear turn signals. The tail lights come on when you turn on the headlights, but unlike a headlight, an inoperative rear light will be invisible to a driver who doesn’t look for it. Looking for it is easy, though: Just click on your headlights while you are parked; then go behind your car or truck and make sure all the red tail lamps are lit.
The worst-case scenario is you will discover NONE of the rear-facing red lights are lit – this can occur due to a fuse failure or a problem with the vehicle’s wiring harness. Luckily, a tail lamp failure is usually less dramatic – one light, on one side or the other, will be out while the others are on. Usually, a bulb or light assembly is the culprit. On older vehicles, single light bulbs can burn out; these can be easily replaced, often by removing the plastic cover over the light assembly, or by removing the light socket from behind the colored lens to access the bulb. Replacements are generally readily available. Newer vehicles may have light-emitting diode (LED) tail lamp assemblies. Single LEDs can sometimes fail, leaving the assembly as a whole still functional. On rare occasions, an entire LED assembly will fail, requiring replacement. Whatever the cause, prompt repair is critical to your vehicle’s ongoing safety – other drivers in low light conditions will have a tough time avoiding you if they can’t see you because your rear-facing lights are out.
Brake lights are also bright red and rear-facing, but they generally only come on when you step on your brake pedal. You already know as a driver that a suddenly illuminated brake light on a car ahead of you is warning you to slow or stop to avoid a collision. Periodically checking your brake lights will ensure the drivers behind you get the same warning!
Checking your own brake lights can be a bit tricky because the brake pedal must be depressed to activate them. One easy trick is to back into a parking space near a reflective door or window. If you have a sliding glass door near your driveway, this may suffice; if not, selecting a commercial storefront with full-height windows will do the job. Once you’re parked with the vehicle secure, look in your rear-view mirror and step on the brake pedal – you should see all your brake lights glow, and extinguish when you release the brake. Another method is to have a friend or family member sit in your driver’s seat and press the brake pedal while you stand behind the car or truck to ensure all brake lights come on.
An important detail in a brake light check is that third center brake lamp. Known in the automotive industry as the “Center High-Mounted Stop Lamp,” that light is required by Federal law because it has been shown to reduce rear-end collisions by up to ten percent, so ensuring this legally-mandated light is working can keep you out of an accident – or traffic court.
Even though your tail lights and brake lights are out of your sight as you drive, don’t forget about them; they need periodic checks and occasional maintenance to keep you out of trouble!