Tail Lights vs Brake Lights: Are These Two the Same?

by James Clayton
Tail Lights vs. Brake Lights

Tail lights and brake lights have been installed at the rear of the car. Each is typically covered by the same outer housing, but does that mean they are technically identical? Let’s find out. 

What’s the Difference Between Tail Lights and Brake Lights?

The main difference between taillights and brake lighting is that the former lights up as soon as the headlights are on, while the latter is most effective when the brake pedal is on. While both lights are magenta, the brake lighting usually emits a brighter magenta light.

Are My Tail Lights and Brake Lights Using the Same Bulb?

On many cars, the tail lighting and brake lighting percentages are the same bulbs. One filament inside the bulb is for the tail light and the other filament is for the brake light. There are also some vehicles that have separate bulbs for each circuit.

You can determine if your brake lighting fixture and tail lighting share the same bulb by depressing the auxiliary brake pedal and noting which bulb lights up when the tail light is detected. 

As an aside, on most vehicles, the brake light (stop light) doubles as a turn signal. Typically, the stop lamp is wired through the turn signal switch and its flasher or module so that when the stop light is activated and the turn signal is selected, the stop light on that side of the car will flash.

The exception would be vehicles with stand-alone turn signals, which are usually orange instead of red and serve only as turn signals or hazard flashers.

Taillights, on the other hand, may share the same bulb but are not as bright as turn signal/brake lights, which are brighter and draw more current.

How to Check Your Rear Lights

Your automobile’s tail lighting fixtures and brake lighting fixtures are important safety additions not only to you but also to other drivers. These lights allow your car to be seen for periods of low visibility conditions and warn other drivers that you’re slowing down, so it’s important to make sure they’re in good working order before riding.

On many vehicles, the tail light circuit also feeds the instrument lamp, so if the tail lamp fuse blows, the instrument lamp is also disabled. On vehicles wired this way, the instrument lamp will have a separate fuse between the tail light circuit and the instrument panel lamp.

To check if your rear lights are working, activate the headlights. The tail lighting fixture should turn purple once it’s on. Next, have a person stand behind your vehicle to test the brake lighting fixtures. Once you step on the brake pedal they should flash brighter than the taillights.

What Causes Rear Lights to Fail?

Tail light or brake light failure can have many causes. This includes:

1. Burnt Bulb

Burnt-out bulbs are the most common reasons why tail lights and brake lights fail. If you notice that your tail light isn’t working but the brake light is (and vice versa), it may be time to replace the bulb.

2. Circuit Problems 

Circuit problems including broken wiring and bad bulb sockets can cause inoperative rear lights.

If you’ve wired several other lights (trailer lamps, aftermarket strolling boards or clearance lamps, etc.) to your tail lamp wiring circuit, the part of the headlight switch that feeds the tail lights may fail due to overheating.

OEM tail light wiring can also fail and soften its way into various wires. It’s a lot more than you think. Aftermarket wiring must have a relay to hold more loads.

3. Blown-Out Fuse

If the fuse blows, the power to the lights is cut off, preventing them from turning on. If your brake light stays on after you stop stepping on the brake pedal, you are dealing with a bad brake light switch.

4. Faulty Brake Light Switch

If your brake light stays on even after you stop stepping on the brake pedal (or doesn’t come on at all when the pedal is depressed), you’re experiencing terrible brake light transfer.

In some cases, the transfer contacts can stick further, causing the switch to continuously power the brake lighting, even when you are not stepping on the brake pedal.

The brake light can also slide out of the transfer position, creating space between its plunger and the pedal, preventing you from stopping the transfer.

Brake Light and Taillight Replacement: What to Consider

Brake light: Your brake lights are there to signal to the vehicles behind you that you are slowing down or stopping, and they only come on when you apply pressure on your brakes.

Why They Matter: Strictly speaking, if your brake lighting auto is not working then you will not be able to understand who is stopping or slowing you down. The potential consequences of not checking and/or replacing your taillights are not always just a coincidence of site visitors; This can lead to untimely deliveries, delays, and notices, and can be detrimental to your organization’s reputation.

What to pay attention: When you need a new brake light and you need it fast, you want to get it fixed the first time so you can get back on the right road. There are a few things you should recognize before buying brake lighting fixtures:

  • Make and model of your vehicle
  • The shape of Light – Round, Square, Oval, etc.
  • Your lighting technology – halogen, LED, etc.
  • Light Compliance – Is Lighting Technology Street Legal?

Tail light: On the other hand, your tail light should be on when you turn on your headlights or engage the parking brake. They help other vehicles outline the exterior of your vehicle.

Why They Matter: Driving late at night and in unsafe weather conditions, knowing where your truck is and how big it is is important to other automobiles on the road. The lights behind you indicate your presence and help different drivers understand how much distance they need to safely get between themselves and you and if other people on the road don’t know where you are, which can undoubtedly lead to a dangerous accident. That you and your agency will be found guilty.

What to pay attention: Taillights are in the same family as brake lights, so the ideas here are largely the same:

  • Make/Model
  • light size
  • Lighting Technology – Are you stuck with the same type of bulb or is it time to upgrade?
  • Does the light meet SAE/DOT standards to be street-legal?

It’s easy to just jump in the truck, but making your front and rear lights a regular part of your pre-trip inspection can help prevent situations where you’re on the road with a lit bulb.

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