What is the tail light lens and how does it work?
A tail light lens is a plastic cover over one or more rear lights on your car. It both protects the bulbs and creates the necessary color, usually red or amber, depending on the purpose of the light. In most cars, the tail light lens is part of a larger, sealed tail light assembly. If any part of the assembly is damaged, the entire tail light assembly must be replaced as a unit. Older cars might have a separately replaceable lens. If so, the lens will be held on by screws and will include a gasket to create a weatherproof seal.
When to consider replacing a tail light lens:
- Cracks or seal breakage. If the lens is cracked, it is ordinarily replaced. In some cases with no apparent physical damage to the lens or taillight assembly, breakage of the weather seal has caused the assembly to accumulate water or dirt inside, reducing the transmitted light. The lens or assembly is replaced unless the seal can be fixed and the interior of the housing cleaned.
- Non-serviceable LED bulbs. Some cars have non-serviceable LED light bulbs. If the bulbs fail, the entire tail light lens and housing must be replaced.
How do mechanics replace the tail light lens?
- In cases where the lens is separately serviceable, meaning it is held on by screws, the fasteners are removed and the lens is replaced.
- In all other cases where the lens is an integral part of a larger tail light assembly, the entire assembly is removed and replaced as follows.
- Open trunk or rear cargo area.
- Remove interior garnish and all coverings preventing access to the taillight assembly fasteners.
- Remove all fasteners.
- Install new tail light assembly and, preferably, new long-life bulbs.
- Test operation of all lights in the assembly: taillight, brake light, turn signal and reverse light.
Is it safe to drive with a tail light lens problem?
No. Short-term operation is generally safe, but it will depend on the extent of the damage. If the lens is completely gone, the resulting white light might confuse drivers behind you. For maximum safety, repair the problem as soon as possible. The necessary repairs are typically not costly.
When replacing a tail light lens keep in mind:
- If the entire tail light assembly is replaced, it is best to install new bulbs and not re-use the old bulbs. Some assemblies will come with new bulbs already installed.
- Exterior light assemblies and vehicle crash parts vary in quality. Broadly, when it comes to body parts, the choices are OEM-dealer supplied, aftermarket, or aftermarket certified by an organization such as CAPA (Certified Automotive Parts Association).
- For older cars, there may not be an available new part. The mechanic will procure a used part for you from a used parts dealer.