Tail Light vs. Brake Light: What’s The Difference?

Lighting plays a vital role in every vehicle. They are essential for driving at night. With the help of lighting, you can see the car in front of you and those behind you. This helps to minimize road accidents at night.

Aside from that, the brake light notifies the driver behind you when you slow down by applying the brakes. Cars also have side lights. These lights are used when taking corners to notify other drivers and passersby.

To add in the line, the tail lights are also essential as they show the rear edges of the car and help the vehicles behind know the size of your car to avoid a crash. This article discusses mainly tail light vs. brake light contests which will make you clear about tail lights and brake light bulbs in the course of the talk.

So let’s dive right in to get authority knowledge on their meaning, differences, and similarities.

tail light vs brake light

Read Also: P0504 Error Code: Brake Light Switch “A”/“B” Correlation

What is a tail light in cars?

Tail lights are red lightings at the rear edge of your car. They light on whenever you switch on the headlights. When driving, they have a dimmer red appearance but change to a bright red appearance when stopping.

As reiterated, taillights are located at the rear edge of the car, facing rearward. Some are built with reflective materials to amplify and make the light brighter. More states in America restrict the tail lights to red alone.

Tail lights work on a relay. So, the driver does not have to turn on the light. Instead, it comes on whenever you switch on the headlights. Tail lights are wired to the same headlight switch in cars, making them easy to turn on without pressing another switch. In short, what are tail lights used for, anyway?

To be precise, tail lights are a safety feature in vehicles. They project the rear end of the car so that other drivers behind you can see the back edges of your car and gauge the size. This undoubtedly minimizes accident rates at night.

Read Also: The Importance of Brake Light on Dashboard

What is a Brake light in cars?

Which lights are the brake lights? Like the tail lights, brake lights are red lightings at the rear end of your car. They come on whenever you depress the brake pedal and go off as you remove your foot from the pedal. They are placed in the same location as the tail lights but project brighter red lighting.

Depending on your car model, they may be placed in the same housing units. The brake light is a safety feature that alerts drivers behind you that you’re stopping or about to slow down, allowing them to adjust their speed or navigate to another lane to avoid crashes.

With functioning brake lights, the drivers behind you should distance themselves from your car when slowing down. Your brake lights tell the drivers behind you that you’re stopping or there’s traffic ahead and help them prepare on time.

Additionally, the brighter red brake lights make them more visible in rainy, snowy, dark, and sunny times.

Tail lights and brake lights share the same housing units. This may prompt many to ask, are tail lights and brake lights the same bulb? Different vehicles come in different designs. In some cars, the tail and brake lights share the same bulbs.

This doesn’t mean the tail light will come on when you depress the brake pedal. The bulb has two filaments that control these lights -one filament for the tail lights and the other for the brake lights. However, in some cars, the tail and brake lights have two separate bulbs that control them.

What is the difference between tail light and a brake light?

The primary difference between the tail light vs. brake light bulbs is that the tail lights come on once you switch on the headlights. If your vehicle is designed such that the headlight illuminates once you start the car, the taillights will also come on once you start the vehicle without pressing any button or switch.

On the other hand, the brake lights will illuminate once you depress the brake pedal. In any case, while the brake lights and tail lamp color is red, the brake lights have amplified to turn into a brighter red light.

are tail light and brake light the same bulb


Q: Are tail lights and brake lights on the same fuse?

Since we have provided an answer to the question – Is a tail light different from a brake light? It’s okay to ask if they share the same fuse since they use the same bulb in some vehicles. You may have seen a situation where the brake light works but not the tail lights. Tail and brake lights use one bulb in some cars but have different circuits.

Q: Is the tail light and signal light the same? 

No, tail lights and signal lights are not the same. As explained above, tail lights are safety lights that are mounted on the rear edges of a car. In some cars, they share the same bulb with the brake lights. And they are relayed, meaning you don’t have to switch them on. Instead, they come on once you switch on the headlight.

In contrast, signal lights, also known as blinkers, directionals, directional lights, or indicators, are those flashing lights that come on when the driver is making a turn. They are safety lights as well.

They are mounted close to the right and left rear and front corners of a car, sometimes on the side mirrors. Some vehicles also have tail lights on sizes. They are activated on one side of the car, depending on where the driver is turning to.

Q: Why does my tail light work but not my brake light?

This situation may be more confusing if your vehicle uses the same bulb for both tail and brake lights. However, there’s a reason and solution to this problem.

A blown bulb is the most common reason your tail lights work, and the brake lights are not working. If your car uses one bulb for both brake and tail lights, the bulb has two or more filaments. The filament controlling the brake light may be broken.

Other probable causes include a blown a fuse, brake light wiring issues, brake light switch, or lousy socket and connectors.

Q: Can I drive with one brake light out?

The brake light is an important safety feature that helps minimize road accidents by notifying drivers coming from behind when you’re slowing down or stopping. Driving without them exposes you to safety hazards.

In any case, brake lights can fail anytime without any warning. And a failed brake light cannot prevent you from driving. If the police pull you over for driving with one brake light out, the officer may be lenient to you because these bulbs can fail without notice. However, they may issue you a ticket if they find two dead brake lights.

Q: Do all 3 brake lights have to work?

According to a regulation established by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1986, all brake lights must maintain good working conditions. Therefore, an officer may issue you a ticket for driving with only two brake lights.

Q: Can I drive my car with a broken tail light?

It is against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) law to drive with a broken tail light. All tail lights are required to be in good working conditions. By this, the two tail lights must be lighting clearly.

Q: What happens if your brake light is out?

If your brake lights go out, the vehicles from behind will not know when you’re slowing down or taking a stop. This can lead to a crash, especially at night or during heavy rainfall. Additionally, officers may pull you over and issue you a ticket.

Q: How much does it cost to change brake lights?

Brake and tail light replacement is a beginner task that anyone can do. The average brake light replacement cost is between $25 to $60. The replacement bulb costs $5 to $10, while the service technician handling the task will charge you between $20 to $50.

If you choose to change the bulb yourself, you’ll only spend $5 to $10 to get new bulbs and save the service fee.

Q: How much does a tail light cover cost to replace?

Several factors like your location, car make, and model determine the tail light cover replacement cost. In any case, the average cost of replacing a tail light cover is between $50 to $300, depending if you choose the DIY route, drive to a repair shop or your dealership.

 The above price is estimated based on the national tail light replacement cost. It does not include taxes, shipment fees, or your car’s make and model.

Q: How long does it take to replace a brake light?

Brake light replacement is a beginner task that amateur mechanics and inexperienced DIYers can handle. Depending on your experience, the replacement process can take between 30 minutes to 1 hour. However, some modern cars will be a bit more complicated than older ones because there will be more wires and connectors to disconnect.

Q: Can you just replace a tail light cover?

There is no science in replacing a damaged tail light or brake light cover. You only need to unscrew the screws holding it in place and disconnect the connections. Some covers may not have screws. In such cases, locate and pull off the mounting clips and reinstall the new cover following the reverse process.

Final Words

In the contest of tail lights vs. brake lights, you have learned the meaning of these lights and their differences. While tail lights and brake lights stay in the same housing and may even use the same bulb in most cases, they are different bulbs.

The brake light comes on when you depress the brake pedal, while the tail light comes on when you turn on the headlights. You may ask, are tail lights and headlights the same bulb? They’re not just different in use but also in bulb sizes, shapes, and functions.

At this juncture, you now know the differences between these bulbs.

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Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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