4 Simple Reasons Why Brake Lights Work and Tail Lights Don’t

Have you ever been pulled over by a police officer because you were driving at night with the tail lights off? I’m sure you would reason that you see the brake lights working and you had no idea that the tail lights were off. If you don’t drive at night, most likely it takes a long time before you notice that your tail lights aren’t working.

Tail lights are crucial in safe driving. Even though your brake lights function properly, people driving behind you may not see your car as you’re moving. Some accidents are caused by cars with very dim or no tail lights at all.

tail lights not working but brake lights are

Car''s tail light and brake light.

This is most dangerous during heavy rains or snow, or on sparsely-lit highways. Drivers behind may ram you because they did not clearly see your car. This is why police officers flag drivers who are without functioning lights.


So, what’s the deal? Aren’t tail lights supposed to work when the brake lights and headlights are on? Why do the brake lights work but the taillights don’t? You might think that all the lights in your car work as a “group.” I used to think that was the case, but apparently, it wasn’t.

If you are comfortable tinkering with your car, you just might save on cost if you troubleshoot on your own before bringing it to a mechanic. It’s also easier to explain the issue when you have an idea of what could be wrong. Let’s explore some of the reasons why your tail lights may not be working.

tail lights not working but brake lights are

Burnt out tail light bulb.

Your car’s tail lights are composed of lightbulbs that are almost similar to household light bulbs. You can access the bulbs either by removing the lenses or from the trunk. Unscrew the bulbs and check if the bulbs are blackened; if they are, then you have burnt light bulbs.

In most cases, there is a signal indicator on your dashboard that signals a burnt bulb. Check the filament wires inside the bulb to see if they are still intact. If the bulbs need replacement, you can purchase replacements at a local automotive store.

Make sure to check the sockets if they are burnt or melted. If they are, your new light bulbs may not work or may become busted right away. It may also cause more severe electrical problems.

Reason # 2: Dislocated or Damaged Wiring

tail lights not working but brake lights are

Damaged tail light.

If you have recently been hit at the tail end, it could be that the tail light wirings were damaged. Open the trunk and access the wires from the lid. If you see loose wiring, re-attach them. If they have been severed, you need to take them to a mechanic to have them fixed.

In most cases, damaged wiring is associated with a blown-out fuse. So, even if you repair the wiring, you may need to check the fuse as well.

Reason # 3: Blown-out Fuse

Everything “electronic” in your car is connected to its own fuse. The radio, lighter socket, dashboard warning lights, headlights, taillights, and brake lights. Your car’s fuse is almost similar to the fuse at your home.

When one of the fuses are broken, the circuit is cut off and could be the reason why your tail lights aren’t working.

Your fuse box is a small box with numbers and the letter A (10A, 15A, 30A). If your car is an older model, it could be under the dash. You can find it under the hood if you have a newer car.

tail lights not working but brake lights are

Car fuse box.

Otherwise, check the vehicle’s manual to locate the fuse box. The car’s ignition should be turned off when you inspect the fuse box. Use a flashlight to determine which one is the fuse associated with the taillights.

Remove the fuse with the fuse extractor or your fingers and inspect if the metal inside the fuse is broken or intact. Bring the broken fuse to a local car store to have it replaced then place it back to where you removed it.

I remember one time when I plugged in a phone charger into the lighter socket of my car. The dashboard lights and radio wouldn’t turn on. Later, I found out the taillights don’t work, too. When we inspected it, three of the fuses were busted.

Reason # 4: Electrical Problems

tail lights not working but brake lights are

If you have tried out the above and your tail lights still don’t work, it’s time to take your car to a mechanic.

If you have tried out the above and your tail lights still don’t work, it’s time to take your car to a mechanic. Mechanics can pinpoint the exact problem, such as electrical problems, and remedy them.

Most of the time, electrical problems are caused by a domino effect of faulty wiring and a blown-out fuse. If this was the case, your mechanic could determine this. It would be best to ask your mechanic why this happens so they can tell you what to avoid.


Owning a car is not merely driving it to places. You have to regularly inspect your car if everything is functioning properly. This is essential to safe driving and so that your vehicle is not a hazard to other drivers as well. Lights are one of the most important parts in a car. Who would want to drive without lights?

Place yourself in the shoes of the driver who could be behind you. More so, what if your car is a dark color? If you get into an accident and the driver behind you tells the police officer that he didn’t see your car, chances are the cops officer favors the other driver just because your taillights are not working.

tail lights not working but brake lights are

Driving at night without tail lights can be dangerous.

Did you learn something new based on the tips above? If you are not comfortable troubleshooting your car or tinkering with the parts, don’t have second thoughts on taking your automobile to a mechanic. You might end up with more damage if you aren’t that expert yet when it comes to your vehicle.

You can always ask your mechanic to teach you so that the next time it happens, you can do it on your own. The recommended steps are for those who have knowledge on car parts and are comfortable with it.

Like this article? Please share them with other car experts and enthusiasts! Feel free to comment or leave suggestions as well.

4 thoughts on “4 Simple Reasons Why Brake Lights Work and Tail Lights Don’t

  1. jan says:

    my left tail light on my vw caddy 2010 sdi has been crushed and 3 out of 4 bulbs stopped working – indicator, reverse and light.

    Break light (the top one) still works. I think water caused short and therefore the 3 bulbs stopped working as the metal on pcb is a bit oxidated(or melted). Now ive checked all fuses by multimeter and all have continuity. Well ive checked 2 fuse boxes one under bonnet one above footwell. But! there should be 2 fuse boxes under bonnet according to some google photos. Havent found it.
    Do you think it’s a wire problem or fuse ? Thanks Jan

  2. Michelle says:

    Day time running lights can also keep your tail-lights from turning on. My owners manual doesn’t mention this, so it took quite a few nice drivers flashing me, to figure it out. My vehicle is brand new, so I knew it couldn’t be any of the causes that you have listed. It would be great if you could add DRL as a cause, as it took me some google digging to find a site, that mentioned this cause.

    Thanks 🙂

  3. Ray says:

    I have a 56 desoto
    We had running lights awhile back
    But now we only have brake and turn and reverse
    Could the brake light switch ? Be the problem ?
    I tried to hard wire or jump the feed to wires going to the back and all I did was light up the brake lights

  4. Willie Austin says:

    Great post, David!
    Personally, I think a faulty control switch, damaged socket, or bad ambient daylight sensor can also cause your tail light not to work. So, if fixing all reasons above cannot handle your problems, check the three causes I mentioned.

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