Replacing Brake Lights - Does it Really Have to be That Hard?

Not a Pry Bar or Punch: Does it Really Have to be That Hard?

Should brake light bulbs really be that involved to replace? Lights are a safety item that should be easy for anyone to do.

I’m a stickler about the lights on a car. I think they should all work correctly all the time, especially the exterior lights, so I always check them with every vehicle service.

During a recent inspection, I noted “high-mount brake light not working” on the repair order of a late-model sedan and, based on the age of the car, assumed it just needed a bulb. Even though I’m cautious of assumptions, I was comfortable making this one and it turns out I was correct. It’s the assumption that it would be easy to replace that bit me in the…well, you know.

A quick look in the trunk underneath the package tray revealed no easy access to the bulb, so my next thought was to look for release tabs to slide the lamp housing off from the inside. There was nothing there either, so it was off to the service information. Although usually detailed, both of my primary resources told me nothing more than to remove the package tray, and the extent of the instructions were to remove the screws on the front and simply slide it out, which I might add didn’t work.

Interior trim removal procedures were also sparce, so figuring out the package tray was my problem. With the screws removed, the package tray went nowhere, so another trip to the trunk was made to make sure I wasn’t overlooking some easy built-in access. There was a cut-out where you could just reach and unplug the connector for the socket and you could see the socket, but it was far enough in and too tight of an area to allow R&R. I felt as if it was a cruel prank from the engineer of this fine setup.

The rear seat side bolsters appeared to be holding the package tray from moving. The bolsters had to be unbolted for removal, which first required removing the rear seat cushion after, of course, hunting for the hidden retaining bolts that held it in place.

Bolsters removed, the package tray still went nowhere, so it was off with the C-pillar trim, which turned out to hook into the package tray to keep them in place at the bottom. Next was pulling up on the retaining clips underneath the package tray and finally sliding it out.

As I was reassembling the longest brake light bulb replacement in the world, I was hit with a recollection that I had run into this before, many years ago, but like a lot of us, it seems like sometimes I’ve forgotten more than I remember, or maybe I was blocking it out.

The job really wasn’t that hard and if I had to do another one tomorrow it would probably only be 7-10 minutes tops. But seriously? Should brake light bulbs really be that involved to replace? I’ve seen plenty of high-mount brake bulb housings that slide right off the package tray. Sure, it’s all opportunity for us to make money, but I feel like lights are a safety item that should be easy for anyone to do.

What makes it worse is it’s easy to add a few extra bucks for a bulb, rarely is a customer unhappy about that. But it’s hard to add an extra 20 for replacement, and just as hard to get them to approve it beforehand. Most people have the perception that bulbs are easy to replace, since they always used to be, and they’re still taken aback by the associated labor costs these days. Don’t get me started on headlights!

The light was fixed, that’s all that matters, and I found myself chuckling with the idea of finding the engineer who decided this was a good idea and stringing them up by their toes from the ceiling of the shop to wait while I replace the next one of these brake bulbs. Maybe they will make them a little easier to do next time. TS

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