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How to Replace a Tail Light Bulb: Auto Shop 101

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If, after reading my blog for a while, you know nothing else about me, you DO know that I am super cheap frugal.  So you can imagine the thoughts going through my head when, at my oil change appointment at the dealership, the repair guy pointed out a burnt out tail light and told me they would "happily" change it for the mere cost of $98 (which included labor and the the bulb.)


Now, I am not a mechanic, but the last time I checked light bulbs were a couple bucks.. and how hard could it be? I mean seriously.  They make jokes about this stuff "How many bloggers does it take to screw in a light bulb?" 

My reply?  "Thanks but no.  I'll do it myself."

And I did.

So now I am going to share the inside secret with you on how to replace your own tail light bulb (or turn signal, or back up light.)  It is NO SWEAT.
 I have a mini-van so the photos are going to be from that, but the idea is pretty much exactly the same for any car.  

First you need to know exactly which bulbs are out.  My van has 2 bulbs for the brake light, one for the back up light and one for the turn signal.   My lower brake light bulb was the one that was burnt out.   Once you know that you can ask at the auto supply store for exactly the bulb you need.  They have different bulbs of different intensities and colors based on usage, so you want to make sure you are telling them the right thing.  They will also need to know the make, model and year of your car to be sure to give you the right one.

My bulb was $4.78. Well, that was TWO bulbs.  That means my 'parts' cost (including retail mark-up) was $2.39.

The next thing you need to do is remove the tail light housing from your car.  This sounds super complicated, but it isn't.  First you need to open your tailgate (or pop your trunk) and figure out where the housing is attached to the car.    

In my case there were three screws holding the tail light on.

With a phillips head screwdriver remove the screws (most cars will have two and vans/trucks will have three.)

The tail light housing should fall right off.  The backside of it will look something like this:

Each of those circles is a bulb housing (socket): A back up light, a turn signal and two brake lights.  I needed to replace the lower brake bulb, which is the orange circle at the top of this photo (the tail light housing is flipped forward so it is upside down.)

To remove the bulb housing you first need to untwist it and remove it from the rest of the tail light housing.  The direction to twist is clearly marked:

Once you have untwisted it and pulled it out, it will look like this:

Ahh! The promised land! We are almost there!  Unlike traditional light bulbs which are threaded, these bulbs have a little knob on them. 
You need to twist the bulb about 60 degrees until the knob lines up with the notch on the bulb housing. 

Insert the new bulb and reverse the process of pushing in and twisting.

Insert the bulb housing back into the tail light housing and twist it back into place.  Then put the light housing back onto the car and reinsert the three screws.
TA-DAH!!!!  You did it!  You passed Auto Shop 101!  

Even with the fact I stopped to take photos, the entire process took me under 6 minutes. YES! SIX MINUTES.  If you calculate that they were going to charge me $98 (-$2.38 for the bulb) that works out to $956/hour for labor. I think I am in the wrong line of work*!

The answer to: "How many bloggers does it take to replace a light bulb?" 
  Just ONE! As long as she is brave cheap enough to give it a try.

Sharing at some of these parties:
*MONDAY*  Before and After Party - Thrifty Decor Chick , Tutorial & Tips – Home Stories from A to Z , Craft-O-Maniac Monday- Craftomaniac, DIY Project Parade- The DIY Showoff, Keeping It Simple-Motivate Me Monday , Masterpiece Monday-Boogieboard Cottage , Metamophasis Monday- Between, Naps on the Front Porch, Mop it Up Monday - I Should Be Mopping the Floor, *TUESDAY*   Uncommonly Yours- Link Party , Sugar Bee Crafts-Take A Look Tuesday, Show Me What Ya Got- Not Just a Housewife, Tip Me Tuesday- Tip Junkie , Power of Paint Party-Domestically Speaking  *WEDNESDAY*Wicked Awesome Wednesdays - Handy Man, Crafty Woman, Someday Crafts- Whatever Goes Wednesday *THURSDAY* Delightful Order- Delightfully Inspiring, Catch as Catch Can- My Repurposed Life, Shabby Creek Cottage- Transformation Thursday. House of Hepworths- Hookin Up, Show Me Extraordinary - The 36th Avenue, Inspired Creations - Embracing Change  *FRIDAY*   Inspiration Friday - At The Picket Fence/100 Ideas Under $100, Repurpose, Remodel, Reveal - The Rooser & The Hen  , Weekend Wrap-Up Party- Tatertots & Jello, Frugal Friday- The Shabby Nest, Show and Tell Friday - My Romantic Home, Pity Party - Thirty Handmade Days   *SATURDAY* Saturday Seven Party-Positively Splendid *SUNDAY* Under the Table and Dreaming-Sunday Showcase Party

**Just kidding.. Please don't' write to me if you or someone you know/love is a mechanic.  I realize it is a lot of work, and they don't actually get paid $1000/hour yadda yadda.   That was sarcasm. 

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  1. Good for you! That is great! And thank you for the tutorial!

  2. this was a fantastic reminder about how DIY applies to our whole life. I read the first part of your post to my husband and asked how much he thought they priced it. He guessed less than $10 since they were already working on your vehicle and charging you by the hour already. He was shocked at $98!

  3. hahaha! Oh Kim! we're so much alike!! That's the same that happens to me with one of my minivan headlights! The only thing is.. I didn't do it, I asked DH for that one! I was happy to do the research on how to, it was his first time doing that! Everything turned out fine!
    You're amazing!

  4. great tutorial!!! I see lots of folks driving around w/ one tail light...not safe! Great job Kim!!!

  5. Haha good to know! What an awesome and practical tutorial!

  6. Simply wish to say your posting is as surprising. The clarity inside your publish is just nice and i can assume you are an specialist on this topic. Good together with your permission let me to use your Feed to keep up-to-date with future post. Thanks a million as well as please keep on the great function.
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  7. This is great Kimberly. I've smiling ever since I read your FB comment. Maybe you need to call that offer back... ?


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