The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Rear Light Assemblies

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Rear Light Assemblies

Rear light assemblies perform important functions for the driver of a motor vehicle. Rear lights make the vehicle visible in low light conditions and allow the driver to signal their intentions regarding lane changes and turns. Rear lights assemblies also provide warnings of braking intentions. Understanding the various types of rear light assemblies and their component parts helps buyers specify the exact light they are looking for and also provides consumers with an explanation of the function and purpose of the various rear light assemblies found on today's vehicles. Following a few common sense tips helps buyers to avoid lighting pitfalls that could present issues for them or their vehicle. One can purchase rear lighting assemblies from a variety of places, including auto parts suppliers and car dealer parts departments. One can also find used lighting assemblies at swap meets and salvage yards. For the largest and most diverse selection of both new and used rear lighting assemblies, however, one should shop on eBay.

Different Types of Rear Light Assemblies

There are a number of different rear light assemblies that perform specific functions for illuminating the rear of a motor vehicle. It is very common to find a number of individual lights combined into one assembly for the purposes of vehicle styling. The design of vehicle rear light assemblies varies by make and model, but the function of the lights themselves are consistent. The following list of rear lights provides an understanding of the different types of lights and their functions.

Rear Turn Signals

Rear turn signals illuminate when the driver uses the turn signal switch or lever attached to the steering column of the vehicle. Often amber in colour, when activated the turn signal on the side of the vehicle towards which the vehicle is turning flashes to alert motorists following the vehicle. The flash of the turn signal is controlled by a relay called a flasher that is mounted under the dash to the steering column or metal support beam, or sometimes in a vehicle relay centre. The flash of the turn signal, when activated, provides an audible signal to the driver. Turn signals auto-cancel after the turn is complete with a cam in the steering column that clicks the signal off when the steering wheel returns to centre after turning. When not amber in colour, rear turn signals use a red lens.

Tail Lights

The tail lights illuminate when the headlights are activated and provide visibility as to the presence of the vehicle in low light conditions. Activation can be automatic, with vehicles equipped with automatic headlights and low light sensors, or manually activated by a headlight switch, usually mounted on the dash or the turn signal handle. Tail lights use a red-coloured lens that sometimes also serves as a rear turn signal with a double-element bulb.

Rear Fog Light

European regulations require the presence of a rear fog lamp to insure visibility of the vehicle under foggy conditions. One rear fog lamp is sufficient if it is mounted on the driver's side of the rear of the vehicle. Rear fog lights are often incorporated into the tail lamp assembly; most vehicles that are equipped with rear fog lamps from the factory have one on each side. Rear fog lamps are activated by a fog lamp switch that is usually dash-mounted. The activation switch may illuminate both front and rear fog lights if the vehicle is so equipped.

Back Up Lights

Back up lights have a white lens and are activated when the vehicle is put in reverse. The back up light allows the driver visibility when backing up in low light conditions. The back up lights also act as an indication to drivers following the vehicle that the driver has placed the car or truck in reverse. Back up lights are usually included in the tail light assembly but can also be mounted on either side of the rear license plate on some models.

Brake Lights

Brake lights are activated when the brake pedal is touched. Any pressure on the brake pedal causes the brake light switch, which is in contact with the brake pedal lever bar, to trigger the illumination of the brake lights. Brake lights are usually incorporated into the tail light assembly and may be a part of the turn signal or tail light lens using a double-element bulb.

High-Level Brake Light

Mounted in a position to provide added visibility, high-level brake light assemblies provide a third stop lamp for the rear of the vehicle. Activated in the same manner as the brake lights, the high-level brake light is often a long bar placed at the top or bottom of the rear windshield, inside of the vehicle facing rearward. Other locations for high mount brake lights include the boot lid and exterior mounting in the area of the top or bottom of the rear windshield. Trucks often have the high-level brake light mounted at the top of the rear tailgate or in the area of the rear window of the truck passenger compartment.


License plate lights illuminate the rear license plate for visibility in low light conditions. The activation of the headlights illuminates the license plate light.

Rear light assemblies also include trailer lighting assemblies. Trailer lighting can be permanently affixed to the trailer or portable lamps that are strung through whatever is being carried on the trailer. Portable trailer lights are usually equipped with magnets in the base to hold them in place during use.

Original Equipment or Aftermarket Tail Light Assemblies

Buyers have the choice of selecting lamp assemblies that are original equipment manufacturer (OEM) approved or aftermarket replicas. OEM rear light assemblies meet all of the technical requirements that are set forth in the original design specifications of the manufacturer of the vehicle. Aftermarket rear light assemblies are usually cheaper and are modelled off of the OEM assemblies but without the original specifications. Aftermarket lamps may not fit as well as OEM lamps and may not have the same illumination properties. Aftermarket lamps are occasionally moulded to transform the appearance of the original lamp and add an extra degree of style to the vehicle.

Bulbs for Use in Rear Light Assemblies

Rear lenses and light assemblies have replaceable light bulbs that provide illumination for the unit. The light bulbs plug into a lamp socket that attaches to the light assembly to hold the bulb in place. Attachment points are usually twisted in sockets that fit the moulded opening in the light assembly. The following chart lists the common types of bulbs used and the type of illumination for which they are usually selected.

Bulb Type

Bulb Uses

380 or 566

Double-element bulbs for brake and tail light use


Single-element tail light bulbs

501,, 507, 580

Push-in style bulbs that slide into a flat socket opening rather than the round sockets of the 380, 382 design


Light-emitting diodes for applications designed to use special lighting type

Other types of bulbs are available for side marker lights and license plate lights. Bulbs are matched to a specific type of socket that holds the bulb in place and provides electrical current connections. Bulbs do not interchange: a 501 bulb will not work in place of a 380 bulb due to the different design configuration.

Rear Light Assembly Buying Do's and Don'ts

Listed below are a few tips for avoiding problems when selecting rear light assemblies. Use of the wrong type of light assembly can possibly create a problem for both safety-related concerns and legal-concerns. Buyers should make sure they get the proper rear light assembly for their vehicle and for the country or region in which they drive.

Do Use OEM Equipment Whenever Possible

OEM equipment generally provides better fit and finish appearance than aftermarket parts. Also, when using OEM parts, the buyer can be assured of meeting the legal requirements for the vehicle as it was designed.

Do Buy Used Rear Light Assemblies

If price is a significant factor, then buyers should look to purchase a used rear light assembly. Because there are no working parts in a lens assembly, the only thing buyers need to avoid are used light assemblies that have a crack or missing seal. For assemblies such as high-level brake lights that include bulbs as a part of the assembly, one should check to make sure all bulbs illuminate.

Do Use Aftermarket Light Assemblies for Special Circumstances

Aftermarket light assemblies are often used when a vehicle has been in an accident and it is necessary to have rear lights to drive the vehicle until it can be repaired. Aftermarket light assemblies are also used on custom constructed units such as trailers and specialty vehicles such as dune buggies.

Don't Swap American Production Parts for European Models

A tail light for an American Ford Focus may interchange with a European model, but it does not have the proper lenses to make sure the vehicle is legal. There are no requirements in the US for rear fog lights.

Don't Assume Specialty Bulbs Are Legal for All Locales

There are a number of specialty bulbs on the market that are designed to replace the stock OEM bulb and fit the socket and lens. These bulbs provide unique and custom light patterns but may not be legal in all regions. One should check with local police regulations before switching to a custom designed light bulb.

Don't Take Apart Light Assemblies to Replace a Light Bulb

Most light bulb replacements do not require the disassembly or removal of the actual rear light assembly. Checking inside the boot and behind access panels for the location of twist-out light sockets that hold the bulb allows for easy replacement. When removing a complete light assembly, it is possible to damage clips or attachment points, which could result in the need to replace the whole assembly. If there is a reason to remove a light assembly, one should use caution to be sure it is not damaged in the process.

Buying Rear Light Assemblies on eBay

Sellers on eBay are eager to earn your business, and they have a large selection of both new and used rear light assemblies, both OEM and aftermarket styles. Bulbs and sockets are also readily available from eBay's online marketplace. You can search for rear light assemblies by typing keywords such as left rear light assembly into any eBay search bar. You can then narrow your search results by using specific keywords, such as Vauxhall left rear light assembly. You can also use the parts search tool on the eBay Motors page by entering the make and model of your vehicle in the drop down selection boxes and typing the light assembly you are looking for in the search bar. After you click to request the search, a list of components that match the vehicle entered are displayed.

You can have confidence in dealing with individual eBay sellers by consulting the seller's feedback rating to see how previous buyers rated the satisfaction they derived from dealing with that seller. You can also purchase from eBay sellers safely and securely by using PayPal to fund the purchase transaction.


Rear light assemblies occasionally require replacement on vehicles due to such damage as cracks, seal failures, discolouration, water leakage, or accident damage. Understanding the differences between the different types of rear lighting assemblies helps buyers to identify the correct lens package for their vehicle. Following a few common sense tips helps buyers to avoid getting the wrong rear light assembly for their specific needs.

The option to choose either new or used rear light assemblies enables buyers to decide which type of purchase is better suited to their budget. Buyers also benefit from understanding the types of bulbs and sockets that are used to illuminate the rear light assembly and how to search for the means to access the sockets for bulb replacement. Buyers can purchase rear light assemblies with ease and convenience by shopping on eBay and having their purchase shipped directly to the home or office address. Vehicle rear light assemblies can be expensive, so it is a definite advantage to buyers to having the option of shopping somewhere they can select either a new or used unit from a variety of price points.

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