Brake Light vs Tail Light

Brake Light vs Tail Light: A Quick Comparison

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Brake and tail lights are common terms that we often hear. It is easy to get confused as most people use the terms interchangeably. However, these terms refer to lights on a car that are indeed different.

Knowing the difference between brake light vs tail light is essential when you are trying to figure out why brake lights aren’t working or why tail lights aren’t working. First, you must know what is the difference between a tail light and brake light. Then you can perform troubleshooting on the tail light or figure out what is wrong with the brake light.

Brake lights illuminate when the brake pedal in a car is engaged. Tail lights light up when headlights are turned on, the parking brake is engaged, or at all times while driving in newer models.

In this article, get to know the difference between a brake light and a tail light and how to diagnose problems when tail lights or brake lights aren’t working properly.

What is a Brake Light?

Brake lights have a higher lumen count which means they shine brighter than tail lights. All brake lights on cars are red by law. Rear facing lights on cars must be red or amber colored unless they are reverse lights which can be white.

Brake lights are red because red is an attention grabbing color. The human eye is used to white lights, but when we see a red light we know that it is alerting us to something. The color red is also the most easily visible light color in sunny conditions.

What is a Tail Light?

Tail lights, as the name implies, is located on the rear of the car same as brake lights. However, tail lights are illuminated when a car’s headlights are turned on, the parking brake is on, or at all times on many newer vehicles.

There are two main purposes of tail lights. First, they show the rear part of your vehicle so that the other drivers following you can estimate the size and shape of your car. Second, it helps the other drivers see your car in areas with low visibility like on top of a foggy mountain.

Tail lights are also commonly in red color but usually dimmer as compared to the brake light.

What are the similarities and differences: brake light vs tail light


  • Important safety car lights
  • Must emit red light
  • Located in same housing
  • Sometimes share same bulb with different filament


  • Brightness: tail lights are of a lower luminosity than brake lights
  • Usage: tail lights are lit when headlights are turned on or parking brake is engaged while brake lights are only illuminated when the car’s brakes are engaged

How To Diagnose When Brake Light or Tail Light Isn’t Working?

It is very important to check that both brake light and tail light are working properly. This is because these two lights are crucial for your safety.

So, how do you diagnose if your brake and tail lights are working just fine?

Ask one person (preferably one who also drives) to stand behind your car. Get into the drivers seat and turn the key half way, or press the keyless “START” button without putting your foot on the brake. This will turn on the vehicles electrical system without turning over the ignition. You do not need to have the engine running to perform this test.

Turn the headlights on and ask the other person to tell you if the tail light is working. They should see the light housing illuminate slightly. It may be difficult to notice if it is a sunny day. In that case, it would be better to perform inside a garage.

To check the brake light, step on the brake gently and have your helper tell you if the brake light is working and illuminates a bright red color. The brake light should be easily visible even on the sunniest day. If your tail light or brake light is an LED and it is flickering, check out our guide on how to fix.

Why Tail Light or Brake Light May Not be Working?

There are 3 possible reasons why your tail or brake lights aren’t working;

  • Damaged fuse
  • Wiring problem
  • Electrical issue

In some instances, it could also be that the brake cushion has already worn down. If that’s the case the brake lights won’t recognize if you are stepping on the brake or not.

Tips When Replacing Your Tail Light And Brake Light

Here are some things to consider when replacing your brake light and tail light:

  1. Make sure to double check the model of your vehicle and check that the lights are compatible.
  2. Also check the shape of the lights. They come in oval, square, round, or rectangle.
  3. Choose LED or lights that consume less energy and generate less heat.
  4. Finally, make sure that the brake light and tail light replacement you bought are safe and UL listed. This means that the lights have been tested and recognized as safe nationally.

If you are looking for the best value tail light for your vehicle, we’ve done the research for you. Our top pick and recommended product is the iBrightstar 9-30V LED light.

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Best Features:

  • Easy to install
  • 300% brighter than its halogen counterpart
  • Low power consumption at 3 watts per bulb
  • 30,000 hours lifespan
  • Has brilliant (not glaring) red light
  • With projection lens for better light output