While I was out one night last week, I observed a Subaru Outback with a busted driver side brake light so I told the driver about at the red light.
Few days later, someone stops and tells me that MY driver side brake light was busted on my 2010 Subaru Outback. LOL.
Rather than replacing the bulbs with another set of incandescent light bulbs, I decided to try out the LED bulbs. LED bulbs cost about 4 times more than the traditional light bulbs, but it should be more durable but most importantly, brighter.
The entire project to replace both the brake and reverse light bulbs took about 30 minutes.
- Alla Lighting 39-SMD High Power 2835 Chipsets Xtremely Super Bright 7443 7440 T20 Red LED Bulbs for Brake Tail Light (click to see what it looks like) – $20
- JDM ASTAR 800 lumens Extremely Bright Error Free 921 912 PX Chipsets LED Bulbs For Backup Reverse Lights, Xenon White (click to see what it looks like) – $20 (although they were fully functional, I decided to swap out these backup lights because my wife always complained how these incandescent bulbs did not produce enough light
- Noalox Anti-oxidant Compound, 4 Oz. Bottle (click to see what it looks like) – optional; $10 (I like to put a dab of Noalox whenever I work with electrical components with mechanical connections (i.e. LED bulb to a socket). Noalox reduces moisture penetration and rust
- Phillips screwdriver
- Mini flat head screwdriver
- 10 mm socket + socket extender + wrench (optional; you can use a Phillips screwdriver instead)
- Nitrile gloves (1)
- Paper towel
(1) People ask me all the time why I bother to wear these gloves. It’s because I am the main cook and I like to keep my hands clean. Especially during winter, my hands tend to crack all over and it would be a very time consuming task to try to get the dirt out the cracks.
ALLTHUMBSDIY STEPS – Replacing Brake Lights
- STEP 1 – Remove the two plastic push pins. Using a Phillips screwdriver, make a quarter turn (counter-clockwise) to create a gap between the screw head and base. Grab the screw head and pull out.
- STEP 2 – Remove the plastic cover by pushing it “up”; there are two plastic fin tabs that will dis-engage when you do this.
- STEP 3 – Remove the two hex screws holding down the brake light assembly by using your 10mm socket
- STEP 4 – Slide the entire brake light assembly towards you to detach it from the vehicle. There are two plastic tabs (on the vehicle) which slides on the channel (on the brake light assembly) as well as a plastic “dead bolt” on the rear side
- STEP 5 – Flip the brake light assembly so that it will rest on the vehicle indentation (see pix). The electrical wires are fairly short so you may want to shift around the assembly unit a bit when removing the bulbs
- STEP 6 – You will see three connections. The top bulb turns on when the headlight/fog light is on. The middle bulb is the brake light. The lower light is the turn signal.
- STEP 7 – Remove the brake light socket by making a quarter turn counter clockwise (it’s a twist lock). Please note that the wires and sockets STAY TOGETHER. It may be helpful to remove the top bulb+socket assembly first to create enough slack on the wires before removing the brake light bulb+socket assembly
- STEP 8 – Remove the bulb by pulling it out.
- STEP 9 – Apply a dab (just enough to coat the wires; not globs of it!) of Noalox on the LED bulb wires.
- STEP 10 – Install the new LED bulb. It does not matter which direction you plug it in. Just make sure it is pushed in as far as it will go
- STEP 11 – Please note that the new LED bulb is longer than the original light bulb by about 1/2″ but I did not have any problem installing it
- STEP 12 – Seat the new LED bulb into place (and the top bulb socket assembly if it was removed)
- STEP 13 – Re-attach the brake light assembly to the vehicle, reinstall the two bolt screws, the plastic cover housing and the push pins.
- STEP 14 – Test to make sure that the new bulb is operational. Because the comparative picture was taken during the day, the difference between LED and regular bulbs seem negligible but to the naked eyes, there was a significant difference. I will take a follow up picture tonight and post it.
- STEP 15 – Whenever possible I try to replace bulbs in pairs (if one blew out, it can’t be too long before the other blows out, right?). Since the LED bulbs came in pairs, I decided to swap out the bulb on the passenger side as well
ALLTHUMBSDIY STEPS – Backup or Reverse Lights
Replacing the backup light bulbs are not too difficult, but for some reason, Subaru engineers made the access panel too small. Even with my medium/large hands, I had a difficult time getting my hand in there (not to mention battling with sharp metal edges). If you are a large dude, you may want to recruit someone who has smaller hands (and give him or her a six pack of beer).
- STEP 1 – Remove the access panel cover. Take a small flat head screw driver, cover the tip in paper towel (to minimize scratching), insert the tip in the small slot and pop off the cover. The cover itself has three locking tabs along the edge where you insert the screwdriver.
- STEP 2 – You will see two bulb sockets. The larger one is for the headlight / foglight. We want to work with the smaller (and skinnier) socket.
- STEP 3 – Remove the wire. Press down on the plastic tab and disconnect the wiring by pulling it out. If it does not come out easily, that means you are not pressing down on the locking tab correctly. Try to apply the pressure on the opposite side. DO NOT forcefully yank out the wire or you will create more work for yourself
- STEP 4 – Detach the socket from the base. This is the tricky part as the socket is installed tightly in the base. Just like the previous sockets, it is a quarter turn twist lock. The trick is getting enough force on it to make the initial turn. If you have super strong fingers, try to grip the socket closest to the base so that you don’t accidentally crack the socket housing. Whatever you, I DO NOT recommend using any sorts of tools.
- STEP 5 – Swap out the bulbs. Just like the brake lights, the replacement LED bulbs are about 1/2″ longer than the OEM part. Gently insert the new LED bulb as far as you can into the socket.
- STEP 6 – Re-install the socket assembly. Reverse the previous steps to install the assembly. Before putting the cover back on, lower the hatch and have someone put the car in reverse (with the brakes on!) to check that it is working.
- STEP 7 – Do the same for the other side
Congratulations. These new tail lights are much brighter than the original, helping drivers behind you see you better. With most Subaru dealers charging around $125 to do this work, I think this is a worthwhile investment to increase your overall car safety.
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