Broken or failed taillight assembly: What are the part options and replacement cost?

Updated: May 24, 2020
It's unfortunate, but happens quite often when you find that someone backed into your taillight in the parking lot. What are the repair options if your insurance doesn't cover it? The first step is to assess the damage. What parts are required? If the taillight consists of only one part like in this photo, it's not very expensive to replace.
Broken taillight Broken taillight.
If you have basic mechanical skills and tools, you can probably even change it yourself. Of course, in some cars, a taillight may consist of two or even three different parts. Often one part of the taillight assembly is bolted to the trunk while the other one is attached to the fender.

The next step is to make sure all the lights are working. The exterior lights are safety devices and are essential for safe driving. You can get a warning or ticket if one of the lights is not working. If you want to repair the light temporarily until you get the part, many auto parts stores sell a lens repair tape. It's like a scotch tape and it comes in red and amber.
The taillight assembly also needs to be replaced if the LED unit inside has failed and cannot be replaced separately. In this case, it's a good idea to check for recalls, because several manufacturers issued recalls related to taillight assembly. There is also a chance that some manufacturers may cover a failed LED taillight assembly even if the warranty has recently expired, as it is a safety item. You can check this with the dealer.

If an LED light assembly is not working at all it makes sense to have it diagnosed first, to make sure that it's not a problem with wiring or the connector. We have seen many cases where one of the lights stops working because of the corrosion in the connector or other issue. This problem is more common for the centre (high-mount) brake light.

Of course, if some LEDs remain dark, while others work, like in this photo, we know that the light assembly receives the electric power and the problem is with the assembly itself.
Bad LEDs in the brake lightBad LEDs in the brake light.
If the LEDs cannot be replaced separately, the whole assembly must be replaced.

There are several repair options. The quickest option is to get the repairs done at your local dealership. A dealer might not have the part in stock, but they can usually order it to be delivered for the next day if you order before the cutoff time (usually from 1 to 3PM). A common practice is to call or visit the dealership parts department, pre-order the part and set up the appointment. A dealer may charge $75-$180 labor (for an average car) plus the cost of the part to replace one taillight assembly.

If you are looking for a less expensive option, many auto parts stores sell aftermarket taillight assemblies, although the quality might not be on par with the OEM (original) part. If you are buying an aftermarket taillight assembly, make sure it meets the DOT standard.
Used taillight assembly Used taillight assembly.
Your local auto repair shop can order and replace a taillight assembly with an aftermarket part for 20-60 percent cheaper than the dealership.

Another option is buying a used part. Check with your local auto recycling facilities (auto wreckers) or look on eBay. if you are buying a used part, make sure it fits, because often different model years have different taillight designs.

To demonstrate the price difference, we checked prices for the taillight assembly for the Toyota Matrix in the top photo. An OEM part from Toyota (it's called Rear Combination Lamp) costs $178. We found a few used parts on eBay for $40-60. A new aftermarket part is listed for $57-$85 on Amazon. All prices don't include delivery.
Replacing the tailight assembly Replacing the taillight assembly.
For most cars, a new taillight assembly comes without the bulbs; they will have to be transferred from the old part.

Is it difficult to replace a taillight assembly? In most cars, it's fairly easy; in others some additional parts may need to be removed first. For example, in this Honda Accord, a taillight assembly is held by 4 nuts and one screw, but one side of the bumper needs to be removed in order to get to the screw that holds the bottom portion. If you want to replace the taillight yourself, make sure to follow manufacturer's instructions and safety precautions.
Whenever the taillight assembly is replaced, it's important to make sure the seal is not damaged; a bad seal may cause water to leak into the taillight. If the paint is damaged near the taillight, it's a good idea to touch it up, to prevent the metal from rusting. You can buy a touch-up pen from the dealer for $9-$22.