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1997 Corolla brake light issue

Two years ago my passenger side tail light assembly flooded. Initially I dried it all out, cleaned the sockets for the bulbs, drilled a hole in the bottom of the assembly, sealed the outside, and went about my business. I had to replace all the bulbs, but everything functioned properly…for awhile.

A few months later I got pulled over for my my passenger side brake light being out. I replaced the bulb, again no problem for a few months until again I got pulled over. Again it was the passenger side brake light. This time I replaced all the light bulb sockets as well as the the entire tail light assembly on the passenger side. I also inspected all fuses, no problem there.

And so again everything was fine, until a few months later I was pulled over for the same passenger side brake light being out. At this point, not being much of an expert on cars myself, I called a mechanic friend to take a look. Before tackling the pesky brake light my friend took care of a few routine fixes that needed to be done (new spark plugs, oil change, etc)

After doing these things and taking the car for a short test drive we discovered that the car would no longer shift out of park. Also now NEITHER brake light comes on. We replaced the brake light switch and again checked fuses as well as visually inspecting the wiring to check for any noticeable problems. No luck. So basically I’m stumped and as I said I’m not much of car guy to begin with.

The biggest mystery to me is why did both of the lights go out and the issue with the shift lock happen after the test drive from the oil change. Everything functioned properly the day before (other than the passenger side brake light of course).

Any thoughts/help would be GREATLY appreciated, thanks in advance.

Sounds like things are starting to corrode and or make connections that are not healthy for the electrical system. You need to either clean the hell out of the bulb sockets and polish up all the connections for bulbs and grounds etc…or just buy replacement lights online. Should fix you up no problem. You dont want corroded bulb housings or suspect wiring back there…it can lead to these things.


Yep, ground(s). My '90 Camry had separate grounds for right and left brake lights.

Thank you very much for the responses, hopefully this saga is about to end.

You’re not the first here to have an issue with one light bulb burning out on a regular basis. This is a perplexing problem. The thing that causes the bulb to burn out is heat. That heat can be caused by excessive current, but with a constant resistance, the only way to increase the current is to increase the voltage. If you increase the voltage, then all your bulbs would have a short life.

A quick check of the ground is to turn on the headlights, then step on the brake and see if the light goes out on that side. No brake, taillight is on, brake applied, tail light goes out and the brake light does not come on. Brake light works normally with the headlights off. That is the normal result of a missing ground. BTW, were you pulled over at night for these?

Now neither brake light comes on, does the center brake light come on? This is no longer a mechanical problem but an electrical problem. Not all mechanics understand how to troubleshoot electrical issues.

Your mechanic will need a wiring diagram for your car. The first step would be to identify the hot wire to the brake light switch. It should be hot all the time. If its not, then the issue is between the switch and the battery.

Is it remotely possible that you have been getting pulled over at night for the bad bulb, you replace it during the day and it works? Maybe it is just a bad ground and the bulbs haven’t been bad after all. Just asking.

It seems from your replies on the issue that you checked things like the fuses and brake switch but didn’t check for voltage getting to or past the brake switch. Since the shifter isn’t working it seems to me that power isn’t getting to the brake switch even though the fuse for that circuit may be okay. A simple test light probe will tell you where power is getting to.

Once you get power on the brake circuit again then verify power is getting to the rear light. If power is getting to the light and it doesn’t work then the ground for the light needs to be checked out. The real trouble you are having with the light may be a bad connection in the wiring to light, possibly close to it since it seems to work okay when you work on the light itself.

You are probably already aware of this OP, but there’s a safety lock mechanism built into most automatics like yours where shifting out of Park requires pressing on the brake pedal. If something simple went wrong with all that, you could expect a situation where you couldn’t shift out of Park and the brake lights wouldn’t work either. If it happened all at once, most likely some connector was undone to check for voltage and the tech forgot to re-connect it or the like. It should be simple to figure out but will take someone with access to the car’s wiring schematics and experienced in auto-electrical to get to the bottom of it.