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61 Impala taillights light up when lights on but not when brake pressed

I have a 1961 Impala thats tail end is giving me some trouble. The lights will light up when the light stalk is pulled out but when the brakes are depressed, nothing. Also the reverse lights will not turn on when the car is put in reverse. I have changed the fuse that says tail to no avail. If anyone has an idea of a starting point that would be helpful. Thanks

Electrical issues like this often are caused by a bad connection to ground. The problem is trying to track down exactly where is that bad connection? Corrosion on the bulb sockets and in the light housing are good places to start. Some mechanics are much better tracking down electrical problems than others. See if you can locate a good auto electrical guy in your area.

The tail and brake lights are two different circuits…The bulbs themselves (1157) have two filaments, one for the running lights and one (3 times brighter) for the turn and brake lights.

The brake lights are actuated by a switch on the brake pedal. The wire runs up the steering column to the turn signal switch which can interrupt the brake light if the turn signal is on. From the TS switch, two wires run back, right and left side, the bulbs…

First check the bulbs. If the turn signals work, they are okay. Start at the brake light switch with a circuit tester and work your way back…

Thanks I appreciate the help. The turn signals don’t work but I’ll check the bulbs and work my way forward. Would that have any effect on the reverse light not coming on when put in reverse.

My guess here is the turn signal/multi function is knocking out the brake lights but it could be a gummed up brake light switch also.

The back-up lights have their own switch somewhere on the shifter assembly. If a column shift car, usually bolted to top of the column and under the dash. On console shift car, it could be inside the console.

Thanks for all the help.

Theres no multi function switch on a 61 Chev. Just a turn signal lever, and a separate pull out light switch. I’m not sure if the Chev brake light switch is on the pedal or on the master cyl. Chrysler of that vintage used to mount them on the master cyl. I guess I’d be starting at the bulbs and sockets with some test wires and test light. Add a ground to the bulb, etc. Could be bulb, socket, wires, switch. Also, that vintage used to hang wires under the car so that’s a good place to look too. Also check to see if the dash indicator lights come on for the turn signals or not and check the flasher.

Yes, on a '61, the brake light switch might still be a hydraulic type screwed into the master cylinder…First, get the turn signals working as they are interconnected with the brake lights…

It helps to do the following tests.

Do the brake lights work at all when the headlights are off?

With the headlights on, do the brake lights go out when the brake pedal is depressed?

Do the turn signals work when the headlights are off?

If the turn signals work when the headlights are off, do they blink at a higher than normal rate?

I just had to change the master cylinder and there was no switch on it just brake lines at least when I changed it at this point. Also Keith the brake lights do not work with the headlights off and do nothing with the headlights on also the turn signals do not work at all. Changed bulbs tonight to see if that resolved the issue and no luck. I ran out of daylight but in the morning in going to start testing wires and switches.

My guess is that the brake light switch may be the key to your problem. There is a connection between the turn signal and the brake light. When you signal a turn, say a left turn, and step on the brake, you want the brake lights on the right to come on, but you want the left signal to blink. I added turning signals to my 1947 Pontiac (these weren’t included as standard equipment) and I had to take this into account. You could also have a blown fuse for the brake lights with the turning signals on the same circuit.

Also check the flasher. Its round and should be plugged in to the fuse block.

The best place to start is with the brake light or rear turn signal sockets. Use a test light connected to a good ground and see if there is power to the socket when the brakes or turn signals are applied; If there is power-you have a bad ground. If no power go to the brake light switch and check for power both going in and coming out. If power is coming out- you have one or more broken wires to the rear.
The fact that the tail lights go out when you step on the brakes makes me think it is a bad ground.
The turn signals could be just a bad flasher.

Do the tail lights work OK when turned on but go out when the brake is pressed? If so one or both of the # 1157 bulbs are installed incorrectly.

Ill check the sockets and the switches today. Rod Knox the lights do nothing when the brake is pressed, if the headlights are on nothing happens just normal taillights from the headlights being on if the headlights are off nothing happens. I have replaced a bulb and nothing changed to im going to move to the switches today.

Since both the brake lights and the turn signals don’t work, I’d look for where their supply voltage comes together. Wiring was done a lot different back then so with out a schematic, it would be hard to advise you.

Do your taillights go off when you step on the brakes?? The first thing, locate the brake light switch, it will be on the brake pedal arm, and see if there is power getting to it. Remember to turn the key on…Then press the brake pedal and see if the switch is working by checking to see if now, there is power on BOTH sides of the switch…

If the brake light switch is the problem for the brake lights, it is probably just the plunger sticking, that was a common problem back then. The switch is on a mount located just rear of the brake pedal arm up near the pivot point. You have to really crane your neck to see it. It has a plunger that is held closed when the pedal is up. When you step on the brake, the pedal arm move away from the plunger and it pops out, making the connection. But that won’t affect your turn signals.

It could be that the turn signals are a separate problem, the flasher probably being the cause. But it could be where the two power wires come together near the battery. I believe the brake light power bypasses the ignition switch where the turn signal power goes through the switch.

Depressing the brakes cause should cause the tail lights to remain lit, and the brake lights to come on I expect. If you have a loose connection somewhere in the common power wiring to both of these circuits, the brake lights may be drawing enough current to lower the voltage enough – at the point of the loose connection – so none of the lights work when the brake light sub-circuit is powered up. Try to trace out the common wiring that powers both circuits, and look for a loose or bad connection somewhere. This would likely occur at a wiring harness connector. If you can post the wiring diagram here for the tail lights and brake lights, then it would be easier to debug. I think this will prove easy to fix.

Went through everything and it turns out to be a bad turn signal switch. I bypassed the switch and the tails now are lighting up when the brake is depressed. Just wanted to let everyone know what it turned out being. Thanks for all the help.