Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Brake light stumper

I’m having a problem, and the three different repair shops I have taken my 98 Buick Century to have given me three different answers. Here are the symptoms:

My rear brake lights don’t work
The center (window) brake light works
The turn signals and running lights work.
The emergency flashers work.

The bulbs have been replaced and the fuses have been checked.

I’ve been told it’s a switch in the steering column, a switch on the brake pedal, and possibly something having to do with the ground wire (this person also asked if the vehicle has been hit in the back, which it has, before i got it).

Please help!

I’d suspect a wiring problem. If the center brake light is working, it’s hard to see how it could be the brake pedal switch.

It’s not the switch on the brake pedal or the switch in the steering column. I can’t tell you what is disconnected, but the wiring somewhere between the place where the center light wire forks off and the end of the car there is a disconnect. A person with wiring skills can figure this out, or someone can run a new wire from the switch at the brake pedal to the lights. This is a simple thing to fix but an absolute pain in the neck to find.

This maybe a easy fix. Get in the trunk and remove the carpet and side panels. The wiring is right there and all of the grounds are right there too. I think you will find a lose ground wire or it may have been cut when it was hit and not fix properly. It mite also have been almost cut thru and just now broke. Also unplug any plugs you find and check them. I have seen these bend the prongs when there put back together. Done it myself.

It might help in following bodyman’s advice to ask the dealer’s parts department of they can pprint for you an “exploded view” drawing of the rear interior panels. That’ll show you where the clips, screws, and whatnot are and is a huge help. I’ve gutted the inside rear end of a car before, and the drawing is a huge help.

Thanks for your help, everyone.

I would also suspect a ground wire. I had this same issue only with the headlights on one of my cars several years ago and found a loose ground wire. Tightened it up and all was good.

This is really a pretty simple problem to figure out. It’s too bad you have been getting the run around on the solution to it. The trouble you are having is due to a bad connection in the emergency flasher switch. The brake circuit has to pass through that switch because of the flashers. Try cycling it a number of times to see if that helps. If it doesn’t then you may have to replace it.

The brake switch has to be ok because the middle light works. The grounding to the brake lights has to be ok because you say the flashers work and they use the same bulb as the brake light and turn signals. The reason the middle brake light works is because the wiring from the brake switch bypasses the flasher circuit and ties directly to the rear middle light.

This is a very common problem with midsize GM cars of this era. The brake lights (except for the high mount third brake light) are wired through the multifunction switch, just as Cougar said. The fact that the high mount brake light works proves that it’s not the brake light switch. Sometimes you can get your brake lights to work again by cleaning the multifunction switch or cycling the hazards, but that usually just proves where the problem is and is a temporary solution. The person who told you the issue is a switch in the steering column has probably seen this problem before and are almost certainly correct.

I stand corrected. Cougar and mark9207 sound like they know what they’re talking about.