Rear tail light issue - '89 Camry

Hi everyone,

I am having a problem with the rear tail light’s on my 89 Camry.
I have traced the problem down to a faulty relay and replaced it with a “new” one from ebay… only to have it go out again after a couple days of driving. I took a look at the burnt circuit board and noticed that the connection was messed in the exact same place on both boards so I went ahead and soldered it back. Low and behold the lights are back on!
This is great apart from the fact that after the lights being on a few minutes the relay box has started to smoke. Both relays looks like they’re burnt out in the same spot which gives me the sneaking suspicion that this problem will not be fixed by ordering a new relay. Is it possible that somehow my tail lights are drawing too much power? If so, any idea how I might fix that? I have a volt-meter at my disposal thanks to my last escapade with a non-working starter. Any ideas or suggestions would be welcome.


Was that removed from behind the left trunk panel? If so, that’s rear lamp out warning module.

These will repeatedly burn out if there’s a short in the wiring to the rear lights. On area to check is the wiring to the trunk lid that supplies power to lights on the trunk lid.


You are correct, the problem you are having will damage another new board also. Something is drawing too much current. It looks like the burned portion is just a jumper wire but I can’t really tell for sure. Try to follow that connection to the pin connections on the board. The wire going to that pin should lead you to the problem, whatever it is. You say the rear lights worked ok for a bit so they can’t be shorted. If the brake lights are also monitored maybe that is the trouble circuit. If you have a trailer wire harness check that out for a problem.

There are a few ways to go about checking this using your meter. One thing you could do is check the resistance of the wire going to the pin on the board to ground. Remove the connector from the board and check to see if that pin is going to ground by placing the meter leads on that pin and chassis ground.

It would be reall helpful if you had a wiring digram to follow for this problem. Ebay is a good place to get one if you don’t already have one.

You’re drawing too much current Marty! Check the wiring where it runs on the left side of the trunk support and attaches to the rest of the interior harness. After many years of open and close, those wires break and DO short or open up. Cut away some of the tape and the loom covering right at the “crotch” of where the harnesses junction. Inspect the wires. You will have to crawl into the trunk to do this. Very, very common. If not, well, I can get a Factory EWD book from work next week and guide you. But as a Toyota tech, that’s the FIRST place I would go. It’s take 5 minutes to expose the wires and check for broken insulation and/or wires. Cheers.

That advice makes a lot of sense @Tilted Tree. I suspect you are right.

Thanks for all of your help guys. Some of it went over my head but I think will also be relevant to my current issue.

I figured out the reason too much power was being drawn. I had a single filament bulb sitting in a double filament socket. The light was functioning and the “lights” light was off so I didn’t realize the problem until I inspected each bulb after reading this thread

So problem solved by putting the correct battery in… hooray right? Not quite so easy unfortunately. Now the “lights” light turns on it my car whenever it runs. I’ve thoroughly inspected every light and they are all working. This doesn’t bother me so much except that another issue has cropped up. My car is occasionally not starting after being parked for a bit. This problem is solved by a jump and I’d say it’s happening ever 1 in 10 or so times after parking it. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with the length of time between drives (it’s started fine after being parked for 2 days). Do you think it could be related to my “lights” issue or is it likely some type of ignition or alternator issue? I’ve just had my starter replaced, not sure if that is relevant or not.

Any thoughts or direction? Thanks so much for you help!

Sorry that should read “correct bulb”.

Does the battery seem drained when the trouble happens? There might be a problem with an excessive current drain on the battery while the car is parked. If the trouble is intermittent it could be tough to find. Normal current draw should be around 25 milliamps I would guess. The starter has nothing to do with this problem if the battery is being drained but if the trouble is with the starter not turning then the starter may be at fault in that case. The main battery cable to the starter could be at fault also if the starter isn’t working. There could be internal corrosion of the wires at the battery clamp.

Thanks Cougar, the battery doesn’t seem excessively drained. All the windows/lights/radio still function normally even when the car won’t start. There have actually been a couple times when it has not started, I switched the lights on and off and the car started normally. I will see if I can take a look at the starter cable next time trouble hits.

If the starter solenoid is just clicking when the starting trouble happens it could be due to worn out solenoid contacts inside the solenoid.

When it doesn’t crank, remove the battery and take it in for a “load test”. It’s not always possible to tell that the battery isn’t drained by testing other electrical functions the battery powers. The starter motor is unique b/c it draws 100 Amps, nothing else loads the battery as much.

The only trouble with that is when the car won’t start, my transportation is gone. They tested the starter, battery and alternator about a month ago when they were trying to diagnose my previous start failure. The battery and starter tested fine (even though the starter was the part at fault) and the alternator was functioning but not at full capacity.

If the starter solenoid is working okay and you hear a fairly load click when the trouble happens but that is all then replace the main battery cable running to the solenoid.

If I had this problem w/my car, first thing I’d do is measure the voltage at both starter terminals (between the terminal and the starter case) during attempted cranking. If the voltage on both is 10 volts or more, and it doesn’t crank, then in all likelihood the starter is bad. It’s also possible in this situation where the voltages measure ok that something is locking the engine up, or the starter teeth aren’t properly engaging with the flywheel. So once the starter was removed I’d check for those before buying a replacement starter.

I think some patterns are starting to develop. Seems to happen after running the car for a while and starting it again. Turning off AC and lights, etc. seems to get the car started most of the time. I am not hearing the starter click (to answer @Cougar). I will try to test the starter terminal, this is my first time doing something like that, I’m going to try to find a relevant youtube video to give me some idea what I’m doing. Thanks for all the help so far!

Since you aren’t hearing the solenoid click then the trouble is most likely with the safety switch for the solenoid. It isn’t allowing voltage to get to the solenoid to turn it on and make the starter work.

Hmm, is that a part of the starter? I just had a new starter put in about a month ago, if I could find a way to prove that’s happening they’d probably change it out for me.