What is the Difference Between Tail Lights and Brake Lights?

It’s common not to know the difference between brake lights and tail lamps. I wouldn’t blame you if you used to think the same!

Basically, taillights light up whenever you are using headlights. On the other hand, brake lights only glow when you press the brakes to slow or stop your vehicle.

The reason why people misunderstand brake lights as tail lights is the location. Both lights seem to illuminate from the same headlight assembly.

Today I wanted to write about the differences between these two lights. It’s essential to understand the roles of each one of them for driving safety. So, let’s get started!

A brief comparison between brake lights and tail lights

Factors Tail lights Brake lights


Illuminating rearwards to show the outline of a vehicle in the dark

Illuminate rearwards to signal a brake or the slowing down of a car


Rear end of the vehicle

Rear end of the vehicle


Tail lights are mandatory by law in the US

Brake lights are mandatory by law in the US

Beam intensity

Very dim red light Much brighter red illumination

What are tail lights?

Tail lights are located on the back of a vehicle. They illuminate rearwards with a red color. Tail lamps light up whenever your main headlights are on.

Compared to regular headlights, taillights are usually much dimmer. Moreover, taillamps are red in color, which isn’t allowed for headlights.

The purpose of tail lamps

Taillights were being used a little bit after headlights. In 1915, these lights were first introduced in cars. These lights serve a great need in terms of the safety of vehicles.

Imagine you are driving on a dark road. Without tail lights, cars behind you might be unable to make out your vehicle’s outline. This can lead to accidents and fatal crashes.

Taillamps work as a light signal for other drivers. That’s why these lights are red, the most noticeable color that can penetrate the environment. Having both tail lights operating is essential as your vehicle can be misunderstood as a motorcycle without one light.

What are brake lights?

Situated at the same spot as tail lamps, brake lights also illuminate rearwards. They glow a brighter red light compared to taillights. Lastly, brake lamps turn on whenever you press on your brake pedal.

The purpose of brake lamps

Brake lights first came around in 1905. Slowly they started becoming compulsory for vehicles in the United States. These lights are essential in reducing vehicle crashes by signaling other drivers.

For example, imagine a car in front of you slows down or stops without any signal. It’s more likely that the incident will conclude in an accident. The bright red light of brake lamps can work as a signal for the vehicle in front. Thus, it’s crucial for vehicles nowadays to have working brake lights.

Primary differences between brake lights and tail lights

  • Tail lights turn on whenever the primary headlights are being used. The brake pedal of a vehicle triggers brake lamps.
  • Brake lights have a bright red light to signal the drivers behind. On the other hand, tail lamps are much dimmer.
  • Tail lamps help drivers behind you to see the outline of your vehicle. Brake lights work as a specific signal of a car stopping or slowing down.

Do tail lights and brake lights share the same bulbs?

A lot of vehicles use the same bulb as tail lamps and brake lights. However, these bulbs contain two different filaments. The thin filament emits a dimmer light, thus, used as a taillight. On the other hand, the thick filament is utilized for the brake light signal, as it’s much brighter.

However, most vehicles nowadays have different bulbs for these lights. Therefore, even though brake and tail lights are in the same headlight assembly, you can see different bulbs for each.

Final Note

As you can see, brake lights are brake signals, while tail lights are always on when you use headlamps. I would like to emphasize the fact that you should always keep these lights in check. Driving with faulty tail lamps or brake lights can result in unfortunate events.

So, what did you used to think of these lights before reading this article? Also, do you have any advice on the maintenance of the rear lights? I would love to hear it!

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