DIY Camry Rear Quarter Light Cluster

As I drove out of town, I checked my dashpanel instrument display and noticed a strange warning light glowing.  I took a closer look and saw that it was shaped like the overhead view of a car with lines at the bottom.  I thought for a few moments, then figured that I must have a burned out bulb at the rear of the car.  Curious, I switched on the lights, then switched them back off.  The indicator shut off.  I had to apply the brakes for the motorist ahead of me who wished to turn right.  I looked at the instruments and saw the icon was glowing again.  I switched the lights on and off.  The icon was gone.  I tapped the brakes. The icon was on again.

After reaching my destination, I visually verified that I did, indeed have no brake light function on the right side of my car.  The next day, I decided to make the simple repair.

Because my car is typical of many import brand mid-size sedans, I thought it would be good to share the repair with the public.  Indeed, there are millions of cars almost exactly like mine on the world’s highways. If you drive a 1997 through 2000 Toyota Camry, pay heed.  If you have something similar, this post will also be helpful.

I stopped at the auto parts store to pick up some bulbs.  The main item was the tail light/brake light bulb. For my car, the Sylvania two filament snap-in bulb, #3157, was needed. The store’s inventory computer also showed a snap-in bulb, #904, as well.  I determined that bulb is used in the portion of the tail light that is mounted on the trunk lid edge.  I needed another bulb, too.  I noticed that the side marker was also burned out.  A snap-in bulb #104 was specified for the Camry.

Once home again, I was ready to replace the two filament bulb and the side marker bulb.  I consulted my Chilton’s shop manual and found out the job is supposed to be simple and easy.  Great!

Open the trunk lid, locate the plastic trim panel at the corner of the trunk interior.  There are three plastic snap fasteners.  Try not to break them.  Use a phillips or flat head screwdriver and twist the fastener a half turn. Pull out the part that looks like a bolt head.  There will be some resistance. Place the fasteners where you won’t lose them.  Slide the trim panel away from the plastic sill cover and carefully remove the corner panel.

You’ll see the access hole containing the bulb sockets for the tail light/brake light bulb, the turn signal blinker bulb, and the side marker bulb.  There is also a bundle of wires between the brake light and the blinker bulb. Be extra careful with that bundle, all your rear lights depend upon those wires.

Twist the proper socket counter-clockwise and carefully pull back the socket.  Be careful.  My car’s lights had never been changed at all during its 13 years of existance, so the twisting was stubborn.  I gently used pliers to help turn the socket.

Remove the burned out bulb.  Ha, that was the nasty surprise to test my patience.  That sucker was in solid.  I pulled and tugged and pulled and tugged some more.  I was afraid I might shatter the bulb and suffer glass shards in my fingers and hand.  I finally took a medium small, flathead screwdriver and pried the base of the bulb out of the socket. It wasn’t until later, that I found out there is a special light bulb removal tool.  I must get one for the next job.

Insert a new bulb into the socket.  It’s a hard push, be careful that you don’t break the glass and hurt yourself. When the bulb is in place, you’ll hear a “snap”.  Before installing the socket, turn on the lights and visually check it.  Have a helper push the brake pedal or you can wedge something against the pedal to check that the brighter filament lights up, too.

Reverse the order of the disassembly to complete the repair.

I had one more bulb to replace. The side marker was going to be a real stinker.  I had to crawl inside the trunk to try for a working angle.  My man sized fingers refused to fit in the provided space.  I tried and tried but all I got was a stiff neck, abrasions on my thumb, and carpet burns on my elbow. I was also getting a charlie horse in my left leg.  I put off that job for a couple of days.  I understand, now, why I see so many cars driving around with burned out side marker lights.

Two days later, I opened my trunk and looked at the exposed socket assembly.  It was then that I noticed that the entire cluster was attached by only three easy to remove nuts. This is a job for a ratcheting wrench.

With the entire assembly out of the car body, all of the sockets are easy to manipulate.  Again, be careful with the wiring harness bundle!  I decided that when other bulbs burn out, I’ll not bother with the tiny access port.  Assembly removal will be the way to go.

I took out the burned out marker bulb, replaced it with a new one. I turned on the lights to verify that the new bulb worked. I reinserted the socket into the tail light assembly.

The assembly slips back into the fender easily.  Be sure to carefully rebolt everything. Be mindful that the parts are mostly fragile plastics. Replace the trunk-liner trim and reattach with the plastic snap fasteners. Visually check the lights and admire your auto repairing skills.

What should have been a 15 minute repair turned into a couple of hours of frustration on a rainy day.  Learn from my struggle. If the access port is too small for your fingers.  Remove the entire tail light from the fender, then replace the bulb(s).  You’ll save hours of frustration.  Also, be sure to get yourself a bulb pulling tool and store it in the glove box.


The Blue Jay of Happiness says if you’re having a front blinker problem try this link:

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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6 Responses to DIY Camry Rear Quarter Light Cluster

  1. Joe says:

    Great write-up! I needed directions on replacing my tail-lights & this helped a lot. I do have a question though; does the back side marker light socket twist out of the assembly (counter-clockwise) like the other bulbs? or did you just pull it straight out? I’m having a tough time taking it out & figured I’d ask before breaking something. Hope to hear back from you soon, thanks!

  2. Sami says:

    Very nice explanation made above there. I plan on replacing my 2013 camry tail lights. I see my car doesn’t have side marker/lights/bulbs. Can anyone explain how the US Version 2012-2014 camry tail lights goes. To my knowledge there should be a brake/parking bulb, a reverse bulb and a side marker parking bulb. Hope to hear from someone. Thx.

  3. Kelly says:

    I so need your help 😥. I’m a single mom with limited funds. Your explanation was awesome and so carefully worded thank you for that. I’m having a similar issue accept when I went to pull the bulb I noticed the socket was brown and and the man at autozone advised me it was melted which is why I cld not get it out.. Any advice?

    • swabby429 says:

      Is it also on a Toyota Camry? I’ve never come across a melted socket. You may need to check the fuse to the tail lights. (Do both left and right bulbs work?) ‘

      When trying to remove the old bulb, could you push it in a little to turn it or was there no “give”. If the socket had been melted, was the bulb the proper one or an improper replacement.. If everything was, proper, I’m guessing you may have to pay out for a mechanic to check the circuit and possibly replace the socket assembly.

      If a replacement is needed, perhaps a unit from a salvage yard is available. This particular type of replacement is beyond my basic skill level and requires the talent of someone who knows how to replace taillight assemblies.

      I wish I could be of more help. Good luck.

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