How To: Replace Tail/Brake/Indicator Bulbs on a MK5 Golf / Rabbit / GTI

I don’t know how, but I’ve managed go over eight years across four cars and never had to change a bulb at the rear of the car. Wednesday was when my luck ran out, I get in the car bleary eyed at 6.30am to go to work switch on my lights and suddenly I get the beeps and warning messages, “Rear left brake light defective!”. Anyway, I had to replace it and decided to do a how to, I know some people like cars but aren’t confident enough to work on their own ride. Hopefully this will give some people the confidence to try working in their own cars, it’s not difficult if you take your time and follow instructions.

What you will need.

You could complete this task with just a 13mm spanner, but it is fiddly. I used a 13mm Ratcheting Spanner, A 13mm socket on a 1/2" drive rachet and a screwdriver bit on a ratchet extension, but a screwdriver will do.


Buy a bulb!

I had to replace my brake light bulb, so went down to Halfords and bought a pair of P21W bulbs, I used the instore tablets to find the correct bulb but you can just remove your bulb to find the identifying code.

You may need your glasses for this one, I zoomed in quite far.

Once you have the correct bulb we can look at replacing the old bulb.

First you will need to pull back the boot carpet by the rear lights.

There will be a slit in the carpet, pop a finger in and pull to release the carpet from behind the trim.

Once the carpet is pulled back, you will be confronted by a connector in the back of the rear light and two black plastic nuts (I think they replaced the plastic ones for more conventional ones later on, mine is a 2005 so it’s an early one).

Note that one of the plastic nuts sticks out further than the other, this is why I used a socket and a spanner.

It is now time to remove the connector, we remove this first so that we don’t forget about it and rip it off when we remove the light cluster. To remove the connector we take our flat headed screwdriver, place it in the blue tab shown below and prise the tab up until the connector pops off.

I levered my driver against the body to make easy work of releasing the clip.

Once the connector is off, we can loosen the nuts, I used a socket on the top nut so I didn’t chew up the plastic nut, where I had more of the nut exposed below I used the ratcheting spanner because the socket would have been slightly awkward to use with the carpet in the way, but that’s just me. Once both nuts are removed, grab the cluster from the exterior to pull it off the car, exposing years of dirt that you didn’t know was there.

It is also a good time to clean this area out.

Next, place your newly removed cluster onto a towel or duster to prevent scratching of the lens. Now it is time to remove the bulb holder from the cluster. In order to remove the holder, you will need to unclipped it from three points using your screwdriver (one up top, one on either side), be gentle as you do not want to break any clips (like the previous owner).

In my UK spec cluster, we have a tail light, an indicator in the middle and a stop/tail.

Simply press down on the offending bulb and twist to release it from its bayonet type fitting. Install the new bulb in the same manner and reverse the process.

And there you have it, you’ve replaced your brake light bulb yourself. This took me 10 minutes to do both sides with taking pictures so it’s a nice a quick job. It is recommended to replace both sides at the same time as when the first bulb fails it may cause a voltage spike, reducing the life of the other bulb. All in it cost £3.

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