Removing condensation from tail lights

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Dark tail lights are not necessarily illegal. The reflectors must be visible from 300-500 feet away, according to police sources.

■ By Richard Perry / Contributed

Greetings from the Hemet Car Guy,
My youngest daughter will soon graduate from high school. Just like we promised her older brother and sister, we will provide her with her first car. Knowing she likes Batman, I thought a 1999 Black Camaro I came across was a real cool choice, although it needed some restoration work.
After replacing tires, brakes, some other minor mechanical repairs and a fresh black paint job, it was ready to go. I thought it looked great except the rear tail lights were cracked and moisture had seeped inside. Needless to say they needed to be replaced, which I did myself…with custom smoked tail lights.
My son asked me how moisture got inside and whether dark tail lights were legal.
Moisture in a vehicle’s tail lights is a relatively uncommon occurrence, but it can cause serious problems. Depending on the size of the droplets within your light housings, or the amount of water that’s accumulated, you could be dealing with one of two issues — condensation or water ingress.
Condensation is a naturally occurring condition that can affect any light, so it may not necessarily be defective. It could be a broken seal or a crack in the tail light itself, but either way, it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
Water accumulation can lead to system failure from a short circuit, often only blowing a fuse, if you’re lucky. This means you need to be sure of your diagnosis. You’ll know if it’s simple condensation if the droplets are tiny, while water ingress can be recognized by larger droplets and a visible pool of water inside the light.
Fortunately, condensation doesn’t cause any functional problems with the light and therefore, isn’t considered a “warrantable condition” according to the service writers I’ve spoken to at the Hemet Auto Mall. However, water ingress is typically the result of some sort of physical or structural damage; it could even be caused by faulty workmanship.
Whatever the cause, here is the solution, according to Cory Wilson, manager at Ramona Tire.
1.- If you have the proper tools, consider removing the entire tail lamp assembly.
2.- Start by removing all the electrical harnesses and snap a photo or mark where each respective bulb goes.
3.- Next, remove the bulbs and remove all moisture by setting the tail lights under the sun or take them inside to dry out.
4.- When you reinstall the bulbs, ensure all the sealing o-rings are in good condition. They should be supple, pliable and free of cracks so they will seal properly. Applying dielectric grease to the o-ring may help it to sit properly and prevents pinching or binding to form a proper seal.
5.- Ensure the bulb locking rings (if equipped) are seated flush and installed properly.
My Google search on dark tail lights led me to many discussion forums and message boards about motorists who were pulled over and ticketed for too-dark tail lights. I can tell you up-front that tinting or smoking your head lights is illegal anywhere you live, but it’s not necessarily the case with tail lights.
The truth is that tail lights may be tinted to a certain degree, but for obvious safety reasons, the reflectors must be visible from 300 to 500 feet away, according to a police officer who is also a customer.
At the end of the day, you don’t want to risk anyone’s life — or, at the very least, a sizable fine — just to look cool.
Now, as for the Camaro I fixed up…her mother said, “That is just too much car for her first car.”
I guess she has better sense than me on this one.
Hope this helps, and good driving,

The Hemet Car Guy

Richard Perry of VIP Autos is The Hemet Car Guy. For more information go to

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