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Old 07-27-2009, 10:20 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Third Brake light and License lights out - most of the time

2005 2.5i.
I initially noticed that the license plate lights were out, then someone else pointed out that they did work, but only when the brake pedal was pushed. I checked all the fuses that make sense, I checked the bulbs, and even replaced one, because I had a spare. I also noted that the third brake light was inoperative. Somewhere in the past few days, I lost the license lights altogether. I pulled the rubber boots covering the wiring between the body and hatch. No obvious breaks in the wiring. For the record I did some searching first and the only related case was this one BRAKE LIGHT LINK, which is probably up the same alley. I don't know how long this has been going on, so I disconnected my trailer wiring from the factory plug, no change.
Unless someone has a better idea I'm guessing that I am going to have an adventure in tracing grounds or breaks in the hatch.
1. I'm hoping for a lucky break and have someone chime in with, "check the ___ @ the ___, they are always doing that. I can hope?
2. Does anyone have a breakout of wire colors back there. Can I use the free earlier manuals, or will 2005 be different? I'm a littl broke right now, so getting a subscription to download the schematic is a little out.
3. What's the best way to pull the panels back there without screwing them up?
Thanks in advance, and I'll be sure to post my results.
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Old 07-28-2009, 04:38 AM   #2 (permalink)
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For the record, this probably isn't it, as you have a pretty new car, but when you say you checked the bulbs, are you sure the bulbs themselves actually work?

I say this because I've had bulbs on some vehicles (Granted all over a decade old), that looked fine, yet has some sort of weird internal decay that wasn't visible, causing intermittent lighting. Though I've only seen it affect one bulb at a time.

Just something to chew on.

::EDIT:: Dope! Just saw you did put in a new bulb you had laying around. Nevermind what I just wrote, I'm apparently posting under the influence of an all nighter.

But I'll leave it there, because the memory of twisting the reverse-light bulb to get it out, and having the glass part depart from the rest of the bulb is pretty ingrained in my head.
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Old 07-28-2009, 08:11 PM   #3 (permalink)
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So, as it stands now, the rear licence plate bulbs don't work, and the upper level, third brake light doesn't work. But at one time the license plate lights came on with the brake!

The licence plates lights should be on whenever the clearance lights are on. What about the other clearance lights in the rear (two on each side) and the front -- are they all on when the headlight switch is in the first, parking light, position (or the parking light switch on top of the steering column is turned on)? Is their brilliance normal, or unusually dim or bright?

Do the other two rear stop (brake) lights come on when the brake pedal is pressed? Do any of the clearance lights glow when the brake is pressed?

A problem that has appeared here a few times is a broken filament in one of the dual filaments bulbs. In the rear, the rear tail light and the brake light are really two separate filaments in one bulb. If a filament breaks such that it makes contact with the other, then, for example, when the brake is pressed, then other tail lights might glow, or when the clearance lights are turned on, the brake lights might glow. Sometimes it's hard to see a broken filament resting on the other, so the best way to deal with this might be to replace the dual filament bulbs with new ones, one by one, until the problem disappears.

If there is a problem only with the third brake light and license plate lights, and no other lights, then it could be a break in the wires as noted in your link, or a connector.

I posted a schematic of the clearance light circuits for the 07 in this thread:

Tail light fuse burning out
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Old 07-28-2009, 10:22 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Answering per paragraph:
Yes, license lights at one time would come on with brake lights. To be exact, I should add that this is with the lights in the 'on' position. Currently, nothing makes the license lights or 3rd light come on.

All other lights operate normally. No burn outs or dims.

Brake lights operate normally. No change to clearance lights with brake activation. Checked with lights on and off.

The filament issue crossed my mind, and I've seen this before, but with no other symptoms, I dismissed it. I may just pull all the brake bulbs to throw them out of the equation.

I found a copy of the schematic and I'm going to spend some time studying it. I'm having to guess that something is loose in the hatch. Being that the license lights worked with the brakes on until I started to fool around with the hatch ( I was shaking it around), is trying to tell me something.

BTW, other stuff. Everything else back there is good. Gate locks, remote works, don't know about defroster, but doubt that is an issue. Wiper/washer are good. I did check something I saw before, and that was the license plate screws. I saw once where a car had a problem in the gate, and they had used some way long screws and pierced the harness. My screws were just long enough.

Where's my shovel? I guess I'd better get digging.
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Old 08-02-2009, 10:31 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Fixed it. Broken Wires.

I spent some time on this today. I was sure that there had to be something amiss in the harness in the gate. I pulled all the trim.
Checked the grounds at the devices, result good.
Checked continuity through the rear stop light and license lights, checked good again.
Checked for power when the devices should have had power. Nothing.
Checked schematics again. These 2 devices only share a ground. A common ground to nearly everything in the rear door, and everything else was good.
Knowing that when everyting in a trouble tree checks out, before believeing it is some thing extraordinary, you should start all over.
I started at the beginning again. I had noted at one point that the license lights would light when brake was applied. With schematics in hand, this I knew now should be impossible. The only way that could happen is if it was mis-wired, or wires crossed or something. That should be impossible again.
I checked the wires running into the hatch again at the right top. This time I knew at least what color wires should be affected, so I gave them a good looking at, and I gave them a good tug.

And they were both in my hand! Success! I had looked at the bundle previously, and all looked okay, but buried in that pile of wires, those two were broken. I released most of the harness from the door, and I dropped the rear of the headliner, so I had enough slack to perform a repair.
I also noted rubbing/insulation breaks in some three other wires. I pulled them below the roof to have space to work.

I ran a few wraps of tape around them. Some people would try to just put a connector at the break, but I knew that they had been bent there many a time so I elected to install a layover harness instead, so fresh wire would be at the bend point. About 2-3 inches to either side of the break, I cut out the broken sections, in a staggered cut, so that at each side one wire end was longer than the other. This is so you don't have 2 connectors on top of each other. I installed a replacement piece of wire for each and used sealing connector on each side. In taking the harness apart, just below the affected area, there was a section of thick rubber plastic sheathing. I'd assume this should have been installed a little higher up in the harness, to help reduce abrasion, and was the root cause. I installed the sheathing in position right over where my other wear marks were.
I put it all together, and everything works awesome!

I'd have to hazard a guess that as mileage adds up, more and more vehicles could have this happen, so my advice would be to pop up that rubber boot, and take a look in there. If you see some wear and tear, it would be a good idea to work on it before it wears through and breaks, which will usually be when you need whatever goes out the most.
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Old 08-03-2009, 07:09 AM   #6 (permalink)
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davez26

That's great news. And your troubleshooting technique is "par excellence". Please do post pics.

Incidentally, can you describe how the rear gate interior trim comes off? I presume you removed the trim pieces on the sides and top of the window and the large single cover on the lower part of the gate. I wanted to get into mine, but found I couldn't get the trim pieces on the sides of the window to come off, at least not without significant pulling which I was afraid might break it.

While I don't think I've flexed the rear gate wiring that much so far I'm going to have a look at the wiring coming through the flex joint today. If the protective cover isn't in place I'll see if I can wrap it somehow.
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Old 08-03-2009, 01:08 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I lifted the lower end of the flexible rubber boot to have a look at the wiring underneath. The harness coming up from the D pillar is tape wrapped just about to the point where the wires go into the boot.

What was interesting is a small rubber "ribbon", about 1/4 inch wide, that extends from the rubber grommet down and under the tope edge of the tape wrapping. The ribbon appears to be part of the boot grommet (the part that fits tightly in the body opening) itself. My guess is that it maintains the position of the wiring harness in the flexible cover; in other words, it prevents the harness from slipping down into the D pillar. (If it could, it would pull on the wires from the rear gate). I didn't find any similar ribbon at the other end of the boot, where it goes into the rear gate.

I also noticed that the grommet is quite thick and fully covers the edge of the hole in the body. I couldn't see where the wires would rub against anything other than the grommet. But I also could not lift the grommet very high, and without access from behind (i.e. with the headliner or trim panels removed) I might have missed something.

The rectangle in the picture highlights the rubber "ribbon".
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Third Brake light and License lights out - most of the time-rear-gate-wiring-001-medium-.jpg  
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Old 08-04-2009, 02:38 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Here's how you remove the trim. Pretty much pull it off in the correct order.

The more I think about it, I just don't understand how I had so much breakage. The car is high miles - 80K, but is very clean and I have yet to see any excess wear and tear or any of the tell-tale signs of rebuilding/painting and the like. Mine had the little tab on there like yours, and the grommets were in the proper places.
Kind of a mystery, but I'm glad it is solved for now.
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Old 08-04-2009, 03:56 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I'm also amazed at the extent of the cracking of the insulation. It almost looks as if the insulation became brittle, but it shouldn't. I might understand if the wires were openly exposed to UV rays and stuff like that, but the combination of the boot and the rear gate itself pretty well protects the wires from the elements. (But perhaps extreme heat, or severe cold, could be a factor.)

It's definitely something to watch.

As for the trim, my problem was getting the pieces at the side of the window off. Those hidden clips appear to be really tight, and I didn't want to risk breaking the trim piece in the process. How was it on yours? Were the trim pieces on the sides, and the main one on the bottom, fairly easy to "unclip" or did they require a lot of pulling force?
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Old 08-04-2009, 05:33 PM   #10 (permalink)
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The insulation has me wondering. I flexed it a bit to see if it was way brittle, but it conformed as bent. ???

Temperature extremes seem odd as the Carfax showed a life in Illinois, which while a bit inhospitable at times, isn't a full-on desert or continous deep-freeze.
I checked the car pretty thouroughly, checking for signs of salvage or repair, like the gate or car was apart for awhile in the elements, and I've been all over looking for tape lines, overspray and poor blending. Nothing. The inside of the hatch and under the headliner was just a bit dusty, but not wiped clean, like you'd expect from a repair. All the trim is in pretty good shape, with just a bit of sun-fade, but no extremes; again as you'd expect from this year/mileage.
I'm stumped, but I know where to look if a problem should crop up.

Removing the trim takes some force. I was sure I was going to be buying fresh pieces. The sides are the worst. I used a wide, dull chisel as a pry bar to go from the outside edge and pry the trim up far enough to hold it up and grab another bit down the edge until it basically let loose. If you pry like this, be sure to protect the paint. The sides are tighter than the top and bottom. Removing the weatherstrip isn't necessary, just be sure to remove the trim fasteners beneath it, and don't forget the 2 screws inside the handle on the right lower part of the hatch.
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