Replacing the Third Brake Light – 2009 Honda Civic EX Coupe


“But I don’t know anything about cars, I’m too afraid that I might mess something up and then have to take it to the shop to get more work done,” you might say. Fine with me – you’re not spending my money. But doing your own work on your vehicle, even if you’re not a mechanic, saves you a TON of money* and gives you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. And I’m not saying don’t ever go to a shop. There are things I can’t do, I don’t have the necessary tools, I don’t know how to weld, etc. Definitely support your local businesses, but support yourself too. Mechanics have to put food on the table for their families, but you have to keep food on the table for your family.

So here’s the story: I take my 2009 Civic in to get new tires installed. I don’t have the necessary tools to mount the tire on the wheel, so that’s one of the instances I take it to the shop. My inspection expires this month, so I say go ahead and inspect it while it’s there. Normally I check everything myself before I take it in so I can fix whatever’s wrong before it fails, but it was already there and it’s a 4 year old car, I figured I was safe. WRONG. The third brake light (the one in the middle above the trunk) was out. And Honda has decided they need to make more money, so instead of replacing a bulb like you would do in any normal car, you have to replace the entire LED strip. And you HAVE to get it from Honda, as AutoZone does not carry it. The shop wanted $175. $90 for the part, $85 for the labor. Holy cow!

They said it was so expensive because they had to entirely dismantle the rear portion of the car and it’s a very time intensive process ~ around 2 hours. I figured if it takes a mechanic 2 hours, it will take me 4 (or 8, or 2 weekends…), so I waited until I had a free afternoon to take care of it. That afternoon was this past Sunday. I dropped off my thesis to get bound on Saturday morning, then on the way home went to the Honda stealership to pick up the part so I would have it for the next day. It looks like a cheap piece of plastic that some 5 year old Chinese kid made for a total cost of about $3.87, but it cost me $88.59 after tax.

L and I had spent the hottest part of the day in the garden, which was good because I could wait until it cooled down a bit before I started my auto repair work. (I hate having to crawl around under an engine, under the hood, or contorting my body to squeeze into the back of the 2-door Civic and work with tools while I’m dripping in sweat.) My Haynes manual didn’t have anything about replacing the third light (second time they have failed me – first was when I was replacing L’s timing belt in her 2007 Accent), so I did a quick online search and found a text-based walk through on a Civic forum. This post, however, is complete with pictures and my own snarky “humor”. So enjoy!

1. Remove the jogging stroller from the trunk.

2. Lay down the back seats, feeding the center seat belt through the slit so the seat lays down easily.

3. Disconnect the wire that leads to the brake light. This is the view from inside the trunk, looking up.
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4. There are indentations on the front of the rear panel. This is where the panel attaches itself to the rest of the car. Put your fingers under there and pry up. It pops off easily. Don’t break anything (on the car or your body).
P1050278 P1050279

5. The wire that you disconnected from the wiring of the car is still attached to the body. See the little plastic thingy sticking up in the picture below? (You should, it’s circled.) Squeeze it and feed the wire through the hole.The panel is also attached near the rear windshield. Apply a little bit of pressure back there as well, and lift the panel.
P1050283 - Copy

6. Get out of the car, turn the panel over, and remove the screws attaching the speaker protector to the panel.
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7. Remove the non-working LED strip, replace it with the new one.

8. Put everything back together, connect the wire, drink a celebratory beer.

Total time: ~5 minutes.

I then proceeded to make a chocolate cake, which took way longer than replacing the brake light.

A side note: I was fully expecting this to take all afternoon, not 5 minutes. This prohibited me from fixing it right away and bringing it back the next day for re-inspection (in the middle of the month). I ended up having to wait almost 3 hours on 4/29 because of everyone else waiting until the last minute. Chalk this up as another life lesson and add it to the list of reasons why I find it extremely difficult to trust mechanics. Had I allowed them to do the work, would they have been honest and tell me that it only took 5 minutes so they were not charging me the quoted price? Or would they keep that their little secret and pocket that extra cash? It sickens me to think of the latter, and to think that so many nice, well meaning people get taken advantage of by sneaky sharks trying to make a buck.

If you still find yourself reluctant to do the work, bring me your car, the part(s), and something awesome (beer/pie/bratwurst/baseball tickets/baby sitting promise) and I’d be more than happy to do it for or with you!

Join me next weekend (or next next weekend, or next next next weekend) when I replace the heater core in my 1997 Blazer!

*1 ton of pennies = $3,628.74, rounded to the nearest cent.
*1 ton of nickels = $9,071.85, rounded to the nearest nickle
*1 ton of dimes = $39,999.30, rounded to the nearest dime
*1 ton of quarters = $39,999.25, rounded to the nearest quarter
*1 ton of half-dollars = $39,999.50, rounded to the nearest half-dollar
*1 ton of dollar coins = $111,998, rounded to the nearest dollar
*1 ton of dollar bills = $907,185, rounded to the nearest dollar (each US bank note, regardless of denomination, weighs 1 gram. You can figure the rest out from here…)


36 thoughts on “Replacing the Third Brake Light – 2009 Honda Civic EX Coupe

  1. This was a great description….and everything went well except…
    1) Step 4 should say “pry UP”, not out….I broke one retainer,
    2) I couldn’t get the panel back in. I see exactly how it attaches in the back, but just couldn’t get it in. Is there some trick?

    • Glad this helped, I’ll update step 4. To get it back in I just had to reach back there and tap it in with my fist.

      • I found putting the panel back in a bit frustrating as well. When it came out 3 of the 4 fasteners stayed in place so it was tricky trying to guide it back into those three plus the one still attached. Just had to keep working it back and forth, while pressing on the back and pushing from the front. This took more than the 5 minutes…all in all, it probably took me about an hour. Of course, emptying out the trunk and finding tools added to the time.

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    • I had to get it from the dealership… cost me almost $90 but they were the only ones who had it. AutoZone, Advance, Peb Boys, NAPA, called them all and they all said go to the dealership.

      • i found what looks like the part on amazon. should i buy it from amazon our the dealership?

      • Up to you – when I bought mine I couldn’t find it anywhere but the dealership, but others have since found luck (and the part much cheaper) elsewhere. Just make sure the part number matches up to the part number from Honda, and you can always call or email the folks at Amazon to get confirmation that the part will work.

  3. You, Sir, are a Saint. This worked like a charm. FWIW, I got my LED light off E-Bay for around 50 bucks. Also, the re-install of the cover is a bit of a pain. There are little white clips on the trunk side that slide into grooves on the inside of the plastic cover. Kind of difficult, but doable as long as you know how it goes together.

  4. Looking fwd to trying this myself. Up here in Canada, the part is $100 and labour will be ~$150. I just ordered the part and when I have a chance I will have a good look at the car to visualize the process. Honda called me to say my B-1 maintenance was done but they found the third LED in said light was out. I am going to keep the olde part and see about testing the solder joints. LEDs should really have a long life, so it it likely a solder joint that is the problem. A plus is there will now be a chance to clean the glass over the light – impossible to get to otherwise 🙂

  5. My third brake light just went out, and almost collapsed when they told me the price of the part $107 plus labor of $40-$50!!!! I will try to get someone that I know to work on my car. Thanks for the tips. I will keep this on my favorites!

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  7. Walter,
    Thanks. This came up as my first google result. Worked quite well once I found a jogging stroller to put in the trunk. 🙂
    The Part is now available online, including (but not limited to) Amazon.

    • Great, glad the walkthrough worked! Most 2009 models didn’t come with a jogging stroller, I’ve discovered, so sorry to bog you down with that extra step 🙂

  8. “Chalk this up as another life lesson and add it to the list of reasons why I find it extremely difficult to trust mechanics. Had I allowed them to do the work, would they have been honest and tell me that it only took 5 minutes so they were not charging me the quoted price? Or would they keep that their little secret and pocket that extra cash?”
    Count on being charged the “flat rate” fee. This isn’t actually dishonest, as if you ask they will tell you they go by the “factory flat rate.” It’s still exceedingly irritating.
    If you are personally known to the mechanic or shop owner, and he values your business long term, you might not get charged the flat rate.
    Remember that automotive technicians charge for their knowledge, expertise, and expensive tools and equipment, not merely for so many minutes.

  9. Awesome, this worked like a charm!
    A few notes:
    1) If you’re handy with a soldering iron, you don’t actually need to replace the rear LED unit. In my LED unit, the solder joints connecting the printed circuit board to the LED strip were cracked and broken. Reheating the joints with an soldering iron (with some added flux) worked like a charm.
    You don’t actually need to open up the LED unit to access these two pins since they’re accessible from the outside, although it is easier if you open it up. Removing the printed circuit board from the unit for easier access is a minor challenge, since it requires cutting off several plastic rivets. I replaced the rivets in my unit with bolts and epoxy.
    My guess is that the vibrations from the subwoofer fractured the solder joints. I’d like to slap whoever thought it was a good idea to place the LED unit less than an inch away from the subwoofer…
    2) When re-installing the rear panel, it’s best if all of the white clips are placed on the rear panel rather than in the car frame. You can remove any white clips from the car frame by carefully using flat-head screwdrivers to pry them out of the frame (try to push them up from the very base of the clip, or you risk breaking them and having to buy replacements).

    • Hey Rachel, I think the part number depends on the year of your car. Honda’s website is not very user friendly (or contain a lot of useful information) when it comes to parts, so the best bet would just be to call a local dealer and ask. They’ll tell you exactly what the part number is, and you can either purchase it from them or try to find it cheaper online.

    • This one worked for my wife’s car, lifted from the listing at amazon: Genuine Honda Parts 34270-SVA-A01 Honda Civic High Mount Brake Light {posted previously as “Steve”}

  10. (wagging my head) I just paid a total of $271 to get my third brake light replaced at a local Honda dealership (though they do excellent work). The part was $104; the labor was $166. It took two hours and I waited for the car. Time for a beer…

  11. Thanks for the instructions, they were really helpful. Although I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it “super easy”. It took me about 30 minutes, and I’m pretty sure i broke at least one of the plastic hook things on the back panel when i was popping it back into place. I think getting those out and putting them in was the most difficult and time-consuming part. Also FYI, I got a 3rd party replacement light from Amazon for about $50 (US). Overall definitely better than spending the $170 the dealership wanted to charge me.

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  13. This article is amazing. The dealership wanted to charge me $120 for the light plus $180 for the labor. I almost lost it laughing. I’m so excited to do this myself. Thank yo so much! I’ll definitely come back and let you know how to went. Thanks so much!! 😀 😀

  14. I’m having trouble putting back the rear panel properly after changing the third brake light. There are four fasteners along the far end that slide into four openings on the underside of the rear panel. I can’t seem to get them to connect. Now there’s two small openings at the two far corners of the panel. Can anyone help? Is there an easy way or tool to remove those fasteners? I figure it would be easier to remove them and just put them on the panel. If I could do that it would be easy to just pop everything back into place.

  15. Thanks for this tutorial I have to change my strip when I get home from work. It cost me 120$ for the part which is insane. Plus the 10$ I spent on the bulb that pep boys insisted was the right one ( when I needed the whole dam assembly).

    Thanks again!

  16. Just did this using your directions. Bought the LED on eBay from a Honda parts dealer for $68.95. Yes, as perhaps noted in the comments, popping the clips in the back out and sliding them into the slots first works better than trying to align the slots on re-assembly. Then it’s just a matter of pressure (and a little fist pounding!) to get them popped back into place. Thanks for the tutorial!!

  17. Hello,

    Thank you so much for this tutorial.

    I was very irritated to find out my 2007 Civic Coupe needed a new 3rd brake light and they wanted $275 to replace it. The hardest part of this tutorial is buying the new lamp. Literally takes 5 minutes, as you described.

    Again, thank you for this tutorial.


  18. I second the solder joint. I fixed my brake light by bench testing the light….after removal of entire back panel as mentioned in article- hooked up + and – wires to a battery/ 3rd brake light. Problem was simply the + wire became unsoldered from circuit board.

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