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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So, I am driving through the rain and sleet yesterday and this guy flashes me. He drives up at the next traffic light, and tells me both my tail lights are out. (Thanks, by the way, I prefer to be told by a friendly stranger than a car with flashing red and blue lights ... :)). I can't say for sure that the lights worked earlier, but I suppose they did. Nobody ever told me anything, and I remember distinctly several times that either cops passed me or I passed them at night in the city, and they never did anything.

Today I took out the lights (2002 Passat Wagon), and I could not find anything wrong with the bulbs. The 2 5A fuses marked "P" (parking???) are also OK. The brake lights, backup lights and blinkers are working fine. The driver side brake light only works one of the bulbs (upper), although I could not find anything wrong with the lower bulb.

So, I am stumped. What else could be wrong with the tail lights? Both lights going out at the same time points to something else than bulbs and/or fuses, but what could it be?
 

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None of the four bulbs works? And, you're absolutely positive that the bulbs are truly ok? Best thing is to replace with new (or known-good, which you don't have) bulbs, and recheck.
It's entirely possible that the bulbs are, in fact, faulty, but you can't see the breaks in the filaments.

Are they the correct bulbs (P21/4W)? Others may fit (poorly, and with effort), but won't work correctly.

Do the front parking lamps work?
 

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Most likely problem is the light switch has failed. Did you measure the resistance of the bulbs across the connections or just look at them? The filament can break and still 'look good'. The only way to know for sure is to measure the resistance with an ohm-meter or by applying 12V to the bulb. It's also possible that you have bad connections in your light sockets but that is unlikely to occur to both lights at the same time, especially here in CO where things don't rust that much.

If the bulbs are still good and of the right type, etc. then you will have to do basic electrical trouble shooting. Start by turning the lights on and measuring the voltage across the light sockets in back. You should have ~12V there. If not, work 'backward' towards the switch until you find the fault. If you're really stuck and you can get to Boulder let me know by PM and I'll go through it with you.
 

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I had a similar issue with one of my wagons. The brake lights worked, but the tail lights wouldn’t work on the passenger side. I replaced the bulb holder and everything worked as it should. This was on a 2004 GLS wagon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks, everybody for the replies. I guess I have to do a bit of sleuthing...

I took out the lamp holders and wiggled/exchanged some of the bulbs, but without success so far (as mentioned above). I will take a voltmeter to the sockets and a bulbs, as some of you have suggested. After I had arrived back home the night I was informed about this, I had someone standing behind the car and tell me what she saw. She told me that there were no lights (with the lights on). The break lights showed 3 bulbs on, one off. Blinker and backup lights were OK.
I then took the lamp holders out (bit difficult on the driver side), and played around with the lights, but could not find a cause. Then put the lamps back together. I then noticed that only 2 of break bulbs worked (one on each side, thankfully). I guess I'll buy 4 new bulbs and try that again ...

@Iowegian: Thanks for the offer. I'm in Lakewood, so I will try to tinker a bit more before I may ask you to take a quick look :)
 

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Sounds very similar to how mine behaved (passenger side only issue on my car). You are being more thorough; I bought the bulb holder and just hoped for the best! Luckily, in my case it worked. I think it was a thirty or forty dollar part. Let us know what you find.
 

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Both sides failing simultaneously sounds like the switch to me, but I have lost multiple lamps on other cars I have owned. Corrosion in the bulb sockets, possibly? You are on the right track w/ a VOM.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I am thinking switch now. I bought a few new bulbs, and getting all 4 to light up when I stepped on the break pedal was just a matter of switching out the two bulbs. backup lights and blinkers work, too. I also switched out the lamp bulb holder on one side. Nothin'. Can't get the rear lights to light up. Seems to be the switch...
 

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Switches do go bad. I lost the low headlight beams on my A4 because of a faulty switch contact. I installed a jumper in my fuse panel to run the low beam bulbs off of the parking light switch contact, and it works like a champ. Eventually I'll probably have to bite the bullet and replace the light switch, but my kluge has held up for about 3 years and counting.
 
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