HOW TO: Repair Passenger Taillight leak- 98-02 Firebird/WS6
This is a discussion on HOW TO: Repair Passenger Taillight leak- 98-02 Firebird/WS6 within the Firebird / WS6 forums, part of the Vehicle Specific category; I didn't see a walk-thru thread for this, so I took a few pictures and wrote one up real quick. ...
02-20-2012, 02:23 PM #1
HOW TO: Repair Passenger Taillight leak- 98-02 Firebird/WS6
I didn't see a walk-thru thread for this, so I took a few pictures and wrote one up real quick. I hope I'm able to help someone, and maybe the Mods will deem this as "sticky worthy"
The very first thing I noticed when I bought my 98 Firebird was that the passenger side taillight was darker than the driver's side. The difference was so much that at one point, I thought maybe the passenger side was tinted, or I had bulbs burned out. A little research soon turned up the reason- water leaking past the silicone seal that is around the perimeter of the taillight, and ultimately tarnishing and destroying the reflective surface inside of the taillight. The constant water exposure quickly destroys the chrome coating on the inside of the taillight, effectively and drastically reducing the amount of light that can be reflected and projected thru the red lens of the taillight. A surefire sign that this is happening to your vehicle is fogging or moisture on your passenger side back up light. (This is the clear, round area of your taillight, just under the hatch, as seen below). Note the water droplets on the inside of the clear plastic, and of course, the darker taillight. Also seen is calcium deposit below the backup light- another sign of what's happening.
I will quickly walk thru the steps I took to repair this problem. Overall, I would give the job a 5 on the difficulty, and say that anyone who has basic mechanical knowledge is capable. The hardest part, honestly, is being patient. The job from start to finish took me about 6 hours, but I went really slow and to not break anything (and took lots of breaks!) Also, if anyone has any questions, feel free to message me or post in this thread.
First, you will need to gain access to the nuts holding the taillight housing in. Pop the hatch/"trunk" and pull the rear passenger side panel out- This is the large plastic panel where your speaker is mounted. There are 3 large screw heads, marked "Lock/Unlock". Turn those to the "unlock" position and raise the panel out, gaining access to the spare tire area. Set this panel aside for now. Remove the jack and the spare tire- this is necessary to gain access to the taillight.
Pull back the carpet a little and you will see 5 plastic wing nuts- 4 of them are behind the main part of the taillight, and 1 is toward the fender (behind where the spare tire is stored).
Remove the 5 wing nuts while keeping your hand on the taillight so it doesn't fall as you're loosening it. Once the wing nuts have been removed, you can pull the taillight out a little to expose the bulb sockets. *Don't pull the taillight out very far, or you might damage the wiring or sockets.*
While holding the little tabs, turn gently on the bulb sockets, removing them from the taillight unit. Once all of these are removed, the taillight can be removed from the vehicle, and taken to your work area. I suggest somewhere clean, as the plastic can easily be scratch, screwing up the appearance of the taillight.
The taillight is actually 2 pieces, that are siliconed together. You can see the (crappy) bead of silicone in the picture below. It runs all the way around the taillight.
Starting at the small end of the taillight, use a heat gun to warm the seal in-between the two pieces of the taillight. I cannot stress enough, WATCH THE HEAT closely, as you don't want to melt anything! The entire unit is plastic and can be melted easily with a heat gun. I held the gun aprox 5 inches from the surface, continuously moving it back and forth to keep the heat evenly distributed. Once the joint is good and warm, gently use a medium sized flat head screwdriver to pry the two pieces apart. You just want to pry far enough so that you can slip a small wedge in-between the two pieces. See below.
Once you have successfully inserted a wedge in-between the two pieces, you can continue to use the screwdriver to slowly pry the two pieces apart, inserting wedges as you go. Remember that you will need to continue to warm the area you are working on with the heat gun as you go. I can't stress enough to GO SLOW, and don't pry too hard with the screwdriver. The plastic on the taillight has aged and you are warming it, making it even more brittle. So, GO SLOW, yo! This is the most time consuming part of the whole job. You may also need to use a utility knife to cut thru some of the silicone as you're heating it. (It gets pretty thick in areas).
Continue working your way around the taillight, inserting your trusty wedges as you go. I would suggest starting at the end of the unit, as I did, and working your way a little down the top of the unit, and then a little way on the bottom side of the unit, eventually ending up at the end of the unit (where the backup light is). I can tell you that this is the area where the silicone is the thickest, which is why I saved it for last. Extra time and patience may be needed in finally separating the two pieces...but be patient. It will happen!
Hopefully by this point, you have successfully separated the two pieces, and have set the red lens aside as so it doesn't get scratched or even worse, painted.
The first thing you will notice is how dark the chrome is inside of the taillight. This is due to water exposure and is the reason why this taillight is darker that the other (and also the reason you have ripped your beautiful car apart!!). You can see the difference in the chrome finish in the photo below.
The entire piece will need to be cleaned. All of the leftover silicone will need to be removed from the unit, in order to make a good seal later. The easiest way I found to remove it was with the heat gun and a utility knife. I was afraid to use any kind of solvent to do this, as I wasn't sure about it damaging the plastic. It's slow going and frustrating this way, but it's effective. It's very important that you remove as much silicone as you can, in order to prevent future leaks.
Once the silicone has been removed, clean the entire unit with water. I also used a soft brush to knock any loose dirt or debris off. Let the piece dry and then go over the inside surface with a piece of fine sandpaper or steel wool. This will give the paint something to stick to. (Note, don't accidently scratch the outside of this housing, as the top side of it is visible when you have your hatch opened). Once you've hit it with the steel wool or sandpaper, give it a good wash under water again as to get rid of the dust or other debris left by sanding it. Once the piece is dried, I suggest wiping the surface down with rubbing alcohol as to remove any oils left by your fingers. This will give the paint a clean surface to stick to.
Once the housing is cleaned, you can now tape around the edges with masking tape, so you don't get paint on surface area that doesn't need paint. As seen below, I just ran it around the edges, and along the top side of the housing, as this area is seen when your hatch is opened. Be careful not to touch the inside as it's ready to be painted. By this point, you should be cleaned, prepped and ready for paint.
02-20-2012, 02:24 PM #2
I used a good indoor/outdoor primer and "Chrome" paint I purchased at the hardware store. When picking out paint, remember you want the most reflective paint possible. I don't think it needs to be outdoor paint, because the unit will be sealed when you're done, but this is what I went with just because I'm meticulous about details.
Prime the inside of the light housing, being careful not to overspray or spray too thick. A couple thin coats, spaced apart per the instructions on the can will be sufficient. Once a couple coats of primer have been applied, you can move onto the Chrome paint. Paint the surface as per the instructions on the can. Several coats will be needed, once again being careful not to spray too thick. If it's too thick, drying time in-between coats will be longer, and you'll have nasty "run" areas.
While the paint is drying in-between coats, now would be a good time to remove the silicone from the back side of the diffuser (the red part of the taillight). Just as done on the other piece of the taillight, most of the silicone will need to be removed in order to make a good seal later on. Once again, I used the heat gun and a utility knife, being careful not to scratch the surface of the taillight. Once all of the silicone has been removed, you can wash the piece with a rag and soapy water. I also used a soft brush to help remove any dirt left behind by the years of water saturation.
After a good cleaning, and several coats of Chrome paint, you should be ready to remove the masking tape and start piecing things back together.
I used a good multipurpose clear silicone to run a good-sized bead down in the groove that runs all the way around the entire perimeter of the housing, being careful that there are no breaks or thin areas of silicone. If it's not a solid bead of silicone, the housing will eventually leak again, successfully screwing up all of the work you've done thus far. Note in the picture below, I went a little extra thick with the sealant at the end of the housing (where the backup light is).
With the black half of the housing sitting on the table, carefully place the red diffuser part back into place, being carful that the ridge on the red plastic sits in the groove that runs all the way around the housing. You may need to wipe off excess silicone that has squeezed out from between the 2 pieces. Once the 2 pieces are in place, carefully place a few clamps or "quick grips" around the taillight to hold it in place while the silicone is drying. Once again, you may need to carefully wipe off excess silicone that has squeezed out. Let the entire unit dry somewhere safe for about 12 hours.
I'm not sure if this next step is necessary, but I did it anyways just for peace of mind. With the silicone dry, I ran another small bead of silicone around the taillight where the two pieces meet, just to make sure it was sealed up good. I used my finger and a wet rag to wipe off any extra silicone, and make sure things were nice and neat.
Once the silicone has dried, the taillight can be reinstalled on the vehicle. Install in reverse steps that you took when removing it. Do not over-tighten the plastic wing nuts! They will strip out, and then you're replacing them.
Now that the job is complete, you (hopefully) should have 2 taillights that match!
The lighting wasn't very good for my "after" picture, but I can assure you there is no difference in the taillights anymore. Note, I also used a plastic restore kit on the surface of the taillights/reverse lights to get rid of the white "fogging" that aging plastic sometimes has.
And just to finish off the new looking rear end, I installed some new license plate holders! lol
Hopefully this helps someone out. If anyone has any questions, or if I forgot something, just let me know and I'll help you out. Thanks for reading....peace!
Last edited by chris1974; 02-20-2012 at 02:43 PM.
02-20-2012, 05:26 PM #3
- Join Date
- Feb 2009
- Mansfield, PA
Black & Blue
- '02 WS.6 / '07 Suburban
Nice write up and great pics! Stickied.
02-21-2012, 08:10 AM #4
- Join Date
- Jan 2011
- Chicago NW Burbs
- Blog Entries
- 2001 Trans Am
Thanks for the write up! My T/A looks exactly like your "Before" picture. Maybe in the spring time I will try this out. Good idea with the paint, i don't think i've ever seen this solution before. Great job
02-21-2012, 08:54 AM #5
Thank you, Zack. I appreciate it. If you need any help or have a question, just let me know.
02-22-2012, 08:59 AM #6
- Join Date
- Feb 2009
- Ugy Lower Corner of AL
Navy Blue Metallic
- 98 T/A w/a little mods...
Agree great write up.
02-27-2012, 10:24 AM #7
I got to do this someday, my passenger side light, looks just like your before pic. Getting tired of people telling me my light is out, ITS NOT!
nice write up.
03-14-2012, 05:55 PM #8
Great post. I just started having this problem.. my trans am isn't dark, the water leaking just started.. My questions is to make things easier, do I have to ply open to get the water out? Or must i ply it open anyways to seal it up to stop the water leaking?
03-15-2012, 12:30 PM #9
Originally (before I decided to fix it right), I drilled a small hole in the bottom of the housing, to let the water drian out. It drained eventually, and I tried just sealing it with silicone without opening up the housing. I ran silicone all the way around, but it didn't stop the water from making it's way into the housing. I'm not sure where the water was sneaking past the silicone, but suspect somewhere around the backup light. But in order to seal it right, yes, you will have to open up the housing. Or I guess you could always try to find a good housing online or at a junk yard
If you decide to do it, just be careful and go slow! The plastic is old and brittle...it will crack if you try to bend it too much. I wouldn't try it unless you have a heat gun.
03-15-2012, 03:14 PM #10
Guess ive got work on my hands. Thanks for the help.. Mind if I msg you for future questions?
03-15-2012, 03:58 PM #11
03-15-2012, 04:14 PM #12
No prob, ill be busy myself plus its raining here in ca. So I probably won't get to till next week.. No rush, thanks
03-21-2012, 05:48 AM #13
I started this last night, but wasn't able to get the two pieces separated, how long did you hold the heat gun on one spot? I had the heat gun about 5 inches away for a few minutes and the plastic was getting really hot, but wasn't separating.
03-21-2012, 06:00 AM #14
Yeah...It's really difficult to get it started. I almost gave up in the beginning because it seemed like I wasn't getting anywhere. Progress is slow at first, but once you get it started, it goes much faster. I kept the heat gun on for a min or two....being sure to keep it moving so as to not melt anything. Are you starting on the end of the light? I also had to start with a small screwdriver to separate them at first. I worked in a 6 inch area at first. Heating and separating....then going back to where I started and heating/separating it a little further. It's really slow going at first...but you will get it. Just be careful and persistent.
03-21-2012, 06:58 AM #15
I started on the end and was using a small flathead screwdriver to try and slowly pry it apart, I heard some cracking noises and stopped to go read up more before i broke it.
Also, were u using the low setting or the high setting on your heatgun?
03-21-2012, 06:44 PM #16
I used the low setting on the gun. The plastic was hot to the touch...but not so hot that I couldn't keep my finger on it if I wanted to. I also heard a little cracking when I did mine. But I figured, the worst thing that could happen is I crack it, and buy another one anyways. And I had actually planned on buying a new one before I started, but decided I would try this fix as a last-ditch effort. So...I may have been a little more bold in my prying than you are being- I wasn't super worried about breaking it. Luckily, it ended up working out.
I noticed you haven't commented on this thread since early this morning. Let me know how it's going.
03-22-2012, 06:28 AM #17
I got it apart last night, some of the plastic on the red-half that protrudes into the tab on the other half broke off and stuck in the tab but most of it came off, the glue was pretty thick in some places, all of the reflective paint was worn off and it was completely black. I painted it with chrome paint and it looks much better.
tonight I will try and glue it back together and try to make it water tight. I'll probably leave the pieces that stuck in the tabs and just glue the shit out of it
I have a tube of 'liquid nails' would that work to glue it back together or should i go buy some silicone?
Last edited by mike171562; 03-22-2012 at 08:12 AM.
03-22-2012, 10:05 AM #18
Liquid nails would work I think....but don't plan on taking it apart again later! lol
I thought about using it....but decided on the silicone just in case I had to pull it apart later down the road.
Glad you're making progress, man!
03-22-2012, 10:46 AM #19
Well, i definitely dont want it falling apart on the highway and I figure if I'm having to take it apart again for some reason, i might as well just go get a replacement. Went to Autozone today and got some of this
I'll post some pics later , thanks for the advice.
03-23-2012, 05:25 AM #20
just an update, I sprayed about 10 coats of chrome paint on the backside and put it back together with nearly the whole tube of goop around the seams and put it back on the car, was in a hurry cause I had to use the car today so i didnt have time to remove all the old glue.
I didnt have time to take pics, but my results were just like in the pics in this thread. the passenger side now looks just like the other side.
thanks for the write up and the advice.
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