OEM vs Aftermarket: TYC Taillights

My Toyota 4Runner is a 2010 model year vehicle, the first year for the fifth generation model. Yes, it’s getting old now but with less than 60,000 miles, it’s still very solid. And it’s not even that outdated. The 4Runner received a facelift for the 2014 model year but it did not change mechanically. The facelift consisted of different headlights, grill, bumper design, and taillights. Toyota also removed just about all chrome trim, which made the 4Runner visually lighter. It will remain rather unchanged for 2019, too. 
I wasn’t in love with the angry 2014 facelift at first but it has grown on me. It has grown on my so much that I no longer really like the appearance of the 2010-’13 models. So I decided to do something about it. One of the things I like on the ’14+ 4Runner are its darker, slimmer taillights. They also have the benefit of brighter and longer-lasting LED brake and taillight bulbs.
After ensuring that the ’14 taillight is a plug-and-play with my older vehicle, I went shopping. An OEM taillight assembly is about $180 for each light. Yea, I like these new lights but I don’t like them enough to blow almost $400 on them. On Amazon I found taillights made by TYC for about $100 each. Reviews on Amazon and on a 4Runner message board seemed good. How bad could they really be?
Two mouse clicks and my new non-OEM taillights were on their way.

Before going further, I want to point out that there is always a difference in quality between OEM and after-market parts. A vast majority of the time the OEM parts are better, sometimes they’re superior. For instance: one of the headlights was cracked in an accident on my old MDX. The body shop replaced with aftermarket unit. Despite using the same bulbs, the light from the OEM headlight was significantly better. The pattern was better and the light beam was more focused, which illuminated the road ahead better. This is why I will always stick with OEM headlight housings.
But these are taillights. Taillights don’t care about light patterns, all they have to do is properly illuminate. The question is will they work like the OEM units did. Will condensation inside develop? Are they more prone to cracking? Will the bulbs last as long? Are they at least as bright? Are the proper lights illuminating at the proper time?
Let’s find out.

The exterior lens of the TYC light seemed slightly thinner than the OEM light, perhaps slightly more fragile. The inner portion of the light seemed exactly the same as the OEM part but different in color. Otherwise the two lights seemed pretty darn comparable, down to the weight. The physical differences on the inside can chalked up to my lights being an older design. The car harness plugged right into the light socket. It seemed like a true plug-and-play set-up.  
Placing the lights in the chassis, I felt like I had to push them in a little more than I should have. Once bolted in, two 10mm nuts on the inside, they lined up very well with the body on the outside. On the inside, the hatch jam, I feel like they could be snugger against the body.
After installing the left light I started the car and turned on the lights. Then I turned on the blinkers. I then turned off the engine, put the parking brake on, put the ignition on, and put the transmission into reverse. All lights worked as designed. With the help of a friend I later checked the brake lights, and those too worked as designed.

But there was an extra bonus. The parking lights were slightly brighter and the brake lights were a lot brighter, which is nice considering that I got rear-ended last week. But brightest of all are the reverse lights. I like how the rig looks without the big red and white lenses, too. 
I installed the lights on Sunday morning. On Monday afternoon I performed a random periodic quality check and… mother****er, the driver’s side reverse light wasn’t working, as seen in the picture below. I checked the wiring and it’s solid. The OEM taillight is in storage and I didn’t have a chance to plug it in to verify the car wiring but I’m betting that it’s fine. Ugh. I sent an email to the seller via Amazon. 

This type of lighting update isn’t limited only to the 4Runner, of course. Over the model lives, automakers do minor upgrades to all vehicles. Those subtle updates sometimes make a big improvement in how a vehicle looks. Lights are probably the thing that is most frequently updated and redesigned for that reason. Be it replacement for ecstatic or damage reasons, it still looks like OEM might be the way to go even if it’s double the price. 
To summarize:  I’ve had bad experiences with LEDs and with aftermarket light lenses. Here I have LED lights in aftermarket lenses and they worked properly for only a day. Stay tuned for more. 

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9 responses to “OEM vs Aftermarket: TYC Taillights”

  1. Zentropy Avatar

    That definitely updated the appearance, and made the truck look much more modern. Though aesthetically, I’m one of those oddballs that doesn’t like clear taillights. For some reason, when I look at the rear of a car, I see a “face”. And if the tail lights are clear/white, I think “blind”. It just looks wrong to me. But, I’m old and traditional, and so I prefer to see red and amber back there.
    At one point I considered buying a used 2009(?) WRX, but only after checking into transparent red vinyl so I could wrap the rear lenses. My dad drives a Mercury Mountaineer and the white lenses drive me nuts– I’ve seriously considered buying Explorer lenses and swapping them in during a visit without him knowing. It’s almost an OCD thing with me, like refusing to set my alarm clock to any time ending in 0 or 5.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      Oh, so the one on the left was the “after” and the passenger side “before”?
      Yeah, I always thought clear lenses were the Myspace of taillights. First the cool kids had them, then the soccer moms got them, and now nobody takes them seriously. I thought the red lens was a modernization from a circa 1998 trend. Sorry, Kamil, I am not a fan of that form. i hope the function is an improvement.

      1. Zentropy Avatar

        At least Kamil’s doesn’t have the “crying-mascara-tears” fog lamps up front. I generally really like 4Runners, but Toyota’s gone a little funky and chunky on the styling lately.
        Can you still get the 4R in a manual? I know it was still an option on the previous generation.

  2. Dabidoh_Sambone Avatar

    I get rear ended by uninsured cretins regularly so I want to be more visible. To that end I bought some LED brake light bulbs that strobe vividly for the first second that they illuminate, totally genius idea. They’re in all three of our cars now. The down side is that when one failed, I had to replace both of them as the seller didn’t sell that exact model any more, and the replacement flashed at a different rate.
    The moral is, if you’re putting a LED bulb in, buy some exact spares for future consumption. Can’t speak to your conundrum of having a bespoke housing, but I’ll avoid buying anything so proprietary.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Fortunately, the real lamp manufacturers have entered the LED market. Osram Sylvania and Philips now make LED bulbs, so you’re no longer at the mercy of the “Who made it and will it actually last?” bulbs sold on eBay. I’d bought LED bulbs on eBay in the past, and nothing I bought lasted a year, plus due to the design (either bare surface-mount devices, or bare LEDs inside a clear enclosure), they tended to output as one bright spot, instead of a glow like incandescents. I’ve replaced license plate light bulbs on two of our cars with the Sylvanias (they are opaque white, and glow like an incandescent), and they’re much better quality.

      1. Tank Avatar

        I saw in the ebay link that it suggests professional installation, do the Sylvanias have that too?

  3. Harry Callahan Avatar
    Harry Callahan

    My concern is with material quality. My gut tells me the non-OEM plasticl enses will become foggy/opaque more quickly and readily than an OEM piece.

    1. Kamil K Avatar

      One of the reasons why I bought them was to find out. But that won’t happen. Stay tuned for more of this dramatic story.

  4. Manic_King Avatar

    I bought new TYC headlight for MB C-class (204) this year, non- Xenon, just halogen and it looked exactly like broken MB original it replaced, under 100 euros. No complaints.