How To Install 89-92 Tail lights On An 86-88 RX-7

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Compared to the rectangular divided '86 style tail lights, most people find the round flowing design of the '89 tail lights more attractive. This makes the tail light swap a popular modification for '86-'88 cars. The lights are actually electrically compatible, so the swap is almost plug and play and can be done in an hour or less.

Difference between '86 and '89 tail lights

Note: If your car is a convertible, be sure to get the lights from another convertible. The convertible lights are not interchangeable with coupe lights.

Parts Required


Step 1 - Obtain the parts
This is potentially the most annoying part of the project. Because of their popularity, the lights are quite hard to find. Expect to pay between $200 and $400 for a complete set. You can either purchase them removed, or salvage them yourself from a parts car.
Purchase them: The best place to look is probably The Parts Trader or the For Sale section of The RX-7 Forum. They can often be found on eBay as well.
Salvage them yourself: If you have access to a parts car, you can remove the tail lights yourself. Open the hatch and remove the spare tire. Now remove the bolts that hold the tail lights on. They are 10MM and can usually be loosened with your fingers alone. If they are stiff, spray on some penetrating lube and use a socket. Be sure not to remove the bolts that hold the top part of the bumper on. You can tell the difference easily as the tail light bolts are much thinner (M6 size, 10MM wrench). Penetrating lube is important as these bolts often acquire a light coating of rust. With the bolts out, disconnect the wiring harnesses. The plugs may be covered with sticky foam, so use a knife to cut along the seam formed where the two plugs connect. Now carefully remove the tail light.
Step 2 - Remove '86-'88 style lights
Follow the above instructions to remove the old lights from your car.
Step 3 - Modify the body
If you try to fit the new tail lights in right now, you will find that they don't sit right. The reason is that the '89 style reverse light protrudes slightly too far, which interferes with the body. The simple solution to this is to clear a small space in the tail light mounting area for the reverse light. Looking at the image below, you can either grind out or bend the highlighted area.

body modification required

I bent mine, simply because I had a big pair of vice grips handy and it was the middle of the night (didn't want to annoy the neighbors). Grinding it out is the better solution, as that way you can be sure you don't distort the gasket surface. If you grind it out, be sure to cover the exposed metal with rust inhibiting paint.

Step 4 - Install License Plate Trim (Optional)
The '86-'88 license plate trim is slightly too large to fit underneath the new taillights. You can either modify the older style trim by grinding the ends down with a Dremel tool (test fit while you do this!) or simply swap on the newer trim. The trim is removed easily be loosening the mounting screws.
Step 5 - Install new lights
Install the new lights. It is easier to do if the license plate socket is removed as the wire will not dangle in the way. Carefully position the light in the recess, making sure that the plastic pin on the outside edge is lined up. Push the light in and hold it with one hand while you put one of the middle bolts on. Finger tighten the first bolt, then install all the others. Once they are all finger tight, use a socket wrench to just barely snug them up. Don't tighten them or you will crack the plastic of the light. Now plug in the wiring harnesses.

Jeff Fraser has sent in an image of a car midway through the light swap to illustrate the difference between the two styles:

Image of RX-7 with both 86 and 89 style taillights
Step 6 - Test the lights
For safety reasons, have someone stand behind the car and verify that all the lights work before you drive with them.


1. Replacing the gaskets is always a good idea when installing the lights, but not absolutely necessary.

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