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Jeep XJ License Plate Light Fix

Jeep XJ License Plate Light Fix

This is a post about fixing that pesky license plate light, as well as other issues you may encounter due to broken wires at door and tailgate hinge points

I recently got pulled over for having my license plate light out. I thought it was a simple bulb fix. But like with most issues with the Jeep, I was very wrong. After replacing the bulb and checking the fuses, all to no avail, I finally found a few probable causes while searching the forums, but there was no concrete answer.

I decided to write this thread to point out a the most probable issue for these weird types of electrical issues – broken wires in the harness at vehicle to door pass-through points. These seem to be the common causes for plate light issues in the tailgate as well as speakers not working in the drivers side doors. I am sure there are others, depending on which wires are broken.

Basically any malfunctioning equipment on the doors and the tailgate can suffer from the broken wire issue – from power locks to speakers not working, so before you go around replacing your switches, check your wiring harnesses at the door and tailgate hinge areas for any broken wires.

The most important thing is that if you have an old XJ, you probably have some broken wires are the door and tailgate hinge points. So when trouble shooting related components, check those points first.

Diagnosing and Fixing the license plate light issue:

Your license plate light and third stop light do not have an individual fuse. If your rear tail lights and indicators work and your plate light and/or third stop light don’t, then its either a bulb or a wiring issue, and the bulb is the one that most of use rule out first, to our dismay.

Instead of fiddling around with a multimeter trying to trace which wires are broken – which is very time consuming and unrewarding, I jumped right in pulled out the wiring harness from the tailgate, and cut open the sheath. Sure enough, most of the wires there were broken.

Here is the view of the tailgate with the wiring harness pulled down. The part in the center of the pic usually resides in the tail gate hinge area, between the vehicle body and the tailgate.


Looking closer – all those wires are broken! There were 7 broken wires here, including the fat ground wires. No wonder my plate light and third brake light did not work, and my rear defroster and wiper kept blowing a fuse whenever I turned them on


This is a fairly painstaking, but still relatively quick and straightforward problem to fix.

  1. Undo the screws that hold your plastic tailgate paneling, along with the inner plastic tailgate handle handle – located on the interior of the tailgate.
  2. Gently yank on the the panel to remove it (it is held in place by plastic rivets that come off easily. Pull straight our from the tailgate body without tilting or twisting the panel, otherwise you might brake some of the rivets. No big deal if you do though).
  3. Remove the 4 screws holding the thin plastic panel at the top of the tailgate on the jeep main body itself. This should expose the wiring harness.
  4. Unscrew the two bolts holding the tailgate wiring harness connector in place to free up the connector. Pull it out a few inches towards yourself and carefully disconnect the 3 harness connectors.
  5. Now your harness is almost free to move. You just need to remove the two, or single rubber grommet through which the harness passes. I cut mine in half longitudonally because it saves alot of time over haivng to pry it. It also works just as well when you put it back on, and makes everything much more accessible.
  6. Next you need to pull the harness down to make the broken wires accessible to you. You may not see the broken wires yet, but you will.
  7. Pull the harness down into the body of the vehicle several inches. Then take a knife and gently cut the nylon sheath holding the harness together at the location on the harness that used to be at the hinge. Peel the harness back a bit and you should see a few broken wires.
  8. If a wire is about to break – its insulation is missing and its hanging on by a thread, it is better to just cut it, trim the ends, and resolder it. Now you are ready yo finally start fixing the issue.
  9. All the wires are different colors, so it is easy to match up the correct pairs of broken ones.

To fix, the wires, all you need to do is solder them back together.

  1. First you cut off the jagged ends.
  2. Then you trim off about 1/4 – 1/2 inch of insulation from each end.
  3. Don’t forget to slide on shrinkwrap, if using that.
  4. Twist the wires together temporarily.
  5. Heat up the junction point with a soldering iron and add some solder to it. (Radioshack actually has a battery powered soldering iron if you are working outside).
  6. Wrap up the exposed wires with electrical tape, or shrink your shrink wrap.
  7. Make sure you add an extra bit of insulation to the ground wires, since all the wires are going to be rubbing against each other
  8. When you are done soldering, the new connection points will be more rigid (due to the solder, and fatter (due to liberal use of electrical tape)

Be careful to position these connections at a place where they will not be constantly bent. You may need to move them away from their original location a few inches by pulling out the harness or pushing it into the vehicle or tailgate. I like to cut away the wiring harness sheath a bit and let the wires move more freely in regards to one another. That way, if one wire is shorter, it is not constantly stressed, having to move with the entire harness when you open a door or tailgate.

That’s pretty much it. I know I skimped out on some details and pics on actually implementing the fix, but its pretty straight forward, and you can find plenty of info about how solder wires and wrangle a wiring harness.

If the speakers in your front doors or your power locks don’t work, this could be a similar issue. Look for a rubber boot on the bottom half of where the door meets the fender to access that wiring harness and check those wires.

I hope this helps someone having this kind of. If not, ask me and I will do my best to help.

Things to look for when buying a Jeep

Things to look for when buying a Jeep

Jeeps are amazing vehicles. There is nothing else like them. There are very few things that will make you feel like they do. There is a reason we fall in love with them.

Even though, generally speaking, Jeeps are well built vehicles and easy to work on, they do tend to have a lot of issues.

Here is what to watch out for when buying a used one.

  • The XJ had a 17 year model run and there are some important differences between the models. Jeep switched up the transfer cases at one point. The later 90’s ones have a more robust one – NP42 is the preferred one.
  • Rear main seals tend to go bad around 100k+ miles. Look for oil covering the oil pan – although you can live with this
  • If you hear a grinding noise coming from the engine, the water pump is bad – again around 100k+ miles – relatively cheap and simple to fix
  • Check the aux coolant tank. If its very low, chances are there is a coolant leak.
  • Check the serpentine belt pulleys to make sure they are good. Make sure the power steering one does not wobble and make sure the AC compressor is not binding.
  • If it cranks for a while before starting, it could be a clogged fuel filter/bad fuel pump. You have to take the gas tank off to replace it.
  • If you hear any kind of clunking while turning, one of the front axle U-joints could be bad. That’s a cheap part, but a PITA fix.
  • Look for brake fluid leaks where the master cylinder connects to the brake booster in the engine compartment on the driver’s side. If its leaking, it could start binding up your brakes in hot weather
  • Aside from that oil leaks, the XJ is pretty solid as far as being able to get you from A to B, assuming you have a little oil and coolant left in it.

Happy Hunting!


Save yourself some dough on repairs – Diagnose your issue correctly

Save yourself some dough on repairs – Diagnose your issue correctly

Unlike my advice in the title suggests, I don’t do this. Ever. I don’t ever learn from past mistakes.

When something brakes, I throw parts at it until something sticks. Expensive parts. I jump to a quick conclusion, convince myself that this it what is causing the problem and nothing else, and borrow a car to head down to Oreilly’s.

More often than not, I am wrong though.

Just the other day, after my brake failure fiasco, I got myself some Rubicon Trail braided lines, installed them, and started bleeding.

The pedal to my disappointment never got stiff when all the valves were closed, and I kept hearing a “whoosh” sound coming from somewhere in front of me, in the engine bay.

I inspected the situation and noticed some heavy leaking between the master cylinder and brake booster, that seems like it has been happening for quite some time.

Immediately I decided that it must be the master cylinder, even though I replaced it not even a year ago.

I headed over to Oreilly’s got myself a $100 master cylinder – only the best for me from now on, because the $40 Amazon one “failed”

I also decided to pick up the brake booster since the master good have been leaking as well – another $90. After driving around to 3 different stores, and visiting one of them twice, I finally got my booster and master cylinder.

I installed them, started bleeding, and to my dismay, again I hear a “whoosh” when I press the pedal, and while I was bleeding the right side caliper, a substantial puddle of brake fluid built up on the floor a bit aft of the driver’s side front wheel!

!!! I thought. So I inspected the engine bay once again. This time I pinpointed exactly where the leak was coming from. The master cylinder was leaking, yes, but it was not leaking nearly as bad as the driver’s side brake line I cracked while installing my new steel braided lines.

Cost to replace a brake line: <$10 in most cases. Since I already had some spare brake line, fittings, and a flaring kit that I bought earlier, for me the cost was free.

Moral of the story is I could have saved $180 just by taking a little extra time to investigate where the leak was coming from.

Am I going to now go back and return the parts I didn’t need, along with all the little impulse buy doohickies I got? Hell no! Them new shiny parts look nice!

But that is quite foolish though. That $200 could have gotten me a sweet ARB onboard compressor, or I could have put it towards a rear locker.

Save your cash on repairs, spend it on upgrades instead. There is value in learning how to diagnose your issues correctly