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Wiring Trailer Lights with a 4 Way Plug (It's Easier Than You Think)

Many standard light-duty trailers, such as many boat trailers and utility trailers, use a 4-way wiring harness to connect to the tow vehicle. This connection provides the required running lights, turn signals, and brake lights for the trailer. There is also an additional pin provided for a ground wire.Trailer wiring can be one of the most intimidating components of your towing setup, but it doesn't have to be. Most of us aren't electricians, but that doesn't mean wiring a trailer or replacing corroded wiring is beyond us. We'll walk you through the trailer-wiring process for 4-way plugs below, so you can add or replace your wiring and get your trailer up and running in no time.

What is the Color Code for 4-Way Trailer Wiring?

Before we get into the step-by-step walkthrough, we'll first go over the standard color code for 4-way wiring harnesses. This will make it easier when it comes time to make your wiring connections.The color code for wiring harnesses can vary between manufacturers, but the general standard for 4-way plugs is as follows:
  • Green: Right turn/brake light
  • Yellow: Left turn/brake light
  • Brown: Tail/running lights
  • White: Ground wire
What Size Wire Gauge is Used for a 4-Way Wiring Harness?The minimum suggested wire size for a 4-way trailer plug is 18 gauge for the turn, brake, and running lights. The suggested minimum for the ground wire is 16 gauge.
4-Way Flat Connector Diagram
4-Way Round at Connector Diagram
4-Way Trailer Wiring Color Code
NOTE: *Some manufacturers will use red/black wires instead of brown/green/yellow. For these harnesses, black is usually for the running lights, and red is for the turn signal and brake lights.When making connections on your vehicle, check your vehicle's owner manual or use a circuit tester to confirm each wire's function prior to connecting. You can usually tap into your vehicle's wiring system with the circuit tester at the rear of the vehicle, behind the taillights. Activate each function (turn signal, brake lights, etc.) in turn and check for a corresponding signal from the circuit tester to make sure you have the right wire.

Wiring a Trailer with a 4-Way: Step by Step

Now that we have an idea what our wires do, let's get into the step-by-step process of wiring your trailer. We'll start with the trailer side first.

Trailer Side

Step 1: Prepare for Trailer Wiring Installation

Start by making sure you have everything you need to wire your trailer lights.If you need to replace one or more of your lights, you can purchase trailer lights or use a complete trailer light kit, which will come with the necessary wiring included. Remove old lights before beginning the new installation.If you don't need to replace your lights, you can simply use a 4-way harness.
Trailer Light Wiring Colors

Step 2: Connect Ground to Trailer Frame

Attach the white ground wire directly to a clean, bare section of the trailer frame using a self-tapping screw and ring terminal. For best performance, each component should have its own ground. For instance, each trailer light should be grounded separately along the trailer frame. This reduces the risk of a ground issue on one component impacting the whole wiring system. You can make these individual ground connections in step 4, when you connect the rest of your wires.The trailer connector should extend 2-3 feet past the tongue. Make sure no paint, corrosion, or buildup is present at the ground location. (Clean if necessary.) If the trailer folds, make the ground connection behind the tongue, on the main body of the trailer frame.
NOTE: A bad ground is the most common source of issues when wiring a trailer. Check out our troubleshooting guide for help with common trailer wiring issues.
Wiring Diagram - Connecting Ground to Trailer Frame

Step 3: Run Wires Along Trailer Frame

Run the rest of the wires along the trailer frame to the taillights. Don't allow the wires to catch or chafe against any trailer components.Feed your wires through the hollow trailer frame if possible for the best protection. You can also drill through the frame and use grommets if necessary. Alternatively, you can use wire clips or zip ties to secure loose wires along the frame.
Run Wires Along Trailer Frame

Step 4: Make Trailer Connections

Once the wires have been run to their respective appropriate locations, it's time to make the connections to your trailer's lights.Each light will have 3 wires: one that connects to the main harness's brown running light wire, one that connects to the turn/brake light wire (typically yellow or green), and a white ground that should be secured to the trailer frame.Use a crimper to strip back the insulation on the wires. Then, use a butt connector and heat gun to connect the wires. Connect any additional ground wires from your lights.HOW TO ATTACH WIRES (EXAMPLE):
Strip insulation from trailer wire
Use a crimper to strip insulation from the end of each wire
Butt Connectors on Trailer Wires
Use butt connectors to connect your wires
Trailer Wiring Ground Connection
Make your ground connection
Traditionally, the running light circuit (typically the brown wire) is carried on a single wire, so a jumper wire and some additional butt connectors are required to feed the running lights on the opposite side of the trailer.As a simpler alternative, you can use a wishbone harness (also known as a Y harness) such as this one. A wishbone harness is a 4-pole connector with 5 wires that effectively splits the running light circuit into two wires. One wire runs along the driver's side of the trailer, and the other runs along the passenger side. Wishbone harnesses make the wiring job easier and eliminate the need for splicing in a jumper wire.
4-Way Wiring Plug Diagram Traditional Color Code
4-Way Wiring Plug Diagram Wishbone Color Code

Vehicle Side

Now that our trailer is hooked up, it's time to wire our vehicle. Let's get started:
Step 1: Prepare for Vehicle Wiring InstallationIf your vehicle already has a 4-way connector, then great! Simply plug the trailer-end connector into the vehicle-end connector, and you're ready to roll.If your vehicle does not have a 4-way connector, it's usually pretty simple to add one. Just keep in mind that wiring is a custom component. There are several ways that a wiring harness can connect to your vehicle, and the type of connector you use depends on what is available for your vehicle year, make, and model. You can use our fitguide to find custom wiring for your vehicle.Also take the time to confirm the function of your vehicle wires if you are splicing or clamping wires together. Check your vehicle's owner manual or use a circuit tester to confirm each wire's function prior to connecting. You can usually tap into your vehicle's wiring system with a circuit tester at the rear of the vehicle, behind the taillights. Activate each function (turn signal, brake lights, etc.) in turn and check for a corresponding signal from the circuit tester to make sure you have the right wire.
4-Way Connector
Use circuit tester to confirm wire function
Step 2: Connect Ground to Vehicle FrameJust like we did on the trailer, we now have to connect the ground on the vehicle side. Attach the white ground wire to a clean, bare metal surface on the vehicle frame. Apply some dielectric grease like # 11755 to help prevent corrosion.
4-Way Connector
Step 3: Make Vehicle ConnectionsYour wiring harness will either plug into, clamp onto, or splice into your vehicle's existing lighting. The type of connection depends on what is available for your vehicle model. We'll go over each process in more detail below.Some general notes and tips:
  • Some vehicles require you to route a power wire from the harness to the vehicle battery because the vehicle's electrical system cannot handle the amperage draw of the trailer lights. For a breakdown of how to route a power wire for a trailer wiring harness, click here.
  • If the vehicle connector is under the vehicle, use a mounting bracket to attach it to the vehicle. This will help prevent damage that may occur if the connector is left dangling.
  • Use a small amount of grease on all electrical connections—the plugs on your automobile and the 4-pole connector itself—to help prevent corrosion.
Plug-In StyleSome vehicle manufacturers essentially "pre-wire" your vehicle so that your wires are easily accessible for connection. T-connectors such as this one simply plug into your vehicle's existing wiring, no cutting or splicing required.The plug-in location is typically near the taillights, underneath the vehicle, or behind the paneling in the back cargo area. You may have to remove your trim access cover, scuff panels, taillights, etc. in order to access the plug.T-connectors can also be expanded to 5-way, 6-way, or 7-way trailer connectors through the use of a wiring adapter.
T-Connector connects to vehicle's existing wiring
A T-connector connects to your vehicle's existing wiring via an OEM plug
Clamp-On StyleOther harnesses, such as this one, clamp onto your vehicle's wiring without causing feedback, interference, or power draw from your vehicle's wiring system.Clamp the harness's sensors to the appropriate vehicle wires, then run the hot lead to your vehicle's battery to provide the necessary power, since the harness does not draw from the wiring itself.
Zero-contact interface sensor
Pictured: Zero-contact interface sensor capable of reading current as it travels through wire
Splice-In StyleHardwire kits aren't quite as convenient as the other styles, but splicing into your vehicle wiring is actually less difficult (and scary) than it sounds.After confirming your wire functions (using your owner's manual or circuit tester), connect your wires using one of three methods.Soldering: This is the best way to connect wires. Simpy solder your wires together for the strongest, most reliable connection using a soldering gun. Use heat shrink tubing to protect the soldered connection.Butt Connectors: If you aren't comfortable soldering wires, heat shrink butt connectors and a heat gun are the next best thing.Quick Splices: The quickest, easiest way to connect wires is by using a quick splice. Quick splices force a metal piece into two separate wires, thus connecting the circuit. NOTE: Quick splices are the easiest—but least reliable—wire connection method.
Soldering Gun vs Butt Connector vs Quick Splice
When FinishedAfter wiring up your trailer and vehicle, it's a good idea to plug the two ends together and test the function of each wire. Make adjustments as needed. If everything lights up when it's supposed to, you're good to go!
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Joe M.

8/5/2022

I have new tail lights on my trailer that have a separate wire for the brake function. Which wire from my tow vehicle should I attach to it? On other trailers, my tail lights only had 3 wires and the wire connected to my right and left directional signals would also operate the brake light.

Etrailer Expert

David B.

8/5/2022

Hey Joe, what specific lights do you have?

Frank Y.

6/9/2022

Hi, I have 2010 Lexus GX460. I am going to replace the vehicle-end connector(which is hard to find one to match trailer end flat 4 way connector). It has 4 wires with two red wires, one black and one blue. Could you help to tell which one is turning, tail/running, and ground? Thanks!

Etrailer Expert

David B.

6/9/2022

OK, if you still don't have the replacement i'd go with T-One Vehicle Wiring Harness with 4-Pole Flat Trailer Connector # 118384 . As for the wiring you will need to do a little trouble shooting with a circuit tester to find out what functions are on each wire. I'll add the link to a trouble shooting guide.

Andres Y.

5/13/2022

I recently bought a 3 in 1 tail light for my trailer and have a 4 pin connector, but i have separate cables for brakes and turn light should I wire them? The cables that comes with each tail lights are: Black Wire: Negative; Yellow Wire: Turn light; Red Wire: Stop Light; White Wire: Tail Light But i have and standard 4 pin connector. I appreciate your answers!

Etrailer Expert

David B.

5/16/2022

Hey Andres, can you tell me the part number of the light you are talking about?

Ronald Y.

3/1/2022

Recently purchased a new wiing harness and taillight assdemblies. Having difficulty getting the turn signals to work. green one side and yellow opposite side. Which wires do I connect together to make them work properly. This is a boat trailer flat 4 plug in.

Les D.

3/1/2022

I have attached a link below that explains all of the trailer lighting connections. It is very important to check all grounds. Make sure they are connected to a bare metal chassis ground. Grounds at lights and trailer ground at the tongue, AND on the truck side behind the connector. You might consider hooking up a different truck to the trailer to help you troubleshoot.

Aubrey

2/14/2022

I have every thing working but brake lights on boat trailer same thing on camper with 7 pin and 4 pin

Les D.

2/14/2022

OK, so you have no brake lights on two different trailers. That likely proves the problem is with your tow vehicles. Going to assume that your tail lights are working on your vehicle so that brings us to a couple of things. First check the vehicle connection plug for any rust, corrosion, or debris. Next check behind the bumper mounted plug to see the connection behind the plug. Further, check where the white wire attaches to the vehicle body. Make sure your wire is connected to a clean bare spot on metal. Let me know what you find out.


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