How To Replace a Headlight Bulb

“One Headlight” was a great song, but it’s not so much fun when it’s happening to your actual car.

byChris Teague, Tony Markovich| PUBLISHED Jun 30, 2022 4:15 PM
How To Replace a Headlight Bulb
Tony Markovich
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When one of your headlight bulbs burns out, it creates a three-pronged effect: your car looks decidedly cheaper, you become a magnet for a police officer looking to hit their ticket quota, and lower visibility at night makes driving riskier. Thankfully, replacing a headlight bulb is one of the easiest vehicle maintenance procedures anyone can pull off. 

Easy doesn’t mean that you can fly blind. You’ll still need a few tools and will need to be able to at least loosely understand what’s going on under your hood. The Drive’s editors can get you started on this journey and will help you get a feel for what’s involved with the process. Let’s jump in.

The Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how hidden the headlight units are

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Electrical/lighting

Safety

Replacing a headlight is not a high-risk situation, but it never hurts to be proactive about protection. Any time you work in the engine bay and handle the battery, it's a good idea to wear gloves and eye protection. When working on electronics, it's a also good idea to disconnect the battery. Here's the protection we use:

Everything You’ll Need to Replace a Headlight

Changing a headlight doesn’t take much more than your own two hands, but these are the tools you might need along the way:

Tool List 

Parts List

  • Replacement bulb(s)

Here’s How to Replace a Headlight

The process of changing a headlight varies slightly depending on the type of vehicle, but there are a few universal steps that everyone has to follow. It’s recommended that you change both headlights at the same time to maintain even light, but nobody’s going to yell at you if you don’t. 

Note: This process applies to the replacement of traditional headlights. If your vehicle uses Xenon or LED headlights, your process might look a little different.

1. Disconnect the Negative Battery Terminal

With the car turned off and cooled down, disconnect the battery for safety purposes.

2. Make Room To Access the Bulb

In some cars, you might need to remove the battery to gain better access to the headlight bulb. In other cars, you'll need to move fluid tubes or containers, such as the windshield washer plastic. Make it so you have easy access to the bulbs. The last thing you want to do is damage a part or drop the bulbs into the engine bay.

3. Remove the Headlight Connector and Disconnect the Bulb

The process to access the headlight enclosure is different for every vehicle, but it starts at the back of the headlight housing. Identify the plug and disconnect it from the headlight bulb. In certain vehicles, you could also twist the connector and the bulb out of the housing, then remove the bulb.

4. Insert the New Bulb

While avoiding touching the bulb with your bare hands, use the base of the new bulb to plug it in. Make sure it sits correctly.

5. Reassemble in Reverse Order

Once you have the new bulb in, situate and secure it back into the headlight housing, plug it back into the connector, replace anything you moved or removed, and reconnect the battery. Make sure everything is tightened back up

6. Test the Headlights

Turn on both high and low beams to ensure the bulbs are working. When it's dark, make sure the bulbs sit correctly and evenly distribute the light.

An LED headlight unit that's still plugged into the headlight connector. It sorta worked, but they didn't quite fit, and LEDs require specific housings to be legal, so Tony went back to the regular bulbs.

Changing the Bulbs on a 2003 Acura RSX

The above info covers the task of changing a bulb in general terms, but we wanted to give you a more detailed explanation, as well. This is the process for replacing the bulbs on Tony's 2003 Acura RSX.

  1. Disconnect the battery, remove the battery, and remove the battery housing.
  2. Move the tubes, hoses, and fluid containers out of the way. You can do this by sliding them out of their holders.
  3. Unplug the connector that supplies power to the bulb.
  4. Remove the rubber boot that protects and surrounds the bulb.
  5. The bulb is plugged into an X-shaped plastic piece that's held in by a thin metal clip that hooks into place. Undo the clip, and the bulb will fall out with the X.
  6. Disconnect the bulb from the X piece and replace it with the new bulb.
  7. Reposition the bulb in the correct spot using the two small indents built into the housing. While holding the bulb in place, use the same hand to reclip the X piece in place. The clip is one of the most annoying parts of this process, but be patient, study how it clips in, and use deliberate movements. Be careful not to bend the metal.
  8. Put the boot back over the housing with the two prongs from the X piece fitting into the center hole of the boot.
  9. Plug the connecter back into the prongs, and you're good to go.
  10. Put everything back into place and clean up.

FAQs About Replacing Headlight Bulbs

You have questions., The Drive has answers!

Q. I’m not handy at all. Will I be able to change my headlight bulb?

A. Most people, regardless of skill level, will be able to find the headlights and replace them without issue. Certain vehicle manufacturers have made reaching the headlights difficult by placing tons of vehicle components in front of them, but it should be relatively easy to change a bulb.

Q. I really don't want to change the bulb myself. How much will this cost?

A. If you need professional help, you can count on paying around $50 to have the bulbs changed. That cost can be more if you have LED or specially designed headlights.

Q. How long should my headlight bulbs last?

A. In general, you should be able to count on at least 2,000 to 3,000 hours from a headlight bulb. Newer designs that use Xenon or LED bulbs are capable of lasting much longer than that, with some rated for up to 30,000 hours of service.

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