Replacing a Headlight: Let There Be Light!

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

Replace Headlight
DanG via Bronco6G Forum

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Headlights have become quite the statement piece for new vehicles, as the shapes, luminosity, and designs have become more and more futuristic over the years. And they’re as functional as they are fun to look at. 

This is why it’s a  really annoying situation when one of those bulbs burns out. Then, your pretty car looks decidedly cheaper, and you become a magnet for a police officer looking to hit their ticket quota, as well as put yourself and your cargo in danger. Thankfully, changing a headlight 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 illuminated editors get you started on this journey and will help you get a feel for what’s involved with the process. 

Let’s jump in.

A replacement headlight bulb.
Depositphotos

A replacement headlight bulb.

Headlight Basics

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

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Electrical/lighting

What Is Headlight?

Headlights are a safety feature that illuminates the road ahead of a vehicle. They are mounted on the front of the vehicle and feature both low and high beam settings to provide adequate lighting for a variety of situations.

Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

  1. If you’re going to be working on your vehicle’s electrical system in any manner, disconnect the battery. It’s so easy to do, and the risks of not doing so are high.
  2. Work on a flat surface. Having a car roll away, or worse roll over you is not a good look.
  3. Though it’s more to prolong the life of your headlights than it is to keep you safe, avoid handling the glass bulbs with your bare hands. The oils in your skin can cause the lights to shatter at high temperatures.

Everything You’ll Need to Replace a Headlight

Changing a headlight doesn’t take much more than your own two hands, but you’ll want to protect your fingers. To be honest, there are a few tools involved, but not many.

Tool List 

  • Screwdriver 
  • Small socket set
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Gloves
  • Flashlight

Parts List

  • Replacement bulb(s)

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Different types of headlight bulbs.
Depositphotos

Different types of headlight bulbs. 

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, 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.

Let’s do this! 

Replace Headlight Bulb

  1. Turn off the vehicle and disconnect the negative battery terminal under the hood.
  2. The process to access the headlight enclosure is different for every vehicle, but in general it involves:
    • Find headlight units at the front of the vehicle under the hood
    • Locate the rear of the headlight unit and twist out the removable headlight assembly.
    • With gloved hands, carefully disconnect the headlight from its harness. Place it gently aside for later disposal.
    • Plug in the new headlight unit, being careful not to squeeze the bulb area or touch with an uncovered hand.
    • Reinstall the headlight assembly into the back of the housing.
  3. Reconnect the battery.

Test the headlights. Turn on both high and low beams to ensure the bulbs are working.

Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic

As much as The Drive loves to put the "you" in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.

Pro Tips to Replace a Headlight

Over the years, The Drive’s editors have changed countless bulbs. Here are our pro tips. 

  1. Test your headlights after installation to be sure you did the job correctly. It’s also a good idea to check the beams’ aim and location after dark to ensure that you’ll be able to see before hitting the roads.
  2. Use the new headlight bulbs’ packaging to dispose of the old bulbs. It’ll help prevent breakage, which can cut someone or worse, cut a hole in the trash bag.
  3. It can be tempting to buy a colored bulb or one that promises to deliver “HID Levels” of brightness, but be sure you know what you’re getting into. The bulbs are rarely as bright as they sometimes claim to be, and can be short-lived when compared to standard bulbs. Not all are this way, so do your research before buying.

FAQs About Headlight

You’ve got 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.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)

Video

Featured Products 

There are tons of products to choose from when you’re looking for replacement headlight bulbs, but not all of them are great. We’ve chosen a few of our favorites here to get you started. These are products that are affordable, useful, and well-reviewed.

Sylvania Headlight Bulbs - Models Vary

Fahren LED Conversion Kit

3M Headlight Lens Restoration Kit

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com