How To Change A Headlight

Dustin Hawley | Oct 04, 2022

When driving at night or in foul weather, you need your headlights. Unfortunately, they fail sometimes, and you need to replace them. Without them, you might not be able to see, and it’s undoubtedly more challenging for other drivers to see you.

how to change a headlight

So, how do you change a headlight without taking a trip to the mechanic? As it turns out, it’s quick and painless. Let’s take a closer look!

Why Do Headlights Fail?

Before we talk about changing your headlight, we should address the basics. Why do headlights fail in the first place? There are four common causes:

  • Age. Like any other kind of light bulb, headlight bulbs wear out. Engine vibrations and ordinary wear and tear take a toll on the filament when it may ultimately break. This can be particularly irritating since your headlight bulbs were likely installed simultaneously, meaning when one fails, the other is likely to fail sooner rather than later.
  • Extreme temperature changes. As the temperature changes, your filament expands and contracts, further stressing it. A hard freeze followed by a warm day can significantly shorten your bulb’s life.
  • Damage to the light housing. Halogen bulbs, in particular, are susceptible to moisture. If the headlight housing gets cracked, moisture and humidity will enter. You can install a fresh bulb in this situation, but it may blow out within a few days. Halogen bulbs are so sensitive that even the sweat from your fingers can cause them to fail. When installing a new bulb, handle it with rubber gloves to prevent this from happening.
  • Oxidation. Over time, your headlight’s plastic housing can become oxidized, which causes the light to become dimmer and yellower. The bulb doesn’t completely die, but you slowly lose visibility. In this situation, replacing the bulb isn’t going to help. You’ll have to replace the entire headlight housing.

Is It The Bulb Or A Fuse?

Your headlight has gone out. Do you go ahead and replace it immediately? First, you must determine whether you’ve got a blown bulb or an electrical issue.

With your car parked, turn on your headlights, and walk around to the front of the vehicle. Is one light out, or are they both out? If it’s one light, it’s probably a bulb issue. You’re most likely dealing with a blown headlight fuse if it's both lights.

That’s good news since replacing a fuse is easier and cheaper than replacing a bulb! Wait until it’s light out, drive to any auto shop, and find the correct fuse.

If only one light is out, try banging on it with your fist. Doing this will jiggle the filament and can even (temporarily) fix the problem. You still want to replace your bulb as soon as possible. But this can buy you time to travel to an automotive shop safely.

5 Steps To Change Your Headlight Bulb

Assuming your bulb is the issue, changing it is pretty simple. First, you’ll need to go to an automotive shop and purchase a replacement. As long as you know your vehicle’s make, model, and year, you’ll be able to find a new bulb in just a few minutes. Then, it’s time to replace it. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Turn off your car. The last thing you want is to touch a live wire, so shut off your engine and take your keys out of the ignition.

2. Pop your hood. Open your hood to look for the headlight housing. It may be easy to find or buried behind other under-hood components depending on the vehicle's make and model.

3. Disconnect the headlight wires. There will be a set of wires connected to the back of the lightbulb housing. Typically, you’ll have to press on a tab or a clip to get them to release.

4. Remove the old headlight. This step can be easy or difficult, depending on your vehicle. In some cars, the headlight housing is easy to pull out without any extra effort. In other vehicles, the air filter, battery, or other components could be an obstruction. Therefore, you might need to break out your ratchet set.

Once the housing is out, it’s time to replace the bulb. Some bulbs screw in, but most will insert into a socket with some locking tabs. Be careful while you’re removing your old bulb! If you accidentally damage one of the locking tabs, you’ll have to replace the entire headlight housing. Take your time, figure out how the bulb locks in, and carefully remove the old one.

5. Install the new bulb. Insert your new bulb, and close the locking tabs. Don’t forget to wear gloves so you don’t contaminate the bulb. Replace your headlight housing and any parts you had to remove for access.

Now all you have to do is test your headlights! Provided the bulb was your problem, both of them should light up at this point.

What If My New Bulb Doesn’t Work?

90% of the time that a headlight fails, the bulb is the culprit. In the other cases, the fuse or the wiring is to blame. Replacing a blown fuse is easy, but if you’re dealing with damaged wiring, the problem gets much more complex.

In that case, it’s advisable to visit a mechanic. They can test your wiring harness and identify if a particular wire has been pinched or lacerated. This job is more expensive than replacing your bulb, but at least your car will be safe and legal.

Summary

Changing your headlight bulb might seem intimidating at first. But once you understand the basics, it’s as simple as changing a lightbulb in your home. Unless there is a wiring issue, you shouldn’t have to visit a mechanic. Just purchase the correct bulb, follow the steps mentioned above, and you should be back up and running in no time.

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