DIY Replacing A Car Headlight


As a vital safety feature, working headlights are important to have. Over time you will likely have one of your car bulbs go out at some point. It’s important to take action and quickly make the necessary repairs to get your car back safely on the road.

The initial steps to replacing your car headlight go as follows:

  • Step 1: Assess where the issue is from
  • Step 2: Decide whether to fix the problem yourself or call in a professional
  • Step 3: Following the 5 step process listed below for replacing the headlight yourself if you opt for the DIY option

Determining The Problem

Before you can fix the issue you first need to know what exactly is wrong. So the first step in repairing your headlight is a simple observation of what is going on. Turn on your headlights to determine if one or both of the lamps are out. If you only have one lamp out, your problem is more than likely a simple fix where you just need to replace the bulb. If both bulbs are out you likely have a fuse or electrical issue which are best handled by an expert. If you can’t consider yourself a car electrical expert, take your car to the mechanic!

5 Steps To Working Headlights

Now let’s get into why you’re really here. Fixing the issue with your headlights! If you are currently in an area where you don’t have access to a new bulb, try banging your fist on the headlight to see if the lamp will light back up until you can get your vehicle fixed. If this works you definitely just need a new bulb, because yours is simply running out of filament. So if this works or if only one of your headlights is out.

Step 1: Order Necessary Parts

You can find out the information on what type of bulb your headlight takes by checking in the owner’s manual. You will also find specifics on how to change out the bulb so be sure to read this section thoroughly and follow any manufacturer recommendations. Check your owner’s manual for details on how to change the headlight in your specific vehicle, as well as what headlight bulb to purchase.

You can purchase the headlight you need at most large auto parts retailers or you can simply order it online if you have a few days where you don’t intend on driving before dawn or after dusk.

Step 2: Turn The Car Off

When dealing with electrical components, you always want to make sure the car is off before attempting to make any repairs or wire disconnections. Now, pop the hood of the car to access the engine compartment.

Step 3: Disconnect The Wires

Locate the headlight wiring at the front of the vehicle. Typically, there will be 3 wires that are attached to the connection of the lightbulb. Carefully remove the clips holding them in place. There are usually three wires attached to the base of the lightbulb. Push down the clip or cap holding them in place.

Step 4: Disconnect The Headlight

For details on how exactly to do this on your car you should once again consult your owner’s manual. For some vehicles you can get to the bulb without taking out the entire headlight, for others you won’t be so lucky. Sometimes you have to remove other parts located in the engine compartment like the battery to access this area at all. This is the case with smaller compact cars typically. They are built with little wasted space which is great for efficiency, but not so great in cases like this where you have to rearrange some things to make your repairs.

If you do have one of these cars, consult your owners manual. I can’t stress this enough.

Step 5. Replace The Bulb

If you can access the bulb then your repair is pretty simple, just unscrew and replace the bulb then replace the wiring clips. Be careful when working with the wiring, any damage to the wires or the clips can call for the entire headlight to be removed which can be pricey.

Things To Keep In Mind When Handling A New Halogen Bulb

Wear Gloves! You need to avoid touching the light bulb directly because any sort of oil, sweat or salt residue left behind by your skin will damage the bulb and cause it to go out prematurely.

If Replacing The Bulb Doesn’t Work

You may have gotten a bad bulb, but this is pretty unlikely. If you replaced the bulb and the headlight still isn’t working, it is more likely that you have an electrical issue like wiring or fuses. You may also have used the wrong type of bulb or you handled the bulb improperly and got your fingers on it in some capacity. If you’re sure that the bulb was handled appropriately, double check to make sure you used the correct type of bulb, check our list on why bulbs go bad, and when all else fails take the car to the mechanic.

What Are The Top Reasons That Bulbs Go Bad

  1. The Bulb Is Old
  2. Temperature Extremes
  3. Filament Oxidation
  4. Bulb Housing Cracks

These aren’t the case 100% of the time, but I’d say for 90% of our readers who have a bad bulb, one of these 4 reasons is the culprit behind your lack of illumination.

1. The Bulb Is Old

And as far as bulbs going bad goes, age is the top reason. Lightbulbs whether in your house or in your car don’t last forever and will need replacing at some point in the car’s life. They can go out in pairs too as the lightbulbs were usually put in at the same time.

2. Temperature Extremes

When the temperature outside fluctuates wildly, it can do some weird things to your vehicle. One of those things includes knocking out bulbs. The temperature shift impacts the way the bulb lights up, namely the filament used within the bulb.

3. Cover Oxidation

This is more an issue with dimming headlights, not so much with lights that have gone out entirely. As the clear plastic of your headlight ages and is exposed to air and sun, it will not remain as clear as it once was. The headlight will fog up and can even turn shades of yellow. There are things that you can do to clean and restore the headlight cover from specialty products to household items like toothpaste or baking soda. Most people will simply replace the lamp cover which is also a fine option.

With newer halogen bulbs, another cause of dimming lights can be oxidation of the plastic housing, causing it to appear white or yellowish, Zullo says. This diminishes the beam of light that helps drivers to see the dark road ahead, he says. “In that case, you would have to replace the whole headlight assembly,” he adds.

4. Bulb Housing Cracks

Halogen bulbs are not supposed to come in contact with moisture, so if you’ve replaced a bulb and within a few days it’s out again it’s most likely an issue with your bulb housing and not the bulb, though you’ll have to replace the bulb again once you repair the housing. Be sure to keep your fingers off of them when installing as well because the oils on your fingers not to mention the moisture from your skin will damage the bulbs as well.

Want More Information? 

Check out this informative video on replacing a car headlight if you’re more of a visual learner. 

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We hope this article has answered all of your questions regarding replacing a car headlight, and that you feel more prepared to take handle this situation now and in the future. Consider protecting your vehicle with an extended warranty plan from Protect My Car. In addition to warranties, Protect My Car also offers insurance and maintenance plans and can negotiate the best prices on repairs with mechanics.

About Protect My Car

Protect My Car is an extended auto warranty company. Our goal here at Protect My Car is to eliminate your worry of being financially responsible for an expensive mechanical breakdown. With our extended auto warranty, you don’t have to worry about being fully burdened with the cost of a covered repair.