How to Change a Headlight Bulb

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How to Change a Headlight Bulb
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Replacing the headlight bulbs on your car is not as difficult or time-consuming as you may think. Read on to learn more about headlight bulbs, how you can find the right one for your vehicle, what tools you’ll need, and more.

Changing the bulb in the headlight of your vehicle is a simple repair you can do yourself, and you don’t need any fancy tools to do it. In fact, depending on your vehicle’s make and model, you may not require any tools at all.

How Do I Change My Car Headlight Bulb?

The steps to replace your headlights will also vary depending on your vehicle. However, in general, these steps can help to get you started:

Remove the Burned-Out Bulb

To begin extracting a burned-out headlight bulb from your vehicle, lift your car’s hood, and remove the lamp connection at the back of the headlight housing unit you need to replace. Grab the bulb casing and turn it counterclockwise until the tabs line up, then pull it out straight. Be aware that some cars have an additional hinged or rotating panel that will make it easier to access your headlights. Others may have splash guards or air cleaner housings that will need to be completely removed before you will be able to get to the headlight housing and put in the replacement bulb.

It is almost always easier to replace the headlight bulbs in an older car model. Older headlights usually have a square or circular cover that is larger than that used in modern cars. The metal rings can be loosened from the front of the car so that you do not need to reach into the dark and crowded area under your car’s hood.

Insert the Replacement Bulb

Insert the Replacement Bulb

When you are carrying the new bulb and screwing it in, you will need to be very careful that you do not touch the glass of the headlight bulb. The oils in your skin and the small amounts of dirt and dust carried on your hands can hurt the bulb and cause it to fail early. This is another good reason to purchase a pair of work gloves and use those to handle the new headlight bulb.

When putting in one or more new headlight bulbs, replace one bulb at a time. Simply place the new bulb where you removed the old one and turn it a quarter turn until it clicks in. Repeat with all other bulbs. Put back any part of the housing you needed to remove and make sure everything is secure.

Even if your vehicle’s corresponding high beam or low beam headlight is not burned out yet, it may be better to also replace the other bulb than to go through the replacement process a second time—especially if you’ve previously replaced both bulbs at the same time. Since both bulbs turn on at the same time, they will likely fail around the same time unless other elements cause your headlights to stop functioning, such as water that became trapped in the covering or an accident on one side of the vehicle.

Test Your Car’s New Headlights

The last step is to get into the car, turn it on, and test the headlights to see if they are working. If they are not and you replaced more than one type of bulb, you may want to check whether you put the high beam and low beam headlight bulbs in their correct spots. If the problem persists, the issue could be within the electrical components of your car. If that’s the case, schedule an appointment at an automotive repair shop so that a professional can check into other issues that may have caused your headlights to stop working, like a problem with the vehicle’s wiring.

Test Your Car’s New Headlights

Can You Change a Headlight Bulb Yourself?

You can purchase most headlight bulbs at an auto parts store. If you aren’t sure what kind of headlight bulb you need, the employees there will likely be able to look up your vehicle to find the correct replacement bulb. Often, these stores can also provide you with advice regarding the brightness and color that suits your needs, as well as any additional tools you might need.

Larger problems with headlight repairs usually only arise if replacing the bulbs does not restore your headlights to proper working order. If that is the case, you may want to have your car inspected by professional automotive repair specialists. They can tell you if your car is having other issues, which in the case of a headlight bulb malfunction, would most likely be a malfunction in the wiring harness or another electrical component of the vehicle.

If this is the case, a professional shop is your best choice to continue addressing the issue. Problems with the wiring or electrical systems in your car are always better handled by professionals who know how to make the proper repairs without risking injury.

Do You Need Tools to Change a Headlight?

The only tools you need for replacing the headlight bulb on your vehicle are a flathead screwdriver and the replacement bulb for your car’s make and model. However, to help protect your hands and ensure you don’t get fingerprints on the headlight bulb or other lens parts, you might also want a pair of work gloves.

Gloves are always useful for vehicle repairs and a variety of other household maintenance projects, so it may just be a good idea to have gloves in your toolbox for any number of repairs that you can do at home and any future projects. If you don’t have a pair of gloves on hand, most auto supply shops can furnish you a pair of disposable gloves to use while you change your headlight bulb.

Other tools that might be helpful for your repair include:

  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Extra sockets
  • A flashlight

Pliers can be useful for some specific cars that need extra grip because the headlight housing unit is screwed in tightly. A flashlight is a universally useful tool that can help you be able to see into the darkest areas of your car. Depending on the layout of your headlight’s housing, a flashlight can help you better pinpoint any parts you need to remove and where you need to put the replacements back in.

Picking the Right Headlight Bulb for Your Vehicle

Picking the Right Headlight Bulb for Your Vehicle

When considering getting new headlight bulbs, the most important aspect to pay attention to is that it fits your vehicle’s make and model. Other components to decide on for your replacement bulbs include how far in front and to the sides the bulb can light up, the color, and how long it is supposed to last.

Your local auto parts stores will likely carry a variety of different headlight bulbs for whatever you need, including HID or LED bulbs. You may also need to purchase two different kinds of bulbs if you want to install replacements for both your vehicle’s high beam bulbs and its low beam bulbs. Be sure to also pick a bulb package that is crisp and unbent to reduce the risk that you end up purchasing a broken bulb.

More Vehicle DIY

If there are cracks, fogginess, or other damage to the headlight housing unit on your vehicle, or the whole headlight including the plastic covering, you will need to have the whole unit replaced before you will be able to change a damaged or burned-out headlight bulb. When it is just the bulb that has gotten old or has burnt out, that is a simple repair that can be done at home with minimal tools that are available at any store that carries auto parts.

In addition to replacing your headlights, there are many at-home maintenance tasks you can perform to ensure your vehicle is in top shape. Take a look at our blog to learn more vehicle maintenance tips, tricks, and how-tos.

About Jenny Weatherall

Jenny has a passion for learning and sharing what she learns. She has researched, written and published hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including: SEO, design, marketing, ethics, business management, sustainability, inclusion, behavioral health, wellness, autos and work-life balance.