Working headlights are essential for driving any car safely, but they occasionally go out. Knowing how to change a headlight bulb and what to look for when the front of your car goes dark can help you quickly remedy the problem.
Check if the headlight bulb is out
Determining the cause of a headlight issue begins simply by observing. First, put your headlights on to see if it’s just one light that’s out. If one is out, 90% of the time the light will go back on by simply replacing the bulb.
One quick test, if you don’t have a bulb handy or if you are out on the road when you notice the headlight issue, is to pull over and tap the light with your fist, which sometimes will make it go on.
If it goes on, that means the filament is burnt out. When you hit it, you’re shaking the filament and, if this makes contact, it actually lights up. This can at least enable you to make it to an area where you can have the light repaired.
When you’re selecting for bulbs your vehicle, think about:
- Throw distance or how far you can see down the road. One of the most important aspects for seeing better at night is looking ahead, being able to see twists and turns or obstacles in the road. Seeing farther gives you the chance to react more quickly in the dark.
- Color temperature. Some bulbs feature a warmer white, while some feature a cooler white. A cooler white will give you greater contrast and clarity – especially on reflective surfaces like road markings or road lines.
- Bulb life, or how long a bulb lasts.
Benefits of different bulbs
- Sylvania Basics are the longest-lasting bulbs on the shelf and they’ll closely match what came in your vehicle from the factory.
- XtraVision bulbs are rated for more down road vision and longer throw distance.
- Silverstar bulbs pair more down road vision with a cooler whiter light color.
- Silverstar Ultra gives the same Silver star white light with the farthest down road field of vision of any Sylvania bulb.
- ZXE are incredibly powerful halogen bulbs that give the look and feel of an HID or LED system with no conversion kit and no worries about the bulbs being street legal.
How To Replace Headlight Bulbs
1. Safety First
You want to protect your hands and face with safety gloves and goggles during this installation. You’ll be holding sensitive bulbs and potentially reaching into some tight spots, so make sure you’re protected.
2. Replace Both Bulbs (Recommended)
If you’re replacing one bulb, it’s a good idea to replace them both. It’ll save you time later and ensure you’re looking at even lighting on the road.
3. Identify the High and Low Beam Placement
Most vehicles have a separate bulb for the high beam and the low beam, but some vehicles use one bulb for both. If your vehicle has two bulbs, the low beam bulb is usually on the outside, and the high beam is usually on the inside. Test this or check a repair guide to be sure of your vehicle.
4. Gain Access to The Lights (This Varies)
This is where you’ll run into the most variance. Some headlights are stored in removable, easy-to-access assemblies that usually come out after removing a few screws. Take those out, and you can lay the headlight assembly onto the fascia to reach the bulbs.
5. Remove the Plug by Releasing the Clip
When you’re removing the plug for the bulb, a pocket screwdriver helps to release the clip. These can be stiff sometimes, especially if it’s an older vehicle.
6. Remove the Old Bulb
Simply grab the bulb casing and turn it counter-clockwise. When the tabs line up, you can pull it straight out.
7. Identify the Correct High and Low Beam Bulbs
If your vehicle uses different bulbs for the high and low beams, they may have different part numbers. The higher number is usually the low beam.
8. Install the New Bulb
To install the bulb, line up the tabs turn clockwise about a quarter turn until you hear a click. Install these one at a time so you don’t get confused as to whether you’re replacing a high or low beam.
9. Install on Both Sides
Even if one of the lights is still working. It’s always a good idea to replace bulbs in pairs for maximum safety and visibility.
10. Test the Headlights
With your bulbs installed, turn the headlights on and cycle through the high and low beams to make sure everything is working properly.
If your replacement headlight bulb doesn’t work
Ultimately, if you replace a bulb and that doesn’t work, then you have to test the fuses and the wiring. If you have power going to the fuses and no power going to your light, you’re having a wiring problem. It could be that a wire broke somewhere, got pinched, or something like that.
Another thing to consider if you recently changed a halogen bulb is whether the replacement bulb was appropriate for your plug. Halogen bulbs today run very hot, and some car parts stores sell brighter or colored replacements over the counter that are touted as better for visibility but that run even hotter.
So, what happens with a stock OEM plug that the car came with from the factory is that it can’t handle this extra wattage. It starts to melt, and then it makes a bad connection and your light goes out. At that point you can’t even put a new bulb in, you have to change the whole light socket.
What causes car headlights to go out?
1. Old age
The most common culprit for a burned-out light is age. You could be driving and not notice that one of your headlights is out, and then, since the other one is the same age, within weeks that one might just go bad, too. Suddenly the problem becomes scarily apparent.
2. Extreme cold and heat
Besides age, extreme cold or heat can also cause headlights to burn out. The changes in temperature can impact the lightbulb filament, which is very delicate.
With newer halogen bulbs, another cause of dimming lights can be oxidation of the plastic housing, causing it to appear white or yellowish. 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. Cracks in bulb housing
In addition, any cracks in the housing can cause halogen bulbs to burn out because they can’t take any moisture. So, you could put a new bulb in there and within a day or two it will blow out because of the humidity and the wetness.
Also, these bulbs cannot be touched by your fingers; if you’re installing them, you have to use rubber gloves because if you put your finger on the bulb the salt from your sweat will burn that bulb right out.