For any driver, nothing can be quite as scary as driving through a new part of town, heading down the freeway, or getting lost, and all of a sudden the headlight bulbs burn out. This is something that has happened to most of us at some point or another, but if you know how to get the job done yourself, you can easily keep up on replacing them so you won’t ever have to worry about getting stuck driving in the dark ever again. Obviously, a car’s headlights should be properly maintained considering they’re a very important piece of safety gear on your car, truck, or SUV. If one or both of the headlight bulbs are burned out, then you’re at risk of getting into an accident or you may even get a fix-it ticket. Fortunately, learning how to change headlight bulb is fairly simple. Plus, doing it yourself is a more affordable option than taking it to a mechanic.
How to change headlight bulb involves just six simple steps:
- Pop open the hood and locate the back of the headlights
- Remove the back of the headlight and locate the bulb holder
- Remove the burned out bulb
- Ensure you have the correct type of replacement bulb
- Insert the new bulb back into the bulb holder
- Secure the bulb holder based on the type of catch it has.
And that’s it.
Now, let’s get a little more in-depth with the whole process and see what you need to do step-by-step.
Did you know that changing your own headlight bulbs can actually save you two or three hundred dollars? Mechanics charge a high fee for a job that you can easily do in a matter of minutes. If you’ve read my guide on how to pass emissions test, then you know that my instructions on how to get the job done yourself are very straightforward, so you should have no trouble with this basic car maintenance task. Fortunately, as long as you have the right bulbs, anyone can easily change out their headlight bulbs, however, there are some tips and tricks you should follow to ensure you get the job done right the first time.
You should check your car’s headlights weekly, or right before a particularly long drive. The headlights should be inspected in broad daylight since you don’t ever want to get stuck driving at night without them. Even in bright sunlight, checking the bulbs is as simple as switching them on and ensuring that both bulbs are burning brightly. If you notice one of the bulbs is very dim or burned out altogether, then find out what type of replacement bulb you need to purchase. If you’re not sure where to find that information, start with the owner’s manual. If you’re still not able to locate the info, then head to your local auto parts store. To find out the right size, you’ll need to know the correct, model, make and year of your vehicle. You can also just bring in the burned-out bulb for faster help. The staff at the auto parts store should be able to easily help you match it to a new one.
The First Steps
In most cases, you won’t need to purchase any new tools in order to get this job done. However, you may need to use a screwdriver or a pair of pliers. Before you do anything, make sure you’ve read your user’s manual. Double-check that your car or truck is shut off and parked in a safe area where you can work on it without worrying about traffic.
Next, you’ll pop open the hood of your car, and search for the bulb holder, which is located in the back of the headlight itself. The bulb holder should have a few wires that come out of a trapezoid-shaped plug. The plug is actually located at the base of the headlight and is held in place by a screw cap, metal clip, or a plastic catch. If the headlight has a simple plastic catch, then you will need to locate a small lever that’s sticking out of the top of the plug. Press down on the lever using your thumb as you gently, but firmly tug on it. It should easily slide off. If it has a metal clip, then pull away and up and the plug should come off easily. With a screw cap, all you have to do is turn it counterclockwise to unscrew the plug.
Once the wiring it out of your way you can pull the bulb out by grabbing the plug at the base and slightly rotating it in order to release it. Some bulbs need to be gently wiggled out of the holder.
Replacing the Bulb
Before you even take the new bulb out of the package, make sure you have a clean rag handy. Try to avoid touching the bulb’s glass and instead use the rag to firmly grasp it. Unfortunately, if the oil from your skin makes contact with the glass it can cause it to burn out as soon as the headlight is switched on. Holding the plug end of the bulb, gently stick it into the headlight. Make sure you carefully check to ensure it’s in all the way. You’ll be able to determine if it’s installed correctly because it will be evenly lined up. Additionally, when installed correctly none of the rubber gasket portion of the bulb should be visible.
The next step is plugging the wires back in and securing the headlight. Testing out your new bulb is merely a matter of turning your headlights back on. If the bulb doesn’t light up, you will need to go back and check out the wiring to ensure everything has been connected securely.
Older Style Headlights
If you’re working on an older vehicle, the headlights may consist of a sealed unit will a lens, reflector, and a lighting filament. The headlights that are used in new vehicles are much simpler to replace. If you have an older model vehicle you may need to special order the bulbs. In any case, if you’re not sure, stop by your local auto parts store. If they don’t carry it already then they’ll probably be able to special order it for you.
When Should I Replace the Bulbs?
This may sound like a silly question, but it’s actually not. I don’t recommend waiting for your bulbs to burn out before you replace them since this will often happen at night, when you’re driving. Instead, why not be prepared and replace the bulbs every four to six months? If you don’t want to replace the bulbs that often, then at least make sure you replace both of the bulbs when one bulb burns out. Essentially, you know the other bulb will burn out relatively soon, so why not kill two birds with one stone?
What Type of Safety Equipment Should I Keep in My Vehicle?
Obviously, a jack and a spare tire should always be kept in your vehicle, since flats are unpredictable. Aside from a tire and jack, you should also keep the best portable jump starter on hand, in the event you end up with a dead battery one morning. I recommend the NOCO Genius Boost Plus GB40 jump starter, which features an intuitive design that makes it very beginner-friendly. You should also keep a first aid kit, flares, and an empty gas can in your trunk. If you’re planning a long trip across the country, then you should get a tune-up prior to your trip to ensure you won’t run into car trouble along the way.
How Much Does it Cost to Have a Professional Change the Headlight Bulbs?
On average the cost for changing headlight bulbs is between $190 and $290. The cost for this type of service can vary from place to place and can depend on the make and model of your vehicle or even the type of engine it has. As you can see, the cost to have this task done professionally is pretty steep, which is why it pays to learn how to do this simple job on your own. If you do it yourself, you’ll only have to worry about the cost of the bulbs, which should only run you about twenty dollars per bulb. If you have an older vehicle, the cost may be slightly more or less, depending on the make and model of your vehicle.
As you can see, how to change headlight bulbs is pretty simple. If it’s your first time doing so, it shouldn’t take you more than fifteen minutes per bulb. The next time around you should be able to change out each bulb in under ten minutes. Again, if you’re not sure what type of bulbs your car or truck uses, make sure you bring down the burned-out bulb to an auto parts store to ensure you bring back the right size and style of bulb. If you stay on top of changing out your bulbs regularly, you can easily avoid dangerous situations in which you’re driving on the freeway late at night without your headlights. Remember, change out your bulbs every four to six months, depending on how often you use them and if one bulb burns out, change the other, regardless, at the same time.