How to Replace a Car Headlight

Rats, one headlight quit working, or only works on high beam, or doesn’t work on high beam.  This is an easy fix!

Open the Hood

Open the hood. If that’s new to you, take a look at the post How to Check Your Oil. There’s a good description of it there.

Find the Headlight Bulb Assembly

Find the headlight bulb. Reach down inside the fender until you can feel a pair of wires that disappear near where the back of where the headlight should be. It takes a little imagination if you can’t quite see it, but there’s only one set of wires, and it ends at the back of the headlight bulb.

Disconnect the Headlight Cable

The headlight cable ends in a plastic connector at the back of the headlight bulb. It takes a little bit of fiddling, but you will find a squeeze-type latch on the connector. 

Some connectors have a little plastic tab – this is tough because you’re only able to feel it – on the sides, while others simply squeeze into place. Some have plastic tabs on the ends rather than the sides. 

Gently work these little tabs with your fingers until the connector comes loose. Have patience, it will come off. The good news is that it sort of a pain to get it loose, but it will just snap into place when you put it back on.

You might break off one of the tabs – lord knows they’re not made of steel. That’s okay – it just means that the connector will be tight, but not super tight, when you reconnect it.

Remove the Old Headlight Bulb

The bulb is mounted into a plastic base that is itself twisted into the back of the headlight lens.  

You’ll find the base exactly where you removed the connector. Grasp it firmly with your fingers and turn it a quarter turn to your left, counterclockwise. It will go loose.

Now simply pull the bulb assembly out of the car. 

The bulb itself is an interesting glass torpedo-shaped item. If you look carefully, you can see little wires inside. One of them will be broken. That’s why it doesn’t work.

Install the New Headlight Bulb

While you should read the instructions on the package carefully, the big takeaway is that you should never touch the glass on the new bulb. It burns super hot when it’s turned on, and the grease from your fingers make hotspots that will cause it to explode. Explode. So, be careful not to touch the glass. Fortunately, they’re designed to make them easy to install.

Push the base assembly into the hole left by the old bulb. Turn the bulb a quarter turn to the right, clockwise, so that it latches firmly into the hole. It may take a little bit of fidgeting to get it straight, but keep trying, It’s not hard. You’ll know when it locks correctly in place.

Connect the Headlight Cable

The wire connector only goes on one way, and will snap into place. Even if you broke off one of the tabs, you’ll still be able to feel the connector lock on.

You’re done. Now turn on the headlights and see the results of your hard labor. Some people replace both headlights at a time, with the reasoning that they are both of the same age. This is true for new cars, but, if you’re not the first owner of the car, you can’t know when either bulb was last replaced.

Now, this process can work equally well for tail lights, side marker lights, and even most third brake lights. 

If your car is a bit older, it might just have a big glass light bulb up there. The process is the same, except you remove the entire lens assembly rather than just the bulb itself.

Please Note:  Do not use this procedure if you are not certain that you can complete it safely, or if it does not seem accurate. Skippity Whistles provides this information as advice, and cannot accept any liability from your usage of it.


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Published by John D Reinhart

Author, technical writer, videographer, actor, and naval historian John D Reinhart is a very busy guy. You can find his novels as

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