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Last Updated on March 30, 2020 by Team TRA

As a car owner, you’ll save a lot of money if you can take of a few repair tasks yourself. In this guide, we’ll show you how to change a headlight.

On average, people who own new vehicles will spend upwards of $1,200 every year maintaining them. The cost of car maintenance jumps over time, too, with many people paying significantly more than $1,200 per year to maintain older vehicles.

With that in mind, people should get into the habit of performing their own car maintenance whenever possible. They can change their oil, top off fluids, fill their tires up with air, and even learn how to change a headlight.

Changing a headlight in your vehicle will usually only take a few minutes. In most cases, a regular halogen bulb will also only cost you in the $15 to $20 range. But you might be forced to pay as much as $100 if you go to a mechanic to change a headlight bulb rather than doing it yourself.

This guide will show you how to change a headlight bulb.

Learn Why It’s So Important to Change a Headlight that’s Gone Out

Before you learn how to change a headlight, let’s take a few moments to go over why it’s so important for you to do it as soon as you realize that you have a headlight out.

First and foremost, driving around with one headlight or, worse, no headlights is extremely dangerous. Other drivers won’t be able to see you at night, and you won’t be able to see very far down the road when you’re behind the wheel. It could potentially lead to accidents.

Driving around with one headlight or no headlights is also illegal. If a police officer sees you driving without your headlights on, you could receive a ticket and be forced to pay a fine.

You should make sure you have two functioning headlights at all times. It’ll keep you safe and prevent you from running into trouble with the law.

Gather the Tools You’ll Need to Replace a Headlight Bulb

Now that you know why you need to learn how to replace a headlight, let’s go over what you’ll need to actually do it.

Headlight Bulb Color

You won’t need any high-tech tools to get the job done. But you will need a few tools to pull it off. They are as follows:

  • Your vehicle owner’s manual: It will tell you what kind of bulbs you need for your headlights as well as what you’ll need to do in order to get access to your headlights
  • Screwdriver: A lot of newer cars don’t have screws holding headlights into place. But some older models will have screws that you’ll need to unscrew to get to your headlights and the various parts inside of them
  • Rubbing alcohol: You’re going to want to wipe a bulb down before inserting it into your headlight housing. Rubbing alcohol or even alcohol wipes will do the trick
  • Safety glasses: Changing a headlight is a relatively safe job. But if you want to take an extra precaution, put on safety glasses to protect your eyes while you’re changing your bulb

As long as you have these tools handy, you shouldn’t have any trouble changing a bulb on your own.

Replacing a Headlight Bulb

Figure Out What Kind of Bulbs are Used in Your Vehicle’s Headlights

All headlight bulbs are not created equal. Some vehicles rely on halogen bulbs while others have HID bulbs in them.

Headlight Projector Schematic
Schematic of Replaceable Headlight Bulbs

Prior to changing one or both of your headlights, you’ll need to figure out which kind of bulb your vehicle uses. If you purchase the wrong type of bulb, it won’t fit into your vehicle.

There are a couple of really easy ways to find out which type of bulb you’ll need to buy for your vehicle. You can either:

  • Consult your vehicle owner’s manual and see what kind of bulbs it says you’ll need to buy
  • Utilize an online bulb finder that will allow you to track down the type of bulbs you’ll need to buy based on your vehicle make and model and the year it was made

Pay special attention to the type of bulb that is recommended for you and the wattage of it.

Once you have your bulb ready to go, it’s simply a matter of following a series of 12 steps to change your headlight.

Here is exactly how you’ll do it.

How to Change a Headlight: 12 Steps

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Follow these easy steps and you’ll be shining bright in no time.

1. Open Your Vehicle’s Hood and Prop It Up

A vehicle’s headlights are located on the outside of it. So some vehicle owners will attempt to change a headlight by trying to pop it out from the outside of their car.

This is not the right way to go about doing it. Instead, you’ll need to get access to your headlights from under the hood of your car.

Pop your vehicle’s hood from your driver’s seat and then step outside of your car and open it up. Prop the hood open so that it stays up without you having to hold it the whole time.

Look in the area behind where your headlights are located. This is where you’re going to focus your time and energy while replacing a headlight that has gone out.

2. Disconnect the Power to the Headlight That Needs to Be Replaced

After you find your headlights under your hood, it’ll be time for you to disconnect the power to them so that you can replace your bulb.

There should be a power connector that is connected to the back of your headlight. Take that power connector and disconnect it so that it’s no longer attached to your headlight.

In most cases, a power connector will pop right off without much effort on your part. But you might have to twist it slightly to get it to come off. Just don’t pull too hard on it, as you don’t want to do any damage to that connector and be forced to undergo more serious car repairs.

3. Take the Dust Cover Off Your Headlight

Once you have the power connector disconnected, the next thing you’ll focus on is the dust cover. The dust cover works to prevent dust from getting into your headlights and making them dirty.

Remove the dust cover gently to expose the inside of your headlight. Just like with the power connector, the dust cover will typically pop right off. But if it doesn’t, try twisting it ever so gently to loosen it so that it comes off.

4. Release the Bulb From the Clip That Holds It in Place

Not all cars have a clip that is designed to hold the bulb in a headlight in place. But there are some that have these clips to prevent a bulb from moving around once it’s installed.

Unhooking a Headlight

If you find that your headlight does have a clip like this in it, press down on it to release your bulb from the clip’s grasp. If your headlight doesn’t have a clip in it, you won’t have to worry about this step.

5. Carefully Remove the Bulb From the Headlight

At this point, it’ll finally be time for you to take your old bulb out. Reach into your headlight, get a firm grip on the housing of your old bulb, and remove it.

The old bulb will usually come right out. But if it doesn’t, you may need to wiggle it just a bit to loosen it up. At that time, it should slide out easily.

One thing you don’t want to do, under any circumstances, pulls on the bulb while holding onto the glass part of it or tug on the bulb aggressively in any way.

This could lead to the bulb breaking, which will make it even harder for you to remove it on your own.

6. Compare Your New Bulb to Your Old Bulb to Make Sure They Match

Is your old bulb out? Great! You’re halfway done changing your headlight and will be back out on the road in no time.

It’s almost time to put your new bulb into place. But before you do, hold your new bulb up next to your old bulb and see if they match. They should look the same to the naked eye.

If for whatever reason, you find that your new bulb and old bulb look even slightly different, there’s a good chance you grabbed the wrong bulb when buying it. Consult your owner’s manual to see where you went wrong.

Whatever you do, don’t just install the new bulb at this point and hope for the best. That could be a recipe for disaster.

7. Wipe Down Your New Bulb to Ensure It’s Clean

If your new bulb and old bulb match up, you’re free to begin the process of installing your new bulb.

Insert New Headlight Bulb

The first part of this process is to wipe your new bulb down with rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes. This will remove any dirt, dust, or debris from them and get rid of your fingerprints.

Hold the new bulb by its housing during this step to avoid getting anything on the glass part once it’s been cleaned.

8. Insert Your New Bulb Into the Socket in Your Headlight

After your new bulb is 100 percent clean, line up its housing with the socket located inside your headlight. Slowly insert the housing into the socket and push it into place.

Don’t push too hard and don’t touch the glass on your new bulb at any point while completing this step. Make sure that your new bulb is securely in place before proceeding to the next step.

9. Twist the New Bulb Into Place, If Necessary

Most of the time, pushing your new bulb into the socket in your headlight will be the only thing you’ll need to do to connect it.

But in some cars, you’ll also need to twist the bulb slightly to lock it into the socket and keep it tight. Try twisting the bulb to see if it’ll twist. If it doesn’t feel like it’ll twist freely, don’t force it.

Your new bulb should be secure by now.

10. Reconnect the Clip, Dust Cover, and Power Connector to Your Bulb

With your new bulb in place, it’s now time for you to reconnect everything that you took apart at the beginning of this process.

Begin by replacing the clip inside your headlight if you have one. This clip will hold your new bulb in place and prevent it from moving around at any time as you drive.

After that’s finished, put your headlight’s dust cover back on. You might want to wipe it down before you do if it has a lot of dust on the outside of it. It’s likely going to be the last time you touch the dust cover for a while, so take advantage of the opportunity.

Finally, reattach the power connector and ensure it’s on tight. Your new bulb should be all ready to go.

11. Test Your Headlights and See If They’re Both Working

If you did everything listed here correctly, your headlights should be back in business. But before you pack everything up and get back behind the wheel, test your headlights out.

Turn your headlights on and see if both of them are working. Turn them on and off a few times to test them further.

As long as everything looks OK, the job should be done!

12. Close Your Vehicle’s Hood and Get Back Out on the Road

You have successfully changed a headlight in your car on your own. Reward yourself for working through this process. You’ve now learned how to replace a headlight bulb!

Close the hood and start driving it again. You won’t have to worry about your missing headlight putting you in danger or causing legal issues anymore.

Further Reading

If you’ve never done it before, learning how to change a headlight might sound overwhelming to you.

But it’s actually a lot easier than it might seem. As long as you have the right bulb and a few minutes to spare, you can change your headlight and save yourself a nice chunk of change while you’re doing it.

Want to learn how to do other basic car maintenance tasks? Read our blog for more how-to guides and helpful tips on taking care of your car.

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