Replace Your Headlight Bulb in 5 Minutes!

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Light's Out! You Need a New Headlight Bulb

headlight bulb
Replacing a headlight bulb is a cheap, 5-minute job. Nicolas Loran/Stockbyte

If you forget to periodically check your headlights, there's a fleet of black-and-white cruisers who will gladly do it for you. Unfortunately they charge quite a bit, and that's if you don't have to show up in court with a picture of your car with both lights on to prove that you fixed it. So go ahead and take a peak at the front of your car. If you're lazy you can wait until you're behind a big trailer and check them from your driver's seat.

If you have a headlight bulb out, you can pay the guy at the oil change shop four times the price of a new bulb, and he'll take care of it. But that's not you! You do things yourself, so go ahead and make it happen!

This procedure covers most halogen headlight systems with bulbs loaded into the back of the lens. If your car has sealed beam headlights, this won't help (but that job is super easy, too). If your actual headlight glass needs to be replaced, here's how to replace the headlight lens

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Getting Ready to Replace the Bulb

This is the 3-wire headlight plug.
This plug needs to be removed. Matt Wright

What you'll need:

Usually no tools at all!

Locate the Bulb Holder

With the hood propped safely open, look around to the back of the headlight and locate the bulb holder. It will have three wires coming out of a plug that is shaped like a trapezoid.

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Unplugging the Headlight Wiring

This metal clip holds the bulb in.
Unhook the bulb holder. photo mw

Remove the Wiring Harness

The three wires are attached to a plug that is at the base of the headlight itself. This plug will be held in by a plastic catch, a metal clip, or in some cases a screw cap.

For a plastic catch, you'll see a little lever sticking up at the top of the plug. Press this down with your thumb while you pull firmy but gently on the plug. It should slide off.

For a metal clip, just pull up and away and it will come off in your hand. Try not to drop it, when these things hit the pavement the clips are like stick-bugs in the woods, hard to see.

For a screw cap, simply unscrew it by turning it counter-clockwise (the old righty-tighty/lefty loosey might get confusing since you are doing the reacharound.)

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Out With the Old Headlight Bulb

Pull the seal off.
The bulb may be behind a rubber seal. Matt Wright

Remove the Old Bulb

With the wiring out of the way, you should be able to pull the bulb out by holding onto the base (the thing that the plug was in). In some cases, you may have to rotate the bulb slightly for it to release, but this is rare these days. Feel free to gently wiggle at this point!

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In With the New Bulb

Don't touch the glass!
Hold the bulb with a towel. Matt Wright

Put the New Bulb in Place

Before you take the new bulb out of the packaging, grab a tissue or a clean rag. If the oils on your skin get on the glass bulb, it can burn out prematurely, in some cases the same day. If you must touch the glass, do so with the tissue. You shouldn't have to.

Holding the bulb's plug end, stick it into the back of the headlight. Be sure to visually confirm that it's all the way in. You can tell because it will be lined up evenly and none of the bulb's rubber gasket will be showing.


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Light Up Your Life

Lights on!
Let there be light!. Matt Wright

Plug the wiring back in and re-secure the bulb. Test it now. If you see a white bulb come on now it'll be a lot better than seeing your favorite blue-and-red bulbs in the rear view mirror later. You're finished! And the road to Automotive Empowerment continues...

Have a bad tail light or turn signal bulb? I can help you replace those bulbs too!