Light It Up

By Sharon Naylor

April 3, 2015 6 min read

When you have a headlamp out on your car, it's important to fix it right away, for your safety, the safety of other drivers and to avoid getting a ticket. It is possible to change your own headlamp, rather than spend the time and money having your car dealership or mechanic complete this task. You just need to consult your car's manual for information and instructions and then tackle the job with the utmost of care.

*What You'll Need to Know

First, you'll need to know what kind of headlamp your car has. There are usually two kinds of headlamps: sealed beam headlamps and composite headlamps, each with different light-changing instructions.

You'll also need to know which kind of bulb your headlamp needs. That information can be found in your car's manual and by checking the parts on your car. It's a good idea to bring that spent lightbulb into your car supplies store to have an expert match it to a new product you'll install by checking their car reference material.

*What You'll Need to Have

Additional supplies to get at the car supply store include: a screwdriver set and any tools your car's manual recommends; cleaning cloths; and rubber gloves. It's also a good idea to spread out a solid-colored sheet beneath your working area so that any dropped screws or parts will be more easily found than if you're on a paved or gravel driveway.

*Changing a Headlamp on a Newer-Model Car

Matthew Wright, an About.com auto repair expert, says that in cars with halogen headlamps, you'll find the bulbs loaded into the back of the lens. This procedure covers most halogen headlight systems with bulbs loaded into the back of the lens.

First, locate the bulb holder. With your car hood propped open safely and your car completely turned off, look at the back of the headlight and locate the bulb holder, which will have three wires coming out of a trapezoid-shaped plug. This plug will be secured in place by a metal clip, plastic catch or a screw cap. Following the instructions in your car manual, you'll remove this wiring harness. If your system has a plastic catch, press down the small lever you'll see sticking up at the top of the plug. As you press this down, pull gently but firmly on the plug. It should slide off.

For a metal clip harness removal system, pull up and away, and the plug will come off. For a screw cap, simply turn the screw cap counter-clockwise for removal.

"With the wiring out of the way, you should be able to pull the bulb out by holding onto the base where the plug was situated," says Wright. "In some cases, you may have to rotate the bulb slightly for it to release."

Don't just insert your new bulb. It's important to avoid getting oils from your fingers on the glass part of this new bulb, since oils can cause the light bulb to burn out prematurely. Use a tissue or clean rag to hold the bulb if you must hold it by the glass and not the base.

Insert the new bulb into the back of the headlight and twist it into place, making sure that it's inserted evenly with none of the light bulb's rubber gasket showing. Plug the wiring back in to then test your lights.

*Changing a Headlamp on an Older Car

In many instances, older cars have sealed beam lights, say the experts at Napa Auto Parts. This type of headlamp has special light housing, and the headlamps come in a 2- to 4-lamp system, either round or rectangular.

Again, turn your car off completely, and then locate and remove the protective cover and retaining ring -- they will usually be screwed in and may require a Phillips screwdriver or Torx tool to remove. The Napa Auto Parts experts recommend holding the headlamp as you unscrew the case to avoid dropping and shattering it.

Next, pull the wiring connector off of the prongs on the back of the light. You may need to clean the connector socket with electric contact clearer, and it's best to inspect the wires for wear. On older cars, aged wiring can pose a problem with your headlamp performance. If you see wiring damage, take your car to the dealer or a mechanic for a professional fix.

Attach the new headlamp into place, fitting it into the prongs and making sure the headlamp is right side up, a common mistake on first attempt.

Replace the retaining ring and protective cover, and then test to see if your lights work.

If your headlamp still does not work after these steps, there may be a fuse or electric problem affecting your headlamp's performance. In this case, it's best to take your car in for a professional assessment and repairs.

Of course, each make and model of car, and the age of the car, will determine the types of parts you'll need and the housing and wiring systems you'll encounter, so follow the directions in your owner's manual carefully. If the task seems too complicated to even attempt, it's worth the investment to have a car care expert handle the repair and to check that your headlamps are both in proper alignment before you drive at night.

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