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how to change a headlight

How to Change a Headlight When Your Bulb Burns Out

Last updated: September 6, 2019
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No matter what vehicle model you own, you’re bound to experience a headlight outage at some point. When that time comes, knowing how to change a headlight will cut your vehicle expenses and keep you safe on the road.

It’s always unfortunate when a car issues arise, but burnt-out headlights are nothing to fear. Not only is the problem easy to fix, but it’s also one of the smaller costs you’ll encounter in your driving career. In this article, we’ll explain the potential consequences of driving without a headlight and walk you through how to change a headlight.

What Happens If I Drive With a Headlight Out?

how to change a headlight: car driving at sunset with colorful sky

Drivers are legally required to keep both headlights on between sunset and sunrise to keep you, other drivers, and pedestrians safe. If a police officer notices you have a headlight out, they will certainly pull you over.

Typically, if your headlight just burned out that day or if you were simply unaware, you’ll be let off with a warning. However, officers can use their discretion to decide whether you’ll be required to submit proof of the correction. If they suspect that you’ve been driving for a significant period of time without a headlight, you may be required to appear in court, or pay a fine and accept a violation on your record.

This latter violation can actually cost you your rideshare gig. Uber and Lyft are both known to do random annual background checks on drivers to ensure you are still an eligible contractor. If you incur four total moving violations on your record, you will no longer pass Uber’s background check and are unlikely to pass Lyft’s.

While it is possible for a lucky civilian driver to avoid consequences for some time when their headlight burns out, rideshare drivers don’t have the same luxury. Lyft and Uber both require your headlights to work when you accept trips, and breaking the rules is enough cause for passengers to lower your rating or even report you for unsafe driving. Ongoing complaints may be enough reason for deactivation from your rideshare platform.

How to Change a Headlight

under the hood of a mach 1 mustang

Changing a headlight yourself will allow you spend as little as $15 (the average price of a bulb), whereas professional installation may tack on $50 for. Luckily, changing a headlight is one of the simplest vehicle maintenance processes, and any amateur mechanic can complete this in approximately an hour.

First, you need to purchase a replacement bulb. If you’re unsure what type of bulb you need, you can consult your owner’s manual. You can also head to your local auto parts store and inform them of your car model and year, and a professional will help you make the correct purchase. To avoid contamination, do not open the headlight bulb packaging until instructed in our step-by-step process.

Once you have your new bulb ready, consult your owner’s manual. Different car models may require unique procedures and specific tools (usually a screwdriver or pliers) for headlight replacement. You’ll also want to grab a clean pair of gloves. If you’re working in a darker area or at night, a headlamp or flashlight will keep your process safe and efficient.

Also, note that the process below is specifically for replaceable headlight bulbs, which are the standard for the majority of rideshare-eligible, modern vehicles. If you find that you have sealed-beam headlights, which are more common with older vehicles, we recommend using the recommended procedure in your owner’s manual.

As soon as you’re all set, make sure your vehicle is turned off, and follow these steps to change your headlight:

  1. Open the hood of your car and locate the bulb holder in the engine compartment. This should be a plastic covering near the front of your vehicle (at the back of the headlight) with three wires attached to the rear.
  2. Remove the plug that attaches the wires to the holder. If the plug is a screw cap, simply turn the screw counterclockwise until it releases. Metal clips can be pulled up and out, while a plastic catch will have a lever for you to press and release.
  3. Remove the bulb holder and the burnt-out bulb. You should be able to pull it out from the base, rotating or jiggling it gently if needed.
  4. Put on clean gloves, and take the new bulb out of its packaging. It’s extremely important that you do not handle the glass with bare hands. Oils and dirt can cause your bulb to burn out soon or even immediately after plugging it in. Use a tissue to handle the bulb if you’re in a rush and don’t have clean gloves available.
  5. Holding your new headlight bulb by the base, plug it into the area your old bulb originally rested. Double-check that your new bulb is fully secured by ensuring everything is lined up and the rubber gasket is fully hidden.
  6. Return the bulb holder back to its original position, and plug the wires back in.
  7. Turn on your headlights to ensure the new bulb is working correctly, testing it in all headlight settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

volvo headlights shining through trees at night

The headlight replacement process is simple for drivers at all skill levels. To help you further understand what to do when a headlight burns out, we’ve answered a handful of frequently asked questions:

1. What do I do if one of my headlights go out after I’ve accepted a trip request?

If one of your headlights goes out while you’re in the middle of a trip with a passenger in the vehicle, you’re usually okay to complete a short-distance trip. However, if you’ve just picked up your rider or you expect to be driving for at least 15 additional minutes, you may want to offer to end the trip early so they can request another rideshare vehicle.

Regardless of the situation, it’s always best to be transparent with your riders so they can make a safe decision for themselves. Once you’ve dropped off your rider at their destination or at a safe location (if they opted to end the trip early), head home immediately and wait until sunrise to purchase a new bulb and change your headlight.

2. My headlight bulbs are fine, but my headlight housing is damaged. Is there a DIY process I can follow to replace the housing?

DIY headlight housing replacement is only recommended for drivers who are highly familiar with car repairs, as the process is more complicated and sometimes requires specialty tools. Plus, common Lyft and Uber car models like the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion require you to first remove the front bumper fascia (the decorative panel above your bumper) before you can start replacing the housing.

Because headlight housing materials are also considerably more expensive than a headlight bulb, it’s usually best to leave the replacement process to the hands of a professional.

3. How long can I expect my new headlights to last?

The average lifespan of a headlight is 2,000 hours, though this can vary immensely based on the type of bulb. For example, halogen headlights may last up to 1,000 hours, while more expensive HID lights can last you up to 3,000 hours. Don’t purchase lower-quality bulbs to save money. A higher-quality product will save you from investing in new bulbs after a relatively short period of time.

4. Why did both of my headlight bulbs burn out at once?

Unless you have incredibly bad luck, there’s a good chance this is an electrical issue. You may need to check for power, a bad fuse, or wiring problems. Before you begin diagnosing your issue using these suggestions, you may want to check if your headlights are completely out, or if only your high-beam or low-beam setting is working properly. Headlight bulbs that are only working in one setting may point to a different cause.

Save on Repairs

By understanding how to change a headlight, you can save more than half the price of a professional headlight bulb replacement. The steps to complete this repair are extremely simple and can be done straight from home — no specialty tools required. Within an hour, your headlights will both be shining brightly once again.

Changing a headlight is just one of a handful of easy skills that a rideshare driver should possess. Next, try learning how to change a flat tire to get back on the road quickly.

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