Ultimate Guide: Easy Hacks to Changing Your Headlight Bulb in 5 Minutes

In my experience as an automotive writer, I have seen a lot of posts out there that confuse between changing a headlight bulb and changing a headlight.

The latter refers to replacing an entire headlight assembly, which you can read about here, while the former addresses the process of just changing a single bulb that may have burned out.

There are videos on YouTube that teach you how to change a burned-out car headlight bulb by removing the entire headlight assembly and putting it back.

While there are cars that require you to do this, most don’t.

So, it’s highly important that you know how to replace a headlight bulb the right way.

This will not only save you time, but money as well.

After all, a burned-out light is definitely going to have the cops on you in no time. And the fine for driving without headlights can run upwards of $230.

Bad headlights also compromise your safety and that of other drivers.

In addition, you do not want to struggle driving in pitch darkness, or worse, find yourself in a collision.

How to replace your headlight bulb

Fortunately, learning how to change a car headlight bulb takes only a few minutes.

The actual process itself can even take less.

And you don’t have to be a mechanic to replace a headlight bulb. It’s one of those car problems that we talked about in my last post that you can easily fix yourself.

In this post, we’ll go over the nitty gritties of changing a headlight bulb together with all the important information that you will need.

This includes when you need to change your headlight bulb, the relevant tools and parts, costs implications, the process of replacing a headlight bulb, and answers to the questions asked the most.

Use the table of contents to navigate through the post if you’re interest lies in just one of these.

When Do You Need to Change Your Headlight Bulb

1. Burned out headlight

Changing your headlight bulb

A headlight that has burned out could mostly result from an old bulb that has reached its end of life.

Low-quality bulbs also tend to burn out prematurely.

As a rule of thumb, you should replace your headlight bulbs after every 2 years.

Avoid waiting longer than that because you may end up driving with a dim headlight for a long time before the bulb burns out.

2. Dim headlights

How to chnage your headlight bulb

There are several car problems that can cause a headlight bulb to dim over time.

For one, the inert gases within halogen bulbs tend react with the aging filament.

This creates a gray or brown film that builds on the inside causing the light output to reduce.

The only way to fix this is to buy new bulbs.

But before you do that, check the ground wiring and the electric connector for corrosion.

If they are corroded, quickly clean them by following the steps in this post.

It could also be that your headlight bulb covers are hazy and dirty.

Here’s how to clean them without having to replace the bulb.

3. Upgrading to brighter bulbs

How to replace your headlight bulb

Typically, factory headlight bulbs come with a light output of about 1,000 lumens.

This is especially where halogen bulbs have been installed.

You can easily replace your bulbs for much brighter options like Xenon HID or LED headlight bulbs.

This will give you a massive increase in light illumination, hence, improving your safety when driving at night. However, remember that the brighter the headlight bulb, the shorter it’s lifespan is likely to be.

4. Upgrading to aftermarket lamps to improve the appearance of your car

How to change your headlight bulb

In most countries, the law only accepts car manufacturers to use two colors for headlight bulbs – white or yellow.

These are normally available in a variety of tones.

In some countries, however, you can easily opt for colored headlight bulbs.

Available colors include green, blue, and purple.

Be sure to check the law in your country or state of residence before opting for any of these.

Tools you need when changing a headlight bulb

1. New light bulbs

2. Alcohol wipes and tissues

3. Philips screwdriver (optional depending on the type of car)

4. A pair of gloves

How to change your headlight bulb in less than 5 minutes

In most modern cars, you will not need any tools or extra equipment when changing a burned-out headlight bulb.

To start you off, park the car at a location you can easily and safely work on.

Remember to turn off the engine before working on your headlight.

1. Open the hood and locate your headlight

Easy hacks to changing a headlight bulb

Once you open the hood of your car, check to see if the back of the headlight is accessible from within the hood.

In some cars, the back of the headlight is normally completely exposed while in others, there’s a plastic cap protecting each bulb or all bulbs.

If there is a plastic cap, turn it anti-clockwise to remove it.

This will allow you to access the bulb.

2. Unplug the wiring harness

There will be a power connector with about three wires popping from it.

You need to unplug it from the headlight using its base.

Here’s how:

If it’s secured by a plastic catch, look for a little lever. Press on it with your thumb and pull out the connector gently.

If it’s secured by a metal clip, lift the metal clip to release the connector as you pull it away.

If it’s secured by a screw cap, you’ll need to unscrew the cap by turning it anti-clockwise and pulling away.

3. Remove the burned-out bulb

Easy hacks to changing a headlight bulb in 5 minutes

The old bulb is now exposed from the back.

Hold onto its base and gently pull it out. It should slide out easily.

If it feels stuck, rotate it slightly counter-clockwise before removing it. You can gently wiggle it to loosen it.

4. Replace the old bulb with the new

How to replace a burned-out headlight bulb

Before getting hold of your new bulb, put on some gloves and dampen your tissue or wipes with alcohol.

Clean the new bulb with the tissue.

You do not want the oils on your hands and fingers to get in contact with the glass bulb.

This could cause the bulb to burn out prematurely or immediately you turn it on.

Slide the new bulb into place, just where the old bulb was installed.

Confirm that it sits firm and all the way in.

5. Reconnect the wiring harness

How to change your headlight bulb

Put the wiring back. Ensure the power connector sits tight.

Remember to put back any protective plastic caps that you may have removed.

6. Test your bulbs

Close your hood and get back into the car.

Switch on the engine and test your headlights.

You can take a few minutes and marvel at your work.

But, if the headlight is still out, check to see if you connected the wiring as required.

You may not be able to replace your headlight bulb that easy in some cars…

Changing a headlight bulb should be easy.

But, believe it or not, there are some car manufacturers that have made it a rather time consuming process on some cars.

Such cars include the Infiniti Q37, Cadillac Escalade, GMC Acadia, BMW 5-Series, Nissan 350z, Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, among others.

There are different ways of replacing a headlight bulb in some of the more difficult models, such as the ones mentioned above.

But, the four main methods that I have encountered include:

1. Having to access the headlight bulb from the bottom of the car and through the wheel fender lining.

2. Having to remove another car part within the engine compartment to access the back of the headlight housing, such as the battery.

3. Having to remove a large protective plate that is found right under the hood and just above the headlights.

4. Having to unscrew the front grille to gain access to the headlight and the bulb.

There are plenty of videos on YouTube that teach you how to do these.

My advice, check your user manual first to see if your car manufacturer has detailed the process of changing your headlight bulb.

If you find the task too complicated, or that you need an exotic tool to replace your headlight bulbs, reach out to a professional for help.  

How to replace headlight bulbs on sealed-beam headlights

Older cars and work vehicles like trucks will typically have a sealed-beam headlight system that’s different from modern cars.

How to change your headlight bulb

Depending on the make and model you own, your car could either have a 2-light or 4-light system.

Both are pretty easy to work on, and only require you to have a Philips screwdriver.

You do not need to open the hood of your car. You can work on the burned out headlight from the front.

Here’s a quick step-by-step process that will help you get the task done:

1. Remove the exterior frame or ring

How to replace your headlight bulb

In older models, the sealed-beam headlight will have a protective ring or plate around it.

Rectangular headlights have 4 screws retaining it while round headlights have 3.

Use your Philips screw driver to unscrew the four retaining screws shown above and remove the plate or ring.

There are two other screws that are used to align the headlights. They are different from the other retaining screws.

How to replace your headlight bulb

Only unscrew these when you want to change the headlight angle.

The top screw is used to change the angle of the headlight so that it illuminates the beam either slightly upward or downward.

To aim the headlight a little higher, tighten the screw. To aim it lower, loosen it.

The side screw is used to change the headlight angle so that it illuminates the light beam a little further to the right or left.

To aim the right-hand-side headlight a little to the right, loosen the screw. To aim it to the left, tighten the screw. This applies vice versa if you’re working on the headlight on the left-hand side.

2. Remove the headlight

How to change your headlight bulb

After unscrewing the surrounding ring or plate, hold onto the headlight and pull it out slightly.

It will have a power connector at the back.

Wiggle the base a bit and unplug the connector.

Sometimes, it may pull out with the bulb as well. Detach it from the old bulb.

3. Remove the old bulb

How to change headlight bulb

If the power connector pulls off by itself leaving the bulb within the headlight, set it aside and remove the bulb.

Check to see if the power connector or the wiring are corroded.

If they are, clean the rust off with a wire brush.

4. Replace the old bulb with the new one


Put on some gloves and get dampen your wipes or tissue with some alcohol.

Clean the new bulb and install it into the headlight assembly. Make sure it clicks in place.

Plug in the power connector.

If your old bulb came off with the power connector, you’ll need to first connect the new bulb to the power connector before installing it into the headlight assembly.

5. Screw the headlight back in place

Hold the headlight in place as you screw in the retaining ring or plate.

Test your headlights to see if the new bulb works.

If the bulb is still out, you can have a professional look at it to diagnose and fix the problem.

You may not be able to easily replace your headlight bulb in some sealed-beam headlights…

How to replace a headlight bulb

In some vehicles, such as older work vans, you may not be able to access the bulb once you unscrew the headlight from the van.

This is especially, where the headlight is completely sealed form the back.

In that case, you’ll need to replace the entire headlight.

Just follow the steps detailed above and once you remove the old headlight from the van, connect the new one to the power connector and screw it back to the van.

How to replace a burned out tail light bulb

How to change your headlight bulb

The process of changing a tail light bulb that has burned out is slightly different from changing that of a headlight.

On some models, you’ll need to unscrew the tail light assembly from the inside of the trunk, while on others, you can easily do it from the outside.

On the outside, you may encounter tabs, knobs, and screws that allow you to access the bulb through the cover. Be careful not to lose any screws.

The old bulb should easily slide out with a bit of wiggling or turning.

You mostly won’t be required to remove the power connector or electrical wiring from the tail light, but be careful not to pull the assembly too far out. The wires might rip.

Remember to screw everything back into place once you’re done, and to test your tail lights by pushing the brake pedal and turning on the turn signal.

How much does it cost to replace your headlight bulb?

I’d advise you to replace a car headlight bulb by yourself. It’s cheaper and less time consuming compared to if you actually went to a mechanic for it. 

But if, for one or more reasons, you feel that going to a mechanic is a better option. Here’s what it will actually cost you to get your headlight bulb replaced at the auto repair shop.

The average cost of changing a car headlight bulb ranges between $85 and $109. Typically, labor costs could put you back between $35 and $45. Replacement parts are generally priced between $50 and $64.

How do I know what headlight bulb to get?

Before changing your headlight bulbs, here are four main methods you can use to determine the correct bulb size for your car.

1. Check your old factory bulb

Before disposing your old bulbs, check to see if they have their part number or bulb size indicated on them. Mostly, you’ll find it at the base of the bulb. Buy a new bulb with the exact same part number or size.

 2. Check your vehicle manual

Peruse through your vehicle owner’s manual for a bulb size or bulb part number. It could be a number such as 9005 or H1. You will mostly find your bulb details under the “Maintenance” section of the manual. 

3. Search Online

There are plenty of websites that offer a free online catalog for car bulbs. All you need to do is pick your vehicle type, its model, year of manufacture, and make. This will help generate the bulb type and size for you.

4. Contact your car dealership

If any of the above methods don’t work (which I highly doubt), you can give your vehicle manufacturer or car dealership a call to inquire about your bulb type and size.

They might request for your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to help them retrieve the information for you.

You can find your VIN on the lower-left hand side of the dashboard, in front of the engine, in the truck underneath the spare tire, the rear wheel well, driver’s door panel, or on the car frame next to the windshield washer container.

It will typically look like this: 2JHCN33KYNM211297.

For cars manufactured before 1981, it will have between 11 and 17 characters while for those manufactured after that date, it will have 17 characters.

Final Note:

Always replace your headlights in pairs.

If you replace just one of them, you may end up driving with one headlight that is brighter than the other.

Furthermore, if one headlight bulb starts to flicker or eventually burns out, the other may not be too far behind.