How to Change a Headlight Your Complete Guide 1

The cost you pay to your car mechanic per hour of work can be steep. Rates hover just under $50 to just over $200 per hour of labor according to AAA in 2017. Rates vary across the country and are usually based on operating costs for each location. These rates can be enough to convince you to do some of the labor yourself, especially when it’s a simple fix like your changing your headlight. But how exactly do you change your car headlight, you ask? To help, we’ve put together this simple guide on how to change a headlight.

Keep reading for the simple steps to follow, then grab some replacement headlights and bring on the light so you can get back out on the road in style and without forking out a big wad of cash and time spent going to the mechanic.

1. Get a New Headlight to Replace the Burned out One

If you don’t know what type of bulb you need, check your manual, call your mechanic, call a dealership, or ask an auto-parts store.  

Most lights these days are LED (light-emitting-diode bulbs) or HID (high-intensity-diode bulbs). But sometimes you need to dig further if you have an older car for compatibility or if you want to upgrade your headlight.

And oftentimes, you’ll be in luck looking because some of the newer parts fit with older models, with a few adjustments.

For example, if you have a 1999-2000 (NB1) Miata, you can upgrade the headlights to that of the 2001-2005 (NB2) Miata with the nice facelift. But you’ll have to get the NB2 bumper and do some wire mods because the NB2 uses two bulbs whereas the NB1 used one bulb for both high and low beams.

So, do your research and check the model and upgrade guides for your specific vehicle. You can find great intel for more-complicated swaps at a good auto-parts store online, like this guide for the Miata example.

Once you know exactly what you need, buy it and get started. We’re sticking with a simple headlight swap here so just modify as needed.

2. Get the Old Headlight out

Most headlights are kept in place by retainers that are like bayonets or clips made out of thin wire and plugged into your car. You can simply unplug them and pop them out.

To do this, first, open the hood of your car. Find the backside of the housing of the headlight that’s the culprit. Look for the wiring. It should be easy to spot. 

You can also look for a small rotating panel or hinged panel in the wheel wells upfront. If opened, this will give you more room to work, but not all cars have this.

Now your goal is to unplug and take off whatever is holding the light in. This may mean screws that you’ll need to take out. Be sure to keep different types of screws separate and label them so you know which to use when putting the new lamp in. For example, you have your headlamp-beam adjustment screws and your screws that hold your lamp in place and you don’t want to mix them up.

Some older cars have a big headlight held into the shell assembly of the lamp by a thin metal ring by screws. Sometimes you’ll also have to take off a copper harness from the terminals that are also holding in in place. 

Sometimes you’ll have to dig a bit to get it out, going past splash shields, washer fluid bottles, and air cleaners.

3. Put the New Headlight in

Don’t touch the new headlight bulb glass with your hands or fingers. Your skin has oil that can get on the glass. Even a little bit of it can shorten the lifespan of your bulb. 

When you attach the bulb, add some dielectric grease on the terminals and the plugs of the lamp. 

When you tighten the lamp into place, make sure you use the right screws. Hopefully, you followed step two and labeled them correctly!

Replacing the Entire Headlight Unit If Needed

Sometimes you have to replace the whole headlight unit instead of just the bulb. This is the case if the lens of the lamp is damaged. For example, if you have a fender bender and the lens cracks or becomes cloudy. 

This headlight unit is called the headlight housing. It’s the outer case holding and protecting the lamp. If it breaks or gets damaged, you’ll have to replace the entire thing. 

This is a more complicated process but you’ll follow similar steps to replacing the bulb. Start by finding the right headlight unit/housing for your vehicle. Check your manual or trusty auto-parts store.

Also, try to get a hand on instructions or a guide like we showed you in the Miata example. Like the Miata, you might need to need to take off the front bumper or loosen it at least to get to the screws to loosen and then take out the housing.

This is because the headlight unit is held in place on the front support of the metal radiator using bolts or clips. You will need to loosen the fasteners, unplug, and remove the old housing.

Then, you’ll turn around and put in the new one. These can get expensive. Check with your auto parts store online to see if they have any deals — when you’re asking them for your instructions. 

When you’re doing some of these simple-with-instructions auto-fixes, your auto-parts store can be your best mate.

Now That You Know How to Change a Headlight 

Now that you have the steps you need for how to change a headlight you should feel ready to do it yourself. Start by getting the right parts, either online if you need that special part or at a local auto part store if you don’t.

Then, when you have your new headlight up and working and you’re realizing how easy it is to do some of this stuff yourself, check out our other how-to posts for all kinds of fixes and hacks for everything from your home to your car to your life in general.