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How to Change a Headlight Bulb

November 9, 2023

front view of an older truck with a new headlight bulb on the driver's side

So, first time changing out a headlight bulb, huh? This is probably one of the easiest things you’ll have to do to your car besides changing the oil, and with a few tools and some elbow grease, you’re on your way to a brighter drive. 

Ready? Let’s roll.

Before You Start: Bulb Selection

You’re probably replacing the headlight bulb because A) it’s just plain dead, or B) you want something a little brighter. Here are some guidelines to follow when shopping for replacement headlight bulbs.

Consider Throw Distance

Throw distance”, or how far you can spot down the road, is a real game-changer for nighttime rides. It’s all about staying ahead, spotting twists and turns, and dodging any road surprises like potholes and trash — doesn’t hurt to see the car in front of you, either. 

Color Temperature

Some bulbs warm things up, while others go for that cooler, crisp white glow. If you’re aiming for a cooler white (LED lights), you’re in for some killer contrast and clarity, especially when you’re cruising past road markings.

Bulb Life

How much do you like swapping out your bulbs? That’s all there is to consider for this part. 

It’s recommended that you replace both headlight bulbs, and you might want to do that anyway since you’re already swapping one out so they’re on the same maintenance schedule and you get nice, even lighting. 

Tools You’ll Need 

When it comes time to replace front headlight bulbs, you don’t need an awful lot, just the essentials like:

  • A headlight bulb (vehicle-specific)
  • Screwdriver
  • Ratchet
  • Safety gloves
  • Goggles or glasses— you never know, you know? Safety first

If you work on your car regularly or you’re going to mechanic school, there’s a good chance you probably have these things lying around already. 

You may not know how to replace a headlight bulb in the traditional “explain it” sense, but we bet once you start following these steps, it’ll be muscle memory mechanics. 

1. Step One: Safety First

We know this isn’t the most thrilling part of working on your ride, but if you want to keep at it long-term, we recommend throwing on safety goggles and gloves. Apart from keeping your eyes and hands protected, you’ll avoid killing the bulbs — it rarely happens but better safe than sorry.

And another thing… don’t have your vehicle on when replacing your headlights, you’re just asking to be electrocuted.

2. Identify The Light Placement

Most vehicles out there roll with separate bulbs for the high beam and the low beam, but some cars rock a single bulb for both jobs. If you’re in the two-bulb gang, remember that the low beam usually hangs out on the outer edge, and the high beam is on the inner side. 

To double-check this on your ride, you can run a quick test or consult a repair guide.

3. Gain Access to the Lights

Here’s where the road takes a twist. When it comes to headlight setups, things can get tricky. You’ll find some headlights stashed in easily removable assemblies, and it’s usually just a matter of removing a few screws to set them free. 

Once you’ve got those screws out, gently lay the headlight assembly down, and you’re good to access those bulbs. 

Each vehicle brand is different and some bulbs like to play hard to get and can only be reached by diving into the wheel well. You might need a few tools to give that wheel arch a gentle nudge, just enough to reach the bulb, swap it out, and pop that wheel well cover back into place. 

This video goes over a headlight kit replacement for a 2018 F150 that goes through the wheel well, so check it out if you’re one of the lucky ones that has to go through this process!

In some cases, casings don’t come off too easily. But don’t worry, with the hood up, you can often sneak behind the casing to reach that bulb. Now, it’s not always a cakewalk — you might need to part ways with a coolant reservoir, a battery, or something else to access the bulbs. 

If that’s the situation you find yourself in, don’t sweat it. Just remove what’s blocking your path, swap out the bulb, and put everything back where it belongs. It’s all part of the puzzle.

4. Release the Clip and Remove the Plug

Still with us? You should be past the most frustrating part of the process. This is where your screwdriver comes in; these little guys can be quite stubborn at times, especially if you’re working on an older vehicle. There’s a tab or “clip” that attaches the bulb to the vehicle’s electrical components. Using a flathead screwdriver, you should be able to easily push down on this clip and gently remove the bulb from the vehicle thus removing the plug from the bulb.

5. Remove the Old Bulbs

Grab that bulb casing and give it a gentle counter-clockwise twist. Keep your eyes peeled for when the tabs align perfectly — that’s your cue to pull it straight out. It’s all about those sweet, simple mechanics!

6. Install Your New Bulbs

It’s time to pop in the new bulb. Align those tabs carefully, and then give it a smooth clockwise twist, about a quarter turn. Pro tip: listen for that satisfying click —that’s your green light.

Make sure you’ve kept tabs on your high and low-beam bulb slots!

7. Test The Headlights

Now that your bulbs are in place, it’s showtime. Go ahead and flip those headlights on and cycle through the high and low beams. This quick check ensures everything’s firing for the electrical pairings between the vehicle and the bulb.

Now, put it all back together the way you found it.

That’s it! You officially know how to replace a headlight. 

Make Every Replacement a Breeze

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Our approach is hands-on, with focused training for 9 months (just 6 months for our Welding program), 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, getting you job-ready at graduation. So why wait? Take the fast lane to success with WyoTech! 
Enroll today and ignite your automotive future.