How to Change Your Car Headlight, Tail Light or Brake Light Bulb

Replacing a headlight is a standard piece of car maintenance that everyone should be able to do themselves. Fortunately, it's also a relatively simple procedure that most people should be able to manage without any real difficulty.

That's good news, seeing as a car headlight is a very critical part of your car that can aid with your visibility and ensure that you're able to see hazards and avoid accidents.

Finding the Type of Bulb

The first thing you need to do is to identify what type of bulb you need. If you're fortunate, this will be located somewhere in your car owner's manual. If not, you can open the car bonnet in order to find the back of the headlight where you might be able to see the lamp and bulb type. Otherwise a quick search online for your car make and model might yield the result you're looking for, or you can call up your local auto parts store and ask if they know. They have reference manuals especially for retrieving this kind of information.

As you may imagine, once you know the bulb type the next thing you need to do is to get a replacement that you can use. You can often buy these online cheaply, or if you need it in a rush it may be available at your local auto parts store.

You might find too that there are instructions in your user's manual taking you through the process of removing and installing bulbs. If not, then it is usually fairly self-explanatory.

In some newer car models, replacing a headlight bulb is no more difficult than replacing a bulb in a lamp at home – it's a simple matter of locating the back of the bulb holder, unscrewing the old bulb and then adding in the new one. In some older cars though, there are a few extra steps. In that case, you might benefit from the below steps:

Steps to Remove and Install Bulbs

  • Locate the headlight holder under the hood. This is located at the back of the headlights and will normally have a power connector consisting of three wires coming out of the back.

  • Next remove those wires. These will usually be attached to a plug at the base of the headlight and are often held in place by a plastic catch or metal clip/screw cap. Usually it will be relatively self-explanatory how to operate the release mechanism and this way you can unplug the wires.

  • Now you want to remove the back of the headlight holder in order to access the bulb…

  • From here, you can then remove the old bulb by holding onto the base and twisting or pulling. Start out gently.

  • Make sure you are careful handling the new bulb. You want to avoid letting oil or grime from your skin from getting on the bulb, as otherwise you can reduce the effectiveness of the bulb and the brightness.

  • With everything already open, you should find that installing the bulb is a simple matter of screwing or pushing it into place in the same way that the previous bulb was secured. Once installed properly you should find that there are none of the rubber gaskets left visible.

  • Now replace the back of the headlight holder and plug the wires back in using the reverse process.

  • Test the headlights by sitting in the car and turning them on.

Replacing Tail Lights

If the tail lights should blow in your vehicle, you might find that you need to follow a slightly different process in order to get them to work. In some cars, the housing holding the bulb can be unscrewed from outside, but for others you'll need to unscrew from inside the trunk. There will then be a number of tabs or small screws you need to bypass in order to access the bulb inside. Other than though, it should then be the same simple process of replacing your bulbs by unscrewing them and adding in the new ones, making sure that you have the correct replacements.

The same goes for the other lights on your car, including your brake lights, fog lights and reverse lights. Make sure that you check all of these lights regularly to make sure they're still working – otherwise you can easily carry on driving for months without realizing and potentially that could cause an accident.

How to Check Your Own Brake Lights

If you live alone, then you might have just discovered the difficulty of checking your own brake lights. To check your other lights, you can simply turn them on and then walk around the car, but seeing as your brake lights will only come on when you're braking, that means you need to be inside the car in order to operate them… Tricky!

The solution is to reverse near a wall at night. Now look through your rearview mirror at the wall and try pressing the brake in order to turn on the lights. If they're in working order, then you should see the red of those lights reflected on the wall so that you can see it out the back. It's easier than leaving a brick on your brake pedal!

What if You Replaced the Light Bulbs and They Still Aren't Working?

If you have replaced the bulb in your low-beam headlight and they still aren't working correctly, then don't fret as there's normally a simple solution.

In most cases, this will be a simple matter of a blown fuse. These work the precise same way that fuses around the house do – they're circuit breakers designed to give out if too much current passes through them to avoid damage to other parts of your car. Of course these can wear out just like any other part though and thus they can sometimes cause electrical parts of your car to give out.

To check your fuses, locate the plastic panel that houses them in your bonnet. You should find that the lid has a diagram showing what each of the fuses is in charge of. If not, then you should be able to get this information in your owner's manual or perhaps by going online and doing a search.

Inside each fuse is a small wire, which is the part that melts when too much current passes through. You should be able to visibly see whether or not that wire is still intact. If it looks like it has melted or broken, then this could well be the cause of your headlight issues. You can find a replacement fuse online or at an auto store and from there make the repair. This might be worth checking before you shell out for a new headlight.

If that still hasn't solved the issue, then you may very well be looking at a loose connection or damaged wiring somewhere in the car. In some cases you will be able to repair this yourself, but often you're better off taking your car in to get looked over by an expert in this case. If you suspect this might be the problem, then try using a voltmeter on the plug of the bad headlight to see if the current is making it that far.