It used to be simple to change a headlight. Headlights were generally round and all the same. They came as one complete unit, and you could easily swap out the old headlight for a new one. But now, headlights (actually the lenses) come in all shapes and sizes. The sleek and modern styles of headlight lenses can sometimes make changing the lamps inside quite difficult. Fear not, in this article we will cover general guidelines for replacing headlights, as well as other lights, on your vehicle.

Test the Lights

It is a good idea, from time to time, to check your lights. This is easy enough to do. Turn your car on and turn your lights on. With the car in park, walk around the car and check to see if all of the lights are working. This includes turn signals and brake lights.  You might need someone to help you check the brake lights. Or, you can back up to a wall and look in your rearview mirror to see if the wall lights up when you apply the brakes. Check all of the turn signal indicator lamps as well.

Removing the Lamp

If you find a lamp is out, the first thing to do is remove it. Unless, of course, you have a professional change the light. The best way to learn how to remove a lamp is to Google the make and model of your car, along with the words “replace headlight” or something similar. If that does not work, here are some general instructions.

Most often, for headlights, the lamp is attached to a base with wires coming from it. The base screws into the back of the lens housing. Try to gain access to the rear of the headlight lens housing. Look for a cap or base that is in the area where the lamp should be. It may have a protective cap over it that you will need to remove.

Once you locate the base, you should be able to twist it by hand to unscrew it from the lens housing. Once you do this, the base slides out with the light bulb attached. Be careful! The light bulb may be hot. Remove the light bulb from the base, usually by simply pulling it straight out.

For other types of lights, like side marker lights, you will need to remove screws or bolts that attach the lens housing to the vehicle. If you cannot find any way to get to the lamp, try searching for the answer online or have the lamp changed by a professional.

Getting the Replacement Light

Often, the burned out lamp will have numbers on it. This usually indicates the part number of the lamp. You can also go to the automotive store and ask the clerk what kind of replacement lamp you will need.  I usually take the old lamp with me. Also, some stores have a book near the replacement lamps that contains all makes and models of cars. This will tell you which lamp you need to purchase. I would suggest buying two lamps. You might accidentally break one or need the other one later when the other light burns out.  It is a common occurrence that one headlight will go out shortly after the other headlight because the life of the lamps is very similar.

Replacing the Lamp

I have always been told never to touch the lamp with your bare hands. It has to do with the oils in your skin degrading the glass on the lamp. I am not sure I buy this, but better safe than sorry.  Using gloves, carefully remove the lamp from the package and install it back into the base you took the old one out of. It should fit perfectly. Try not to jam it in, as you could break the connector.

Screw the base back into the back of the lens housing. Make sure it is seated securely. After installing the new lamp, start the car and check to make sure it works properly.

One More Note

On some vehicles, getting to the base of the lamp may only be possible by removing the entire lens housing. This can be very difficult, and you may end up damaging your vehicle.  If this is the case, you may want to have a professional change the light.


Remember to check your lights every once in a while for safety and change the lamps if needed. If you change the lamps yourself, you can save time and money.  In any case, you may save yourself from getting a ticket.  Happy motoring!



Written by Gary Pradel