How to Replace a Broken Headlight Lens

Broken car headlight
George Diebold / Getty Images

These days it's fairly rare to see a car with a broken headlight. In times past, fragile glass headlights were prone to all sorts of problems, like fogging, cracking, shattering, and rusting inside, but the modern version of the automotive headlight is a virtually indestructible plastic. That said, they still break and need replacement. Other times the plastic becomes so degraded that even a good cleaning or polishing and repair can't clear it up. When the lights are done, it's time to replace them.

There are a number of different headlight systems in use today. Actually, there are probably dozens if you include the old, the new, and the odd. Thankfully, late model vehicles have moved toward a standard, especially in larger vehicles and trucks. We'll show you how quickly and easily you can install a new headlight lens on your car or truck.

Removing a Headlight

Hand holding the headlight pin under the hood of a car

Matt Wright, author, 2014

If you've got modern plastic headlights on your vehicle, you may be in luck and on the road to a super fast light replacement. To see if you have this type of headlight, open the hood and examine the area just above the headlight. You should see a long pin at the top (see photo above). Is it there? Great! You're on easy street. If it's not there, your headlight will need to be removed using a series of screws that attach the headlight assembly to the radiator core support. The best way to guide yourself through this process is to use your repair manual.

If you're lucky enough to have the pin type of headlight attachment, you're ready to remove the light. The pin will have an angled part that acts as a lever to ease the removal of the pin. Rotate the angled area upward and use it as a handle to wiggle the pin back and forth and ease it out of its socket. Be careful as the pin starts to come out because in some vehicles the headlight can fall when the pin is completely removed.

Pin and Tilt

Hands tilting the headlights out from under hood of car

Matt Wright, author, 2014

With the headlight pin removed, the entire assembly will tilt toward you easily so you can remove it from the vehicle. Now you need to remove your headlight bulb or bulbs. Most vehicles have a twist type bulb holder that is very easy to deal with. Don't pull the wiring harness yet. Remove the bulb from the headlight first. 

With this type of bulb, rotate the plastic bulb holder assembly counterclockwise 1/4 to 1/3 turn. It will usually click when it's turned all the way and then feel much looser. Pull the bulb assembly straight out to remove it completely from the headlight lens.

It's usually fine to leave the bulbs hanging from their wires as long as you're careful not to smash them. If you're worried, disconnect the bulbs and put them in a soft, safe place. Try to handle them with a rag or tissue as the oils from your hands can cause them to expire prematurely. 

Complete Removal

Under hood of car

Matt Wright, author, 2014

To get the headlight off the mounting bracket (that giant mount with all of the holes), you simply pull the securing tabs gently out of their pockets. I say gently because they can be a little brittle with age and I've seen them break with very little provocation. As they say, installation is the reverse of removal. Congratulations. You have just saved some serious money!