How to Change Your Headlight Bulb in 5 Minutes

Replacing a headlight bulb is a cheap, 5-minute job.
Nicolas Loran/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Your car's headlights are one of the most important pieces of safety equipment on the vehicle. If one or both of the bulbs have burned out, you may be fined by the police—or worse, end up in a collision. Fortunately, changing your car's headlight bulbs is a fairly easy task. It's also a lot cheaper than asking a mechanic to do it for you. 

It's a good idea to check your car's headlights once a week or so. And do it in the daylight—you don't want to get caught out at night with a burnt-out bulb. Even in daylight, the check is as easy as turning them on and looking at them. Finding out what type of replacement bulb to use isn't much harder. Check your owner's manual first. If you can't find the information there, you can find it at your local auto-parts store. You'll need to know the year, make, and model of your vehicle. Or just bring in the burnt-out bulb and match it to a new one.

Note: This tutorial is for lights found in halogen systems, where the bulb is loaded into the back of the lens. If your car has sealed-beam headlights, this won't help (but that job is super easy, too—any good car repair manual for your make and model will tell you how). If your actual headlight glass needs to be replaced along with the bulb, that's an easy fix, too, as is replacing a bad tail light or turn signal

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Locate the Bulb Holder

This is the 3-wire headlight plug.
Matt Wright

In many instances, you won't need any tools to replace your vehicle's headlight bulb; in others, ​you may need a pair of pliers or a screwdriver. Check your owner's manual first. Make sure your vehicle is turned off and parked in a location where you can work safely. Open the hood of the car, locate the back of the headlight, and find the bulb holder. It will have three wires coming out of a plug that is shaped like a trapezoid.

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Remove the Wiring Harness

This metal clip holds the bulb in.
Matt Wright

Three wires are attached to a plug located the base of the headlight itself. This plug is held in place by a plastic catch, a metal clip, or, in some cases, a screw cap.

For a plastic catch, you'll see a little lever sticking up at the top of the plug. Press down with your thumb while pulling firmly but gently. It should slide off.

For a metal clip, pull up and away and the plug will come off in your hand. 

For a screw cap, simply unscrew the plug by turning it counter-clockwise (the old righty-tighty/lefty-loosey guide might not apply here since you are doing a reach-around).

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Remove the Old Bulb

The bulb may be behind a rubber seal.
Matt Wright

With the wiring out of the way, you should be able to pull the bulb out by holding onto the base (the part that the plug was in). In some cases, you may have to rotate the bulb slightly for it to release or gently wiggle it to loosen it.

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Put the New Bulb in Place

Hold the bulb with a towel.
Matt Wright

Before you take the new bulb out of the packaging, grab a tissue or a clean rag. If you must touch the glass of the bulb, do so using the tissue or rag. If the oils on your skin get on the glass bulb, it can burn out as soon as you turn on your headlight. Holding the bulb's plug end, stick it into the back of the headlight. Be sure to visually confirm that it's all the way in. You can tell because it will be lined up evenly and none of the bulb's rubber gasket will be showing.

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Check Your Lights

A car headlights illuminated at night
Caspar Benson / Getty Images

Plug the wiring back in and re-secure the headlight. Testing your new headlight bulb is as simple as turning on your car's headlights. If one or both of the bulbs don't turn on, check the wiring to make sure you've securely connected them.