Best Ways to Get Rid of a Broken Headlight

It’s dark. You’re walking back to your vehicle after…I dunno…shopping or going to a concert or finishing up your sock puppet dioramas at a friend’s house (I don’t judge). You get in your vehicle, and as you turn the ignition and the vehicle jumps to life, but you’re missing half of your headlights. Seems like your car decided to go for a permanent blink.

Car with one broken headlightFrantically you flip back and forth between low and high beams – futilely hoping one or the other will light up the dark outside your windshield. But nothing changes. Your headlight is burned out.

DAMNIT! DAMN IT ALL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PITS OF HADES!!

Whoa. Just…whoa. Calm down. Breathe. It’s not that horrible of a predicament. An out headlight is one of the easiest mechanical fixes a vehicle owner can do on their own. And with your handy dandy resident mechanically inclined grease monkey lady to help you, you’ll be able to get rid of your broken headlight in no time.

But, first, since you (in this fictitious scenario) found out that your headlight was out, please drive as safely as you can to your home so you can fix the problem in the daylight tomorrow.

Tools to Remove Broken Headlights

Good headlight bulb, bad headlight bulbSo, to get your new lightbulb, you’re going to have to remove the old one – naturally. There are two ways to remove the bulb. Neither of which involve a hammer.

If you have an older make vehicle (from about the early 90’s back), you’re going to have to go through a couple more steps – which is where the screwdriver comes into play. But, if you have a late 90’s or new vehicle, please feel free to skip the next section…unless you want to know, just so you can say you know how to change an older vehicle’s lightbulb.

Best Way to Get Rid of a Broken Headlight in an older vehicle

  1. To access the bulb, since older vehicles have sealed beam headlight bulbs, they can be removed from the front, but you’ll need to unscrew the trim ring (the usually black plastic or metal band that holds the headlight in place. The screws are located behind the light, and they are connected to the body of the car). Be sure you hold onto those screws.
  2. Now you are going to have to pull the headlight forward after removing the trim ring and disconnect the electrical connectors in the back. You can do this manually. All you have to do is unhook the wires connecting the bulb to the electrical housing – easy peasy.
  3. Now you can take the bulb to the parts store so you can get the correct replacement. And it’s always a good idea to take the entire headlight rather than just the bulb, just if there’s a possibility that is a special case or order or what have you.
  4. Now, this next piece of advice is crucial: NEVER NEVER EVER EVER TOUCH THE BULB END OF A VEHICLE’S LIGHTBULB. Vehicle lightbulbs are made out a very specific and special quartz material that when they come into contact with the oils from human skin will cause them to either wear out quicker, not work at all, or possible burst. So don’t touch them. Please. Anyways…for your older vehicle, after wrapping the clean rag around your fingers and grabbing the bulb with your fingertips, push the headlight loosely into its slot and reconnect the wires. Then push the bulb in the remainder of the way and screw on the trim ring again. Basically you are reversing the process from steps 2 and 3.
  5. Time to test ‘er out! Check the low beams, the high beams, and the blinkers. Everything copacetic? Congrats! You just changed your vehicle’s light!

However, say you have one of those fancy-schmancy newer vehicles that doesn’t require a screwdriver.

Best Way to Get Rid of a Broken Headlight in a Newer Vehicle

  1. Nearly all newer vehicles are set up to only offer access to the bulb and socket from the back of the housing. But, if by some chance yours doesn’t, refer to steps 2 and 3 in how to change an older vehicle’s light.
  2. Now, slowly turn the socket that the lightbulb is in a quarter turn counterclockwise (on a clock face that would be from 12 left…I’m just including this because sometimes I still get them mixed up) to unlock it from the tabs. Then take both socket and bulb out of the housing.
  3. Remove the bulb from the socket, and go to the parts store to get the right replacement bulb.
  4. Unwrap the new bulb from it packaging, being careful not to touch the surface of the bulb. I will say this again: DO NOT TOUCH THE SURFACE OF THE LIGHTBULB. Refer to step four of and older vehicle’s instructions for the full disclaimer and warning.
  5. Wrap your fingers with a clean rag and grab the bulb by its plastic base. Now, slowly screw the bulb into the socket. Be sure to insert both the socket and bulb into the housing with a quarter-turn clockwise.
  6. Time to test ‘er out! Check the low beams, the high beams, and the blinkers. Everything copacetic? Congrats! You just changed your vehicle’s light!

flashlights as headlightsI told you it wasn’t scary to do, didn’t I? I mean, yes, there are a lot of bigger and scarier parts that are near and around the headlight that are intimidating, but a dead headlight bulb is by far one of the easiest fixes a person can do for their vehicle. And coming from a woman who, though she’s a grease monkey and a gear head for as long as she has been able to go to raceways, it is an incredibly rewarding and confidence boosting thing to be able to tell people that you actually fixed your car. (Plus, now that you know how to change the bulbs, you won’t end up like this poor soul who got rid of his broken headlight with flashlights).

Hopefully this step by step guide in learning how to get rid of a broken headlight and replace the bulb will be the first step towards you feeling confident enough to tackle other car maintenance projects. And I’ll be here helping you and making sure that the terms and tools are understandable. We’ll get some grease under your nails yet.

However, if your vehicle’s light problem isn’t fixed with a new bulb, you may need to replace the wiring harness. You can find these harnesses in a variety of kinds for your vehicle from Amazon.