Consumer Reports Says Headlight Replacement Is Easy if You Don’t Have LEDs

Cars are getting complicated to fix, becoming the enemy of the DIY mechanic. And as LEDs become mainstream, those too will soon be irreplaceable by the common man. But Consumer Reports shed some light on the situation, saying that if your car doesn’t have LED headlights, a bulb replacement is easy. So if you notice those lights starting to flicker, consider fixing them yourself.

Headlight Bulb Replacement
Headlight Bulb Replacement | Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Tips for replacing your headlight bulbs

For starters, if you’re replacing one bulb, you ought to replace both. Buy two of the bulb, that way they match rather than having two different lights. Now, in order to get inside your car’s headlamp fixture, you may need to remove the front bumper.

Doing so sounds intimidating, but is often much simpler than you think. For my car, all I needed was a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver, and the bumper just popped off. Consult the internet and YouTube for your own car, as there are certainly resources available for every aspiring DIY mechanic.

You may also have to remove other components, like the battery, in order to access the headlight. Once the area is cleared, and you can see behind the headlight housings, turn off the car and unplug the cables.

From there, it’s as simple as screwing and unscrewing a lightbulb. Be sure to wear gloves in order to prevent any blemishes on the bulb that’ll be illuminated at night. And once you’ve put the fixtures back on (but before you put the bumper on if required), turn on the car and see if the light is shining straight.

The easiest way to determine if your headlights are aimed correctly is to park the car on level ground and park 5 feet away from a wall. Mark the horizontal and vertical lines of the light, then back up 20 feet and turn the lights on again. If the boundaries are roughly the same, you’re good to go. If not, there are two screws to adjust the horizontal and vertical positioning. Just twist those until your bulbs are aimed properly.

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Why are LEDs more complicated to fix?

Mercedes-Benz LED Headlight Fixture
Mercedes-Benz LED Headlight Fixture | Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images

Changing the bulb is a slightly complicated task, but what makes LEDs more complicated to replace? For starters, if an LED goes out, you’re not just replacing the bulb, but the whole fixture. That requires removing the entire headlight, rather than just the bulb, and reinstalling it.

For this, you’ll almost always have to remove the bumper to access the full fixture. And then you’ll have to reinstall it. While it can be a fairly straightforward process depending on the make and model of your car, it’s certainly a time-consuming one.

But maybe all this chat about replacing headlamps has you convinced that this is a job best left to the professionals. If you’re turned off by the idea of replacing your own bulbs, how much will the job cost?

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How much do headlight bulb replacements costs?

Car Headlights At Night
Car Headlights At Night | Tim Graham/Getty Images

For starters, the parts for replacing a bulb are often only $10 or $20 bucks. If you’re replacing the bulbs yourself, that’s where the expenses end. Tack on another $50 for labor, and double it if you want the mechanic to replace both the bulbs and you’re looking at a $140 job.

If your car has LED headlights, or the whole fixture and assembly have to be replaced, it can get even more expensive than that. Depending on the car, and how complicated it is to remove the fixtures, the parts and labor can add up to $250 to $800. Had I known how to fix my own headlights, I would’ve saved over $700 a couple of years ago.

It’s a fairly simple job with many little steps. Luckily for you, now is an excellent time to learn how to be a DIY mechanic. With more resources, articles, and videos online than ever, you’re certainly not the first one who’s tried performing a headlight replacement before.

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