The Cost of Headlight Repairs Is on the Rise

Overall, the cost of a new car is insane. So is the cost of a used car. With that, comes the inevitable rise in repair costs. Cars are becoming ever more complex, and that means consumers pay for it at the mechanic. Even little stuff, like headlight repairs, can cost significantly more than it did twenty, or even just ten years ago. Thankfully, there’s a few things you can do to help mitigate this cost, from a little DIY to smart shopping.

Prices across the board are up

A red 2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing
Look at the size of the headlight on this thing | Cadillac

Take a look at the headlight on this new Cadillac. Notice how the entire lighting element is one unit. A similar one off a 2021 Cadillac Escalade can easily run for north of $1,000. Clearly, headlight repairs on a new luxury vehicle are quite a lot of money. However, it isn’t just new vehicles. A set of bi-Xenon headlights on my old 2010 Volkswagen GTI will run you a full grand for the pair.

So, what’s to blame? First off, new lighting technology is constantly being developed. While being able to see is obviously a very important aspect of car safety, development is expensive, and those costs are passed down to us consumers. It’s not just sharks we’re putting lasers in anymore. BMW has laser frickin’ headlights, if you’ll pardon Dr. Evil’s French. A mechanic on Reddit pointed out replacing those is a $7,000 job. A nameless BMW dealer gave me a similar number when I called to verify.

Can you DIY headlight repairs?

The front end of an old 1973 Ford Capri sedan in black and white
Which is cheaper? This old Ford headlight or the one above? | Fox Photos via Getty Images

So, where does that leave us, consumers? It used to be that the construction of headlights was simple. Just a bulb surrounded by reflectors to amplify light, much like wrapping the end of a flashlight in tin foil. Clearly, that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, the world of DIY headlight repairs is a somewhat complex one. Let’s say you’ve just cracked the headlight on your 2010-ish used car, as I did at one point. You have two options, neither of which are very good.

First, you can always replace the whole dang thing. If so, you’re probably looking at about $500-$1,000 for a new set of Xenon lights. From there, swapping them out is generally pretty simple. My GTI is by no means fun to work on, and the bumper has to come off, but anyone with hands can do it in an afternoon. Or, you can disassemble the headlight, replace the lens, and glue that sucker back on. The lens will be cheap, but your time is money and this route could take a very long time.

Right to Repair can help… later

The front headlight of a 2017 Mini Cooper
A mercifully small headlight on a Mini | National Motor Museum via Getty Images

It may seem that there isn’t really a cost-effective way around this issue. Frankly, there really isn’t. Headlight repairs will cost you either money or time, or a lot of both. Recent progress in the Right to Repair movement is making its way through the consumer electronics sector, but for now, there’s little movement in the automotive sector. My advice? DIY headlight repairs are generally easy to do and try that route if you’re mechanically inclined.

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