Do It Yourself: The Fast, Easy Way to Replace Headlights #30DaysofGOOD

Posted by Mike Senese

Things are easier said than done, or so the old adage goes, and we couldn't agree more. That's why we do 30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD), a monthly attempt to live better. Our challenge for July? Do It Yourself.

How many people does it take to change a burned-out headlight? Just one, when you're a DIYer. Not only is doing it yourself cheaper than taking your car to a repair shop, it's a really fast fix. And by carrying a spare bulb, you'll never risk getting a fix-it ticket while driving home with just one light.

I recently helped GOOD intern Harry fix a dead bulb on his Passat, shown in the above video. Here's an overview of how to do yours.

First, determine what type of headlight system your car uses—the type with a replaceable bulb (like Harry's) or the type where the entire sealed housing gets replaced. You can easily find which you have by searching online for your car model and year or by visiting a local auto parts store and looking in their replacement headlight guide.

To Replace Sealed Housing Headlights
You'll just need the proper replacement housing and a Phillips-head screwdriver. From the outside of the car, unscrew the headlight trim (if there is any), then loosen the screws that hold the headlight housing against the brackets—these are usually three or four larger screws, around the perimeter of the plastic/glass housing. The two smaller screws on the outside and top are used to aim the beam, so try to not alter their position. Once the headlight housing is released, you can pull it forward out of the frame. A few wires connect it to the rear of the housing with a plastic clip. Unsnap the clip, set the old light aside, and pop the wires into the new headlight housing. Slide it into the bracket, and replace the screws that hold it in place. Have a friend turn the lights on so you can make sure everything works. Don't forget to test the brights.

To Replace Individual Headlight Bulbs
These headlights are great—no tools are needed to replace them. Open the hood of the car and look for the back of the headlight. You may be able to find it by looking for the wires that go into its housing, but there may be a plastic cover that helps protect it from the elements (this was the case with Harry's Passat). If a cover is present, a tab on its side will release it and expose the back of the bulb. Grab the bulb and rotate it counter-clockwise so the plastic tabs line up with the slots on the housing to let you pull the bulb out from inside. The halogen bulb is now in your hand. The wires attached to the bulb can be similarly removed by pressing the plastic tab on the connector and pulling it apart.

Make sure to handle the new replacement bulb with care, using a clean tissue to touch the bulb instead of bare skin. The natural oils from skin can cause hot spots and ultimately bulb failure. Clip the wires into the bulb, insert the bulb into the rear of the housing, and line the slots up with the tabs. Twist clockwise to lock into place, put the cover back on (the Passat needed a good push to clip it down), and test it out.

One last note: It's often common to replace bulbs in pairs, to make sure they have a consistent amount of life and brightness.

If things go as planned, you are now free from the hassles of concerned police officers, and ready to get back to safe nighttime driving.

Read more of Mike Senese's DIY tips and projects at DO IT.

We're giving away $1000 for you to share your own DIY skills with others. Participate in our Host a GOOD Workshop challenge.