While all cars are different, most modern car headlights have bulbs that can be changed in just a few minutes without tools. To show you the process, we will be replacing a headlight bulb on a 2003 Chevy Silverado 1500 truck. While you likely don’t need any tools, you do need to know a couple of precautions before you change a headlight bulb. It is also a good idea to consult with your owner’s manual for any specific instructions on how to replace headlight bulbs for your vehicle. Now let’s take a look at how to change a headlight bulb.
What To Know Before Changing a Headlight Bulb
Halogen light bulbs burn very hot. The number one reason for premature failure of a halogen headlight bulb is oil staining. The glass on a halogen headlight bulb must absolutely be perfectly clean. Just one fingerprint can cause the bulb to burn out. Sometimes it is instant, and sometimes it can last a few weeks, but touching the glass with your bare hands will always cause the light burn out quicker. To keep this from happening when you change a headlight bulb, you should wear a pair of vinyl or latex gloves and to avoid touching the glass of the bulb. You should be able to do this without much issue, but some cars don’t have removable headlight assembly lenses, and you have to work blind. Just take care to protect the bulb from any kind of oil and you should be good to go. If you do accidently touch the headlight bulb you can clean it off using some rubbing alcohol applied to a soft cloth. Just wipe down the bulb surface and the contaminants will be removed.
It is important to make sure you are using the correct car headlight bulbs for your application. Today there are halogen, HID, and even LED headlights for cars so simply grabbing a bulb off the shelf won’t work. The headlight bulb needs to match the headlight housing or else the lighting pattern won’t be correct. If you are looking into changing headlights to something brighter you may find it takes more than just a new bulb, but also new headlight housings and wiring.
Changing a Headlight Bulb
We picked up a set of bulbs from our local NAPA Auto Parts store and got to work. To start replacing headlights pop the hood and locate the headlight housing.
This Chevy truck has a removable headlamp housing. There is a flip-up lever on the center of the housing that locks it into position. This gets lifted up and slid out of the plastic latch.
Next, the entire housing pulls straight out of the car. Now is a good time to clean any leaves or dirt you find.
It may look like you need a special Torx screwdriver, but you don’t. Just twist the bulb and remove it from the housing. Don’t forget to unclip the terminals. Take care when removing the terminals as time and heat can make them brittle. Gentle pressure on the clips should release them.
The new bulbs come with a foam sleeve over the glass. Wait until the last second to remove it. Note the disposable gloves.
You can connect the wire terminal before or after you install the bulb, your choice. We attached it before. Make sure it is firmly plugged in.
Then the bulb was inserted into the housing and rotated clockwise to lock it place.
The housing then gets re-installed into the car. There are two slots in the bottom of the inner bracket, these can be tricky to line up sometimes. Be patient. It will go back in place, just hold your tongue the right way!
The last step is to slide the retainer pin lever back into the latch and lock it down.
Car headlight replacement is best done in pairs as if one side is going to blow, the other side is likely not far behind. It may also be a good idea to learn how to clean car headlights if the lenses have gotten hazy.
Check out all the car headlights and headlight parts parts available on NAPAOnline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to change a headlight bulb, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.