The headlight assembly used to be a simple affair that was easy to replace in a plug-and-play system. Modern vehicles may have sacrificed some of the simplicity of older designs, but they have gained in technology, efficiency, safety, durability and other areas.
It is common to find multiple parts in a headlight assembly, and while they can be replaced with original parts from the manufacturer, this is also a common area for upgrades and aftermarket modifications.
The housing is what fits into the body of the vehicle, holding and protecting the bulbs from the outside world. It may be one piece or multiple, depending on the model, with different colored lenses helping to differentiate between headlights, parking lights and turn signals.
The housing also protects the bulb from the engine bay and provides a reflective backdrop to amplify and help direct the light. Headlights can be aligned by making minor adjustments at the back of the housing. It’s common to sustain cracks and damage to the housing in minor fender benders, as the rigid plastic doesn’t have a lot of give to it, but many vehicles are designed to make this an easier repair.
The most important part of a headlight assembly is arguably the light itself. The most common lights found on modern vehicles are parking lights, fog lights, high beams, low beams and turn signals, but what’s included varies slightly by manufacturer.
The type of bulb used also varies. Up until recently, halogen bulbs have been widely used, but LEDs (light-emitting diode) and HIDs (high-intensity discharge) are becoming more popular among both manufacturers and consumers who just want an easy upgrade with increased brightness and efficiency. Some vehicles require a little extra legwork, but for most, it’s a pretty easy upgrade with a quick payoff.
Behind the Scenes
Housing and bulbs get all the glory when it comes to automotive lighting, but the system ultimately relies on other less-talked-about parts that enable the light to perform as it should. Wires bring power to the bulbs, and connectors link them. These components should be kept free of moving parts and protected from moisture to avoid corrosion and shorts.
Some assemblies for self-leveling adaptive headlights even have motors. This cool technology utilizes sensors to understand when the vehicle is off-center (such as going up a hill) and automatically adjusts the trajectory of the lights to provide better visibility for the driver without blinding others.
Though it might seem as if the humble headlight assembly has grown overly complicated, we can certainly appreciate the advancements in lighting that this progress has brought, and there will undoubtedly be more on the horizon.
Check out all the headlight products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the headlight assembly, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Blaire Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.