Is your car headlight not working, dim, or needing to be replaced entirely? We’ve got you covered as we look at car headlight repair!
Cars feature a ton of different lights nowadays. You’ve got your dome lights, gauge cluster warning lights, entry puddle lights, illuminated USB ports, various backlit buttons, and that’s all just on the inside. Today we’re looking at maintaining, restoring, and repairing some of the most important lights found on the outside of the car, the headlights. Brake lights are equally as valuable on the road, but we’re focusing on those forward-facing lights for this one. Headlights help you navigate through dense fog and dark nights when visibility is a necessity. They not only help you see the roadway, but headlights also act as bright beacons that alert other drivers to your location on the road in low visibility or dark conditions.
However, headlights are prone to burning out, losing their luster, or completely breaking leaving you with less visibility when you need it. Driving without properly maintained or working headlights can pose a risk to not only yourself but other drivers. Plus, you might end up with a ticket should a law enforcement officer find you driving with only one headlight working. So, let’s look at different ways to repair and keep your headlights working.
It’s a good idea to give your car’s headlights a look from time to time. It’s better to be aware of an issue early on before it grows into driving without some of your lights when you need them. All you really need to do to inspect your headlights is to pop the hood and turn the car on. Then you can look over the different parts that make the headlight assembly a working whole.
Let’s start by inspecting the bulbs. Headlight bulbs can burn out just like any regular household light bulb, so we’ll want to turn on the vehicle and make sure that they all light up. When the vehicle is on, make sure your lights are turned on and hit the hazards so that you can check that the blinkers come on too. If you find that one or more of your light bulbs aren’t coming on, they’ll need to be replaced. If the whole headlight doesn’t turn on, that could mean an issue with the wiring harness which we’ll cover coming up.
If the lights are all illuminated, check the headlights for clarity. Modern headlights use thick, polycarbonate plastic in their construction that makes the clear lens durable and scratch-resistant, but they unfortunately suffer from fogging. This fogging of the plastics is caused by the sun’s UV rays breaking down the outer layers of the plastic degrading the clarity. Light can still pass through these foggy headlights, but the bulbs inside won’t be as effective in lighting the way. There are a couple of different ways to combat fog, but it’s an issue that can reoccur even after correcting it.
Also, look for any significant damage to the headlight assembly itself such as deep scratches, cracks, or missing pieces. Some headlight damage can be fixed or be left alone without causing any issues with functionality, but significant damage should be corrected by replacing the headlight assembly as a whole. For instance, if there’s a portion cracked enough to let water into the assembly, that can cause a host of potential issues. Not to mention that an actual hole in the lens can let debris in and hurt the effectiveness of the headlight or even lead to the bulbs being broken inside the assembly.
Headlights are held in place by special brackets that secure it to the vehicle. These brackets are commonly made with plastic and can break which can allow the headlight to vibrate and jostle while driving. Continuing to drive with a broken headlight bracket can result in stress to the other brackets leading to them breaking or the added vibration can loosen the bracket bolts holding the headlight in place. In extreme instances, all this can lead to the headlight assembly actually falling out of the vehicle should every secure point fail. Best to address a broken headlight bracket when it’s noticed.
Check that the wiring harness isn’t loose, disconnected, or severed as this could be the culprit if your whole headlight isn’t coming on. If the wiring harness is loose from its connector to the vehicle, the light could be unpowered. With the vehicle off, try disconnecting and reconnecting the wiring harness and test the lights again. If it is still loose and not turning on then the connector may be faulty and the wiring harness will need to be replaced. You’ll also need to replace the wiring harness if you notice that it has disconnected from the bulb sockets or the connector to the vehicle. Even if all of your lights come on, it’s good to check that the wiring harness doesn’t have any frayed wires from age or possibly from critters getting under the hood while parked.
There are a couple different methods to alleviating foggy headlights. First are the at-home remedy options like scrubbing the foggy headlight with toothpaste or a baking soda and water mixture. The abrasiveness of these solutions is enough to remove the foggy exterior without seriously damaging the headlight finish. All you need to do is:
There are also numerous products out there from brands like Rain-X, Sylvania, and Turtle Wax that are dedicated to helping clear up that foggy headlight. Each kit varies, but they follow some of the same steps while featuring different formulas to get the same desired result:
It’s important to note with these products that you’ll want to keep the car in a dry, covered location as getting them wet or encountering foreign substances after the final application can mess up the finish. Another thing to keep in mind when performing any of the above headlight restoration methods is to take your time and work diligently. You don’t want to rush it and end up having to buy a whole new headlight assembly because of a damaging error while trying to fix some fog.
Headlight bulb replacement is somewhat of an easy task with today’s modern headlight assemblies. If you encounter a burnt-out bulb, it’s best to replace all the bulbs as the adjacent bulbs will likely burn out soon too. Not all headlight assemblies are exactly the same, but they each follow similar steps:
Should one of the new bulbs not light up, turn off the vehicle and make sure that the socket is properly connected to the bulb and try turning the vehicle on again. If the bulb still doesn’t come on, try another replacement bulb. In the event that the second replacement bulb does not work, you may have an issue with your headlight wiring harness which we’ll cover next.
Replace your headlight’s wiring harness shouldn’t be a recurring task with your vehicle. If you have to keep replacing your wiring harness, you may be facing electrical issues you’ll want to take up with a certified mechanic. Other common issues that may result in the need to replace the wiring harness is improperly handling the wires when replacing bulbs or dealing with a pest living in your garage who has been chewing the wires. Whatever the case, here’s what you’ll need to do in the event that you need to replace a headlight wiring harness:
Should the light not come on after replacing the wiring harness, turn off the vehicle and check that each of the sockets and the main connector are seated correctly and try again. If the headlight light still doesn’t come on, then you may have a different faulty wire somewhere else upstream that will need to be identified and replaced. Otherwise, it could also be a larger electrical issue that needs to be diagnosed by a professional.
While you can use sealant on a crack in the headlight or melt the plastics of a busted bracket back together, the structural integrity of the headlight has been compromised. While these quick fixes to damage will work for a short time, the most effective way to correct a damaged headlight assembly is to completely replace it. That may not be the cheapest answer, but a new headlight will be without flaws and come with warranty coverage in some instances. You could even use the necessity of replacing a broken headlight assembly as an excuse to get yourself a nice set of aftermarket projector headlights.
So, let’s get into the steps need for replacing most headlights: