Tips For Replacing Your Halogen Headlights

If you drive at night as much as I do there is nothing that is more annoying than a blow headlight bulb.  How many times have you had to make due with only one half of your car’s lighting power because of one of these blown bulbs?  I know for me it has been many times, especially when I drove a 2002 Mazda Protege.

I liked most everything about that car.  It was sharp, fun to drive and best of all, bright yellow in color!  The one thing that I disliked most about the car was that it went through about two sets of the H7 halogen headlight bulbs per year.  Since, I am kind OCD when it comes to things like that, I would always replace both bulbs at the same time because I could never drive with mismatched headlight bulbs.

I would dread the times when the bulbs would blow because there was a certain contortion act that I would need to do with my hands and a pair of needle nose pliers to get the old bulbs out and the new ones back in.  The driver’s side wasn’t too bad, that one I could do without too much swearing and minimal skin/blood loss.  The passenger side was an entirely different story.  It seems as though that was either designed by some masochist that liked to see (not that he or she would ever see it) the owners of that car destroy their hands and every last nerve that they had just to replace a stinking headlight bulb.  Things wouldn’t have been too bad if they hadn’t have put the filler neck for the windshield washer fluid right squid in the middle of where the bulb cavity was, oh and about 2 inches behind it as well.

So, this means you needed to find a way to detach a wire retaining clip, disconnect the wiring harness, remove a rubber boot that sealed the interface between the bulb and the headlight housing and last, but not least, remove the actual H7 bulb by rotating it about 90 degrees and then sliding it out.  That’s a pretty tall order with only about 2 inches of clearance.

Typically a set of bulbs was a job that would take me between 45 minutes and two hours.  I say it that way because I have had times where there must have been some sort of diving intervention and it only took 45 minutes, and there were other times when the devil himself took root in my engine compartment and made the job take much longer than it needed to.

Here are a few things that I have learned from my trials and tribulations:

  • Have all the tools that you are going to need to to replace the bulb handy.  These are often a set of needle nose pliers to remove things like a wire retaining clip and wiring harness.
  • Sometimes there is a little metal extension clip that bridges the gap between the headlight bulb and the wiring harness.  That piece of information took me a couple trips to the local parts store to figure out when I went to return the “incorrect” bulb that I bought. Thankfully one of the workers at the parts counter knew the story on these things and told another one of the counter guys and myself that the part needed to be removed.
  • Don’t ever touch the glass part of the bulb with your bare hand.  The oils from your skin will be left behind and can cause the bulb fail much sooner than usual.  If you do get a fingerprint or something on the glass, clean it with alcohol to remove the skin oils.  I wear latex gloves when handling the bulbs to minimize this.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most important:  if the lights have just been on, wait a bit before changing out the bulbs.  Those suckers get really hot!

Hopefully reading about my struggles will inspire you to take a stab at changing out your own bulbs.  For most cars it isn’t nearly as bad and it is a great way that you can keep your money in your own pocket.

For more information about halogen headlights click that link to read my technical detail article.  And if your headlight aim is out of whack I wrote another article about how to properly align headlights so you can get things back in line.  And lastly, check out my article about how to fix up hazy headlights.