Burned out headlights are a repair that needs immediate attention. They not only impair driver sight distance, but they are also certain to get the attention of any patrol officer you may meet. Worse than a traffic ticket, they can cause traffic accidents. If your headlights are not working, and an accident happens, you are held at least partly responsible whether you committed any actual driving infractions or not. So, yes, replacing headlight assemblies must not be delayed.
NOTE: The following steps are generic in nature. This brief article does not aim to cover all the different headlight assembly differences.
There are dozens of variations in parts to be removed and the tools needed. This article is about the basic steps required for most applications.
Steps for Removal
Raise the hood and examine your particular headlight assembly. Take note of how many screws are holding it in place and the tool needed to remove them.
Usually, the assembly will have three or four screws: two on the top above the assembly which attach to the front bumper assembly, and one or two under the assembly.
If your vehicle has a front bumper assembly, inspect it to see if you need to remove the entire piece, or if you need to take loose only one end.
Use a ratchet and extension to remove the screws which hold the bumper cover in place. Remove the top screws first. Next, remove the bottom screws.
You may or may not need to remove the turn signal assembly. If it is in the bumper cover, you need to unscrew the screws at each end and pull it out of its hole.
Do not unplug it and completely remove it. Leave it hanging out of the way so you can reach the screw(s) which hold the bumper cover in place. Gently pull back the end of the bumper cover you have loosened.
Steps for Replacement
Now, the headlight assembly bottom headlight screw(s) should be visible. Remove the bottom screw(s) first. Unscrew the top two attached to the front assembly frame. Unplug the bulb connection and carefully remove the entire assembly.
Insert the replacement. Screw in the bottom screw(s) first since it is the most difficult to reach. Screw in the two top screws and plug in the light bulb connector. Re-attach the bumper cover assembly in the reverse order you removed it.
Aligning New Headlight Assemblies
Again, depending on the vehicle and the type of headlight assembly you just replaced, you may or may not need to follow this last step. Some need alignment and some may not. The following are steps for headlight alignment.
Refer to your owner’s manual to locate your particular vehicle’s headlight adjustment screws. These are not the same as the retaining screws. You should find both vertical and horizontal adjustment screws.
Make sure you are on level terrain, and you have a wall or garage door with some kind of horizontal lines you can use to measure vertical and horizontal locations.
Measure roughly 25 feet from the wall or garage door. Use chalk to mark the 25-foot line.
Position the vehicle within six to eight inches from the wall or door and turn on the low beam headlights.
Use tape or chalk to horizontally mark the exact center of the reflected light on the wall or door. Also, mark the exact middle of the headlight beam reflection. You now have the two critical measurements.
Slowly back the vehicle to the 25-foot mark you set earlier. As you back the vehicle, track the path of the headlight reflections. They should travel gradually below and to the right of the marks you put on the wall or door.
If they do, they are properly aligned. If they do not track correctly, adjust either the vertical or horizontal screws you located earlier.
Yes, there is always more to a ‘simple repair’ than first glance may tell you. If you follow the general steps above, you too can correctly replace and align your headlight assemblies.