Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Headlight replacement cost

Headlight replacement cost varies by year, make and model

The headlight styles on cars and trucks have changed over the years from sealed beams to headlight capsules. A headlight capsule is basically a light bulb enclosed inside a glass tube. Headlight replacement cost on many cars and trucks can cost as little as $20 per side. On those vehicles, you access the headlight capsule from the engine compartment. However, some late model vehicles require major disassembly and removal of the entire headlight assembly just to replace the bulb. In those vehicles it’s not uncommon to see a headlight replacement cost well over $125!

Can you replace a headlight yourself?

Probably, as long as the access to the bulb is from under the hood. To replace a headlight, you’ll first have to find the proper bulb. You can find that information in the specifications section of your owner’s manual. But you can also find it online at major headlight bulb manufacturer’s websites. Here are some links to those sites

Search for Sylvania or click here

Search for Philips or click here

Search for GE or click here

Search for Wagner or click here

What’s the difference between the different headlight capsule part numbers?

Dual filament headlight bulbs

Some car makers use a single headlight bulb (capsule) for high and low beams. Those bulbs contain two filaments located in different positions to cast the light in different directions. In the U.S. where driving is on the right side of the road, the low-beam filament can sometimes be located above and slightly in front of the reflector’s focal point. That provides a wider beam that’s directed down towards the road with a slight right facing concentration. Or the engineers can locate the low beam filament at the focal point to gain maximum light output. The high beam filament is located behind the focal point and slightly below it to cast the light upwards. Headlight bulb #’s 9004, 9007, and H13 have two filaments. While the 9004 and 9007 bulbs have the same base, the wiring connections are different and the filament orientations are different. See the illustrations below.

Single filament headlight bulbs

Other car makers relay on two separate bulbs and reflectors to provide low and high beam coverage. In those applications, the bulb and the focal point of the reflector are optimized to provide the brightest beam patterns.

The base on each headlight bulb type has a different “keyed” arrangement, ensuring that it can only be installed one way. If you’re changing your own headlights, make sure you pay attention to the orientation of the bulb as you remove it. That’ll make installation go much faster.

The bulbs are NOT interchangeable. If your vehicle requires an H11 headlight bulb, that is the only bulb you can use.

headlight replacement cost

Notice the filament orientation in these two bulbs

headlight replacement cost

The bulb socket looks the same between a 9004 and 9007 headlight bulb, but it’s not

Can you get a brighter headlight bulb?

Brighter? Not really. Headlight bulb manufacturers offer several different models of each bulb part number. Sylvania, for example offers four different products for bulb #9007, a dual filament bulb. Each Sylvania 9007 bulbs consumes 55-watts and all four bulbs provide the same light output, 1,000 lumens. However, by varying the filament design, the glass capsule, optical coatings and the gas inside, they can change the color of the light and how far down the road the beams shines. The color of the light can affect how well you see objects in the road ahead of you.

So paying $50/set of 2 Sylvania SilverStar zXe bulbs may provide better vision at night. But there’s no free lunch. You’ll pay for that with significantly shorter bulb life. In this case, the ordinary headlight bulb installed at the factory has an estimated life of 500-hrs. The Sylvania SilverStar zXe bulb is rated at just 250-hrs—half the life of the factory bulb! The Sylvania SilverStar bulb which touts a whiter light than the factory bulbs has the shortest life at just 200-hrs.

Replace halogen headlight bulbs with LED

Many manufacturers now offer “direct fit” LED bulb replacements

LED headlight bulb

Multiple diodes=Multiple focal points=light scatter and glare

that claim higher light output. That claim is misleading. LED bulbs are more energy efficient than a comparable filament bulb, so they output more lumens per watt. But, LED bulbs must use multiple light emitting diodes to achieve that higher lumen output, and those individual LEDs and NOT all located at the focal point of your car’s reflector. So even though the bulb itself puts out more lumens, they’re not being focused properly.

If you install LED bulbs in a reflector certified for a specific halogen bulb, you’ll get more light scatter, a less focused beam and produce more glare to oncoming drivers.

headlight replacement cost

Proper filament placement provides optimum light output and beam pattern

HID conversion kit

When the filament position changes, so does the beam pattern

Retrofit HID bulbs into a halogen headlight assembly

Many companies also offer “drop-in” HID replacement kits that tout much higher light output and whiter light. High intensity discharge (HID) lights use a completely different technology from tungsten filament bulbs. An HID bulb is like a fluorescent tube in the respect that the light is formed from an arc. There is no filament. Instead, power is introduced into the bulb capsule by two electrodes. A high current is generate to ignite the arc and a lower constant power is supplied to maintain the arc.

HID bulbs DO output more lumens and whiter light. But that doesn’t mean they do a better job of lighting up the road when retrofitted into a headlight assembly designed for halogen bulbs. In fact, the opposite is true.

Traditional filament bulbs provide a single hot spot of light in the center of the filament. But HID bulbs provide two hot spots of light, one at each electrode. That means the two bright spots of light will NEVER be in the focal point of the halogen reflector when the bulb is inserted into a halogen headlight assembly. Since HID bulbs aren’t in the focal point, their light isn’t focused the same as a halogen bulb. They throw more light upwards into oncoming traffic, causing glare. Since the beam isn’t focused properly, they actually cast less light on the road.

HID retrofit bulbs

The center of the HID bulb lines up with the center of the Halogen bulb. But unlike a filament bulb, an HID bulb doesn’t produce the brightest in the center. It’s two hot spots are OFF CENTER. That’s why HID bulbs produce glare and cast LESS light on the road when placed in a halogen headlight assembly

The very fact that users must change the alignment of their headlights to put more of the light on the road is proof that HID bulbs are not “drop in” replacements. If they were, you would never have to adjust a halogen headlight assembly to accommodate an HID bulb.

Tilting the halogen headlight assembly down to avoid casting glare in oncoming traffic is counter-productive because it also reduces downrange illumination.

HID retrofit bulbs are illegal

For all these reasons, HID retrofit kits are NOT street legal, no matter what the seller says. The only way to convert your car to HID is to replace the entire headlight assembly with one that is designed specifically for HID bulbs and is D.O.T. certified. See this post for more details.

How can HID manufacturers get away with calling their kits “drop in” replacements when they’re actually illegal? Most manufacturers try using a disclaimer that says the kits are “for off-road use only.” Since Federal lighting regulations don’t apply to off-road use, you may think that disclaimer bypasses Federal regulations. Think again.

Police are targeting HID headlight conversions

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is advising local law enforcement officials that high-intensity discharge (HID) conversion kits are ripe for enforcement actions because they do not comply iin any way with federal lighting standards. Simply put, NHTSA has concluded that it is impossible to produce an HID conversion kit that installs into a halogen headlight assembly that could possibly be compliant with the federal lighting standard, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108.

Since the hot spots produced in an HID light bulb in a retrofit installation are not at the proper focal point of the reflector, the kits can be expected to produce excessive glare to oncoming motorists. In one investigation, the NHTSA found that an HID conversion headlamp exceeded the maximum allowable candlepower by over 800%.

You can be held liable for injury and death by retrofitting an HID kit

If you take the time to read your insurance policy, you’ll notice that the insurer does not cover damage or injury caused by modifications to your vehicle which do not comply with federal regulations. Since HID conversion kits don’t comply, if the glare from your headlights is a proximal cause of an accident, you can be held liable for damages–damages which your insurance company may not cover.

©, 2017 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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