How to change headlight and brake light bulbs
Your headlights and brake lights are among some of the most important safety elements on your vehicle. As well as signalling your intentions to other road users and pedestrians, they're also essential for increasing your visibility during dark or poor conditions.
Driving without either of these, particularly at night-time where they're imperative to everyone's safety, is against the law. If you're seen driving without these important lighting elements illuminated, it's likely you'll get pulled over by the police and given a vehicle defect rectification notice — that's if you were unknowingly driving with these out. This notice means you're given a 14-day period to get the issue fixed and provide proof to the police that it's been sorted e.g., with paperwork from a mechanic, or with evidence that you've bought the items to do the repairs yourself.
If the police find that you're aware that your headlight and brake lights are out, you're likely to receive a £100 on-the-spot fine. These penalties can rise depending on individual situations, so it's important that you frequently check your headlights and brake lights to ensure you're never caught driving without them.
While taking your car straight to the mechanic is a good idea, changing your headlights and brake lights is actually a very simple process, which many non-experts can conduct themselves at home. Plus, it can be quicker than waiting for availability at your local garage.
To help you get started, we've put together this handy guide to show you how to change both your headlight bulb and brake lights. We'll cover:
- About your headlights
- How often should you change your headlights?
- How to pick the correct headlights for your vehicle
- How to change headlight bulbs
- About your brake lights
- How often should you change your brake lights?
- How to pick the correct brake lights for your vehicle
- How to change your car brake lights
Your vehicle will have two types of headlights: dipped and full beam headlights. The former are angled downwards on your car so they cast light onto the road ahead, ensuring you can see where you're going and illuminating any hazards during your journey.
Your full beam headlights are angled higher than your dipped headlights and will be the brightest type of headlight on your vehicle. These should only be switched on when driving down unlit roads and must only be used when there's no other car in front of you.
Both of these are exceptionally important for keeping you safe on the roads, but how often do you need to change them? We'll be explaining this below.
There's a common misconception between drivers who believe that you should wait till your headlight has totally gone out until you look to change it. However, doing this can mean you can encounter some of the problems we outlined above, including large fines and being booked by police.
The lifespan of your headlights can depend on the type of bulb in your vehicle. For example, traditional halogen headlights can last between 450–1,000 hours, while high-intensity discharge headlights can have a duration of between 2,000–10,000. LED bulbs have the longest lifespan of all bulb options, with a potential life of 40,000 hours before they need replacing.
As well as being equipped with the knowledge of your bulb's typical lifespan, it's worth knowing the tell-tale signs of a headlight that's about to go out. These include:
- Flickering headlights: Excessive or prolonged use of your headlights will burn out the filament, which is signalled by a flickering light — like when a candle is almost at the end of its wick. However, this can also be a sign of a faulty battery connection if your car isn't too old, so be sure you check for any loose connections at terminals.
- Dimmer headlamps: As your headlights become more run down, they won't have the same brightness as they previously did. This is likely to continue to happen until they completely fizzle out and can be an indication that you'll need to change your headlights sooner rather than later.
- One headlight is out: If you notice one of your headlights is already out, it's usually an indication that the others are going to follow suit soon, especially if you conducted maintenance on them at the same time previously.
You'll also need to know that as well as old age, your headlight can go out for other reasons including exposure to extreme heat and cold, oxidation, and cracks in bulb housing.
Once you've identified that it's time to change your headlights, it'll be important that you source the correct ones for your vehicle. But how exactly will you know which ones will be compatible with your car? Consulting your manual is usually your best bet as it should detail all of the parts used within your car. However, if you've misplaced it or doesn't have the required information, you can use our handy product finder tool by entering your registration number into the designated box on the headlights page. We'll then be able to reveal all of the headlights we stock that are compatible with your car!
No matter how you find out which headlights are suitable for your vehicle, you'll need to consider which will suit your driving style best. This means considering their life expectancy, brightness, and whether you'd prefer a white or yellow-toned bulb — the former tends to have more advantages including reflecting road signs better in dark conditions, as well as giving a clearer, crisper view.
Changing your headlight bulb is a simple process and can be done in just 6 simple steps for most vehicles. However, it's always best to check your own manual for instructions for your specific model, and to locate things properly and in a safe manner.
You will need:
- Replacement headlight bulbs that are compatible with your car
Once you've collected the above, you can then look at changing your headlights:
- Turn your engine off and let it completely cool down before conducting any repair work. Make sure your keys are taken out of the ignition, too. As you'll be working with wiring, we'd also advise disconnecting the battery — you can find full details of how to do this in our car battery guide.
- Pop open the hood of your car to find the engine compartment of your car and locate the headlight holder. These will be towards the front corners of your vehicle.
- Disconnect the power wires from the headlight bulb and push down on the clip or cap that's holding them in place.
- Pay attention to how the headlamp is secured (e.g. with hooks) and gently remove any fittings. You can then unscrew your headlight — just make sure your fingers aren't on the glass when doing this as pressure, as well as oil and dirt from your hands can cause it to shatter.
- Screw in your new headlight bulb, again without touching the glass and secure it in the same way the old one was, e.g. by replacing any clips or caps.
- Reconnect your battery (using the process outlined in our car battery guide), close the hood of your car and you should be good to go!
It's worth that noting for some vehicles, it'll be a little harder to get to the bulb to replace it. Instead of it being clear of any obstructions, you might find that your headlight is hidden behind the battery or air filter housing. And, even sometimes you'll have to take the inner fender out to get to the headlight to change it. If you find there are engine parts in the way, you'll need to take great care to work around them.
Some cars like Citroens, Volves, and Golfs, typically are trickier to change the headlights on. So, if you have these or any other car models which require more work, it's always best to seek the help of a mechanic.
Your brake light bulbs are essential for letting drivers behind you know that you're slowing down or coming to a halt so they can also follow suit and avoid any accidents. According to the lighting requirements laid out in the Highway Code, you must ensure all of your brake lights are always working. Failure to replace any bulbs that are out can result in anything from a verbal warning to a vehicle defect rectification notice, or in the worst-case scenario can see your car impounded. So, it's important that you regularly check these.
The easiest way to check your headlights are properly working is to ask someone to help. All they'll need to do is stand in front of your car while you turn them on. However, if there's nobody about and you need to check yourself, we'd recommend reversing in front of some windows and gently tapping your brakes. You should aim to do this at least once a week.
While it used to be the norm to have two brake lights — one on either side of the rear of the vehicle — most modern cars will have three with the extra one located below the flank. This helps make your brake lights even more visible, and can help drivers behind you react more quickly when you brake, reducing the chances of an accident.
Typically, your brake light bulbs will last around 4 years before the filament in them is totally worn down and breaks. This roughly equates to around 40,000 miles of driving, so if you frequently use your car for long distance journeys, you might find your brake lights go out quicker than the typical 4-year period.
We'd always advise changing your brake lights in pairs, as they have the same lifespan and once one is out, there's no doubt the other is to follow suit soon after.
You don't want to be caught with your brake lights out, so you should make sure you regularly check that they're working as they should be. If you find that your brake lights are constantly lit, or coming on and off irregularly, it might be an indication that you need to change your brake light switch, too.
Changing your own brake lights is a simple procedure and can be done right on your driveway. But first, you'll need to be equipped with the right brake lights for your vehicle. In order to pick one suitable for your car, you can either check your car's manual, or use our handy product finder tool. Simply enter your registration plate in the designated box on the brake light bulb page and we'll show you which brake lights will fit perfectly with your car make and model.
You're sure to be greeted with a selection of replacement light bulbs, so it's worth knowing a little bit about each and seeing which will match up best with your driving style and requirements. There are three main type of bulbs to choose from:
- Halogen: These are the most common type of bulb and are fitted with a thin metal filament that is heated by an electric current and halogen gas to produce the light. This is typically the cheapest option for car bulbs, and usually has a lifespan of between 500–1,000 hours.
- Xenon HID: These are typically fitted in modern car models and so require a newer fitting. Rather than a filament, Xenon bulbs use two electrodes and work based on a gas discharge principle. They do tend to be more expensive than halogen options, but last three-times longer, so are a great option if you drive long journeys at night often.
- LED: LED lights are a more environmentally friendly choice than halogen bulbs and most can be used as replacements. However, the power of an LED is so low compared to traditional halogens that your car could flag it as not working on the dashboard.
Your brake lights can be easily changed at home with just a few things — and it'll be reasonably quick to do, too!
- A screwdriver
- Replacement brake light bulbs
- Dielectric grease
You can then follow these 5 simple steps to replace your old brake lights:
- Turn off your engine and allow your car to completely cool before doing any repairs. Make sure your keys are also taken out of the ignition.
- Use a screwdriver to remove the taillight housing which protects your taillight, brake light, and reverse lights. This will be a good opportunity to also inspect your taillight seal and make sure it is fixed in position properly and not gaping.
- Remove the brake lights that no longer work, being careful not to put your fingertips on the glass. You may need to unclip or unscrew the bulbs so make sure you look at how they are secured.
- You can then fit your new bulbs, in the reverse way you removed the old ones. Make sure to secure them in with any screws or caps if applicable. Your manual will usually have instructions on how to do this properly if you're unsure.
Top tip: Apply some dielectric grease to the metal end of the new brake light bulb so it can resist corrosion and rust and is easier to remove next time.
- Re-attach the taillight housing, making sure to screw everything in securely and you're good to go!
The same process will also work for your high-level brake light which sits in the middle of your taillight and brake light.
Make sure you're never caught breaking the law by learning how to change your own car headlights and brake lights with the tips in this guide. You'll save yourself time, effort, and money. And, as it's a simple process to change either of these essential bulbs, you can be sure you'll be able to follow it easily. However, if you have any reservations, make sure you take your vehicle to a professional mechanic.
Here at GSF Car Parts, we have a range of essential components to keep your car running like a well-oiled machine. This includes everything from electrical and lighting parts, to engine oils, and service parts, so you're sure to find what you need for all your repair needs. We offer free UK delivery on all orders as standard, as well as a free Click and Collect service available in all of our local branches.
Looking to carry out more DIY car repairs? You'll be pleased to hear we have plenty of handy guides in our knowledge hub that'll help you jump start your car, bleed your brakes, remove bodywork scratches, troubleshoot engine smoke, and much more. If you have any queries about any of the parts we sell, don't hesitate to get in touch with us today.