Replacing a headlight bulb is quite straightforward, in principle. A bulb slots and locks into a reflector housing and has an electrical connector providing power. Access to the bulbs for replacement isn’t always easy, but is usually provided for in some way so as to make it not too laborious.
There are a few different kinds of bulbs, and the cost of replacement typically comes down to what kind of bulb is used. There is a high beam and a low beam. Sometimes they are combined using two different elements in the same bulb, and sometimes they are separate.
Headlight Bulb Replacement Costs
Using £70 to £100 per hour as a labour rate, some estimates of the headlight replacement costs for some common vehicles are presented below:
- 2008 Nissan Altima
Standard halogen is used for the high beams, but the low beam bulb comes in either halogen or an HID option. The labour time to replace any bulb is estimated at 0.7 of an hour. A factory halogen bulb costs about £21, and an aftermarket bulb costs about £8. This makes the cost of replacing a headlight about £70 to complete using OE parts, or £57 using aftermarket parts.
If the vehicle has the HID option, a factory replacement costs about £170, and a non-OE replacement costs about £22. The total cost to replace an HID headlight would be about £220 using factory parts or about £70 using aftermarket parts.
- 2017 Chrysler 300
Here again, there are two headlight options — halogen or HID. The high and low beam functions are combined into one bulb on this vehicle, and the labour time to replace the bulb on either side is estimated at 0.5 of an hour. A factory halogen headlight costs around £50, and an aftermarket bulb costs about £13. This makes the total cost of about £85 to complete using factory parts, or about £50 using aftermarket parts.
If the vehicle has the HID option, a factory replacement bulb costs about £220, and a non-OE bulb costs about £63. This makes the cost of replacing an HID headlight about £255 using OE parts or about £98 using aftermarket parts.
- 2006 Volkswagen Golf
The labour time to replace a headlamp bulb is estimated at 0.3 of an hour, and it uses standard halogen bulbs. There are separate bulbs for the high and low beams. Factory bulbs cost about £20 for the low beam bulb and £8 for the high beam bulb. Phillips replacement bulbs cost about £5 for either bulb.
For a low beam, the total cost would be around £40 using OE parts or £26 using aftermarket parts. For a high beam, the job would cost around £30 to complete using OE parts, or about £26 using aftermarket parts.
- 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The labour time to replace a headlamp bulb is about 0.3 of an hour, and separate high and low beam bulbs are used. A high or low beam replacement bulb from an aftermarket manufacturer costs about £8 each, and the factory replacement bulbs cost about £19 each. This makes the cost of replacing a headlight bulb about £40 using OE bulbs, or about £29 using aftermarket bulbs.
Headlight Bulb Replacement
Car headlight bulbs have been halogen for years now. The costs for those from aftermarket sources are pretty reasonable – from about £4 to £13, and there are typically many varieties available.
Different intensities and different colour temperatures are options (being more yellow or more blue), but the general operation and the costs are roughly the same. Sometimes they are replaced in pairs to match the colour and intensity, though it’s not necessary to do so.
The next type of headlight is HID, which stands for “high-intensity discharge”. It also goes by the name of “xenon,” which is the gas used in the bulbs.
These are more efficient bulbs, converting a greater amount of the electrical power they consume into light and less into heat. Typically, they are about twice as bright as halogen bulbs. They do require a ballast to work, similar to fluorescent lights, and are generally more expensive.
There are several production vehicles that use HID lighting, but they are more common as a lighting upgrade when halogen bulbs are being replaced. Usually, the conversion plugs into the factory wiring harness and then has an additional requirement of where to secure the ballast.
LED bulbs are another type of bulb. They are an efficient replacement option with good light-production characteristics, but are only available as aftermarket replacements.
For the most part, as long as the connectors and fitments match, any bulb can be installed in any system. As long as the wattage (energy consumption) of a replacement bulb doesn’t exceed that of the factory bulbs, there should be no problems with fuses or wiring.
Other Problems that Can Come Up
Headlight bulbs can just burn out by themselves for no particular reason. But sometimes, there is an underlying cause.
Any oils on the bulb glass can cause local hot spots when the bulb is on, which can cause stresses in the glass and cracking. This releases the bulb vacuum and causes it to burn out.
Care should be taken not to touch a bulb when it is installed. However, a bulb that has a problem like that will usually burn out in a few days if it is going to burn out.
Condensation in the headlight assembly can cause the same kind of issue. Most headlight housing assemblies are sealed, but some have a small vent to allow any condensation to drain out.
If the housing seals have failed or if a vent is blocked, then water can accumulate and fog the interior. This leads to the bulbs not working very well (shining through fog) and failing prematurely.
It’s not uncommon to replace a headlight assembly if bulb failures have been a problem and there is excessive moisture in the headlight assemblies.
The headlights generate heat and flow a great deal of current as they operate. That makes the connections susceptible to heat damage.
As with any electrical connection, there is a male pin (the bulb side) and a female receiver (on the connector side). The details of the receiver are that it has a box section of metal on three sides and a spring-metal piece on the fourth side that holds the connection firm.
The springiness of the metal is easily damaged by heat, so one of the more common problems is that heat damages the connector and then the connection loses its strength, which causes electrical resistance. This leads to more heat and damage until the connection is lost entirely.
Headlight connectors have to be replaced often enough that they are commonly available from aftermarket sources. Parts are usually about £4 to £8, or double these rates, when going with OE parts.
Making permanent wiring connections is a somewhat specialised skill. However, it’s not that difficult with the right tools and the labour is usually about half an hour.