How much does a headlight bulb replacement cost?

How much does a headlight bulb replacement cost?

There are few things more vital to safe driving, especially in winter than headlights. Even before dark, they improve your car's visibility massively, reducing accidents with both other vehicles and pedestrians.  

When one of your headlights is out, it’s crucial to get it fixed as soon as possible. Read on to learn when you need to change your headlights, how to change them as well as the average cost of replacing headlight bulbs. 

How long do headlights last?

Naturally, headlights fail over time, usually lasting well over 500 hours. When one fails it’s important to change it as soon as possible.  

Depending on the setup of your car's lights, it could seriously affect your car's visibility to other road users, as well as your own. Read on for more on the types of headlight systems. 

How long do LED headlights last 

The newest lighting technology, LEDs use much less power than HID or Halogen systems but emit a brighter, more controllable light pattern.  

As you may be familiar with, household bulbs, do not emit anywhere near as much heat as traditional bulbs and last much longer too, up to 30,000 hours.  

Is it worth upgrading your headlight bulbs? 

There are many aftermarket bulbs you can buy at varying prices. 

Manufacturers of these products often make claims such as a 150% increase in brightness, and 2x further distance. Whilst the images look convincing, it’s difficult to know how much the bulbs are improving your visibility.  

Group tests by organisations such as Autocar review all the options available and present their findings, here's a list of their best car headlight bulbs for 2022.

As reported by users, these bulbs can often fail sooner than standard ones, so they may not always be worth the extra cost.  

person changing headlights

How much does it cost to buy and fit a replacement headlight bulb?

Halfords charges around £8-15 for fitting replacement headlight bulbs. 

Headlight bulbs are generally fairly cheap to replace, many retailers offer free fitting when you buy their bulbs. Fitting costs are rarely more than the cost of the bulbs themselves. 

Another option is to use a garage from one of the main nationwide companies such as ATS, Kwik Fit or Wilco, these places often charge more for bulbs, but offer free fitting, while you wait.

Can I change my headlight bulbs myself? 

In short, it depends on what vehicle you have, the older the car the more likely you are to be able to do this, some newer cars, however, require bumpers to be removed, which can take considerable time, space and tools. 

In years gone by this would be an easy question to answer, with cars being designed for ease of servicing and maintenance, as well as working on cars being common knowledge. 

Nowadays, with everyone having less free time, and cars being more and more complicated, it can sometimes be very hard to do the simplest tasks yourself, such as changing a bulb.

How much does a replacement headlight cost?

You can buy replacement headlight bulbs for no more than £3 each in a local independent car parts shop. They are often also more likely to give advice and tips than the big names. 

If you’d like to save some money and learn a bit more about your car, you can buy the bulbs and fit them yourself. It’s great to do this at least once, as it may be required in an emergency situation. 

The retailers mentioned above all sell bulbs without fitting, especially Halfords and Wilco.  

Which headlight bulbs do I need?  

With car design being so varied, there are multiple different sizes and modes of car headlight bulbs. Some have a single filament, and others have two.  

Single filament bulbs are used in cars that have two pairs of headlight fittings and reflectors; one for the main beam, and one for the dipped beam. 

Headlight bulbs are labelled using the H notation, the following bulb types are most commonly used: H1, H3, H4, H7, H11, HB3 and HB4. None of the bulbs are interchangeable so its important to find out what one your car uses before buying.

Bulb diagram

How to find which headlight bulb I need 

As with most things replaceable or refillable on your car, the user manual is the best place to check. It will list all the bulbs required including brake lights, indicators and headlights.  

For an easier way to check, there are many different sites that can tell you which bulb you need.

How to change a headlight bulb 

This varies from car to car, it's always best to check your owner's manual for a guide on how to do this before attempting. Here is a brief guide to how it can be done: 

  1. Locate which bulb has broken 
  2. Locate the plastic cover on the back of the headlight unit and pop it off 
  3. Remove the metal clip to free the connector and bulb. Carefully remove the bulb from the connector (the edges of the bulb and headlight can be sharp) 
  4. Remove the bulb from the packaging and re-insert it into the connector 
  5. Replace the connector ensuring the tabs are aligned correctly 
  6. Replace the spring clip and plastic cap 

Accessing the bulb 

The above procedure sounds simple, but some cars obscure the back of the headlight with other components in the engine bay, in some cases the entire headlight has to be removed in order to get to the bulb. 

Touching the glass 

Do not touch the glass of the headlight bulb, grease and oils from our skin can cause the bulb to fail prematurely. 

Halogen Vs HID headlights

There are many different types of headlights, from traditional filament-style bulbs to LED, and each one needs special consideration when repairing or replacing.  

Whilst it’s not usually possible to select between these when upgrading - it’s built into the design of the headlight, it is useful to know when it comes to replacing your own car's bulbs 

Traditional halogen bulbs 

These are the most common type of bulb, they use a tungsten filament similar to old-fashioned home light bulbs, but are much smaller in size.  

Often producing light with yellow tones, it’s easy to spot which cars on the road use these types of lights. The name halogen comes from the halogen gas used to fill the glass chambers, to prevent the filament from reacting with oxygen in the air.  

These bulbs have a typical life expectancy of 2,000 - 3,000 hours. The lowest of all types of bulbs available. They also offer the lowest light output, but they are considerably cheaper than the competition to produce and maintain. 

High-intensity discharge or HID 

Whilst the technology has been around since the 90s, they were only really beginning to be a common sight by the mid-2000s. Often offered as an optional extra from the factory, HID headlights provide a much brighter experience than halogen.  

HID bulbs work by using an electrical arc sustained by metal salts inside the bulb and initiated with the help of xenon gas.  

Emitting a bright white light, they give a more modern look from both inside and outside of the car. The life expectancy of HID systems is 10,000 hours or more. 

modern car headlight

What's the difference between HID and halogen? 

HID lights require a ‘projector’ inside the light fixture. The term projector headlights is often used interchangeably with HID, although nowadays projector lights can be used with LED, too.  

Projectors do exactly as one would expect, they have an optical lens at the front of the light that directs the beam forward. Older style lights would be considered reflector lights in contrast. 

Projectors give a much more directional light, with less wasted light straying up into the sky, or off at extremely wide angles.  

It’s easy to tell if a car has projector lights, HID or LED when driving at night, because the edges of the beam will be crisp and sharp, compared to a softer beam pattern with halogen lights. 

Do HIDs blind oncoming drivers? 

The one key difference between HID and Halogen in practical terms is that HIDs need to be used with projector lights. Those that do can and usually are properly adjusted to never blind oncoming traffic. 

In recent years, though, kits have become available that allow an owner to retrofit HID lights into standard reflector units. In this case, the light can emit dangerous levels of stray light, which is difficult to direct as it would be with the correct bulb. 

Thankfully fitting HIDs without the other required components is illegal and will fail an MOT. 

Cars fitted with HIDs from the factory must have an automatic headlight levelling and washing system. The former is to ensure the beam does not stray into oncoming traffic’s eye line, even if the car is heavily loaded and not sitting level. 

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