How to Inspect and Replace Your Car’s Light Bulbs

Published: 11/25/2010 by AutoShopit

How to Inspect and Replace Your Car’s Light Bulbs

Do you check the operation of all of your vehicle lights on a routine basis? Far too many of us neglect the important safety and function aspects of our lights, so let’s walk around the vehicle and examine the bulbs, the signals, the flashing, the main checks and light basics we need to focus on, as well as what to share with your auto repair shop when dealing with vehicle light bulbs.

As always, we stress safety and recommend that you follow the manufacturer’s periodic service recommendations for your vehicle. These and other specifications and data are usually listed in the owner’s manual. Pay special attention to the electrical system information covering light bulbs and / or light emitting diodes (LEDs) in the manual. Take notes as you inspect your lights so that the proper adjustments and repairs can be made.

  • Safety – First, last, and always, assure the safety of all personnel and property. If you don’t know what you’re doing around a vehicle, especially an electrical system, BEWARE! There is a risk of injury or other damage when dealing with electricity and bulbs. Learn, understand, and follow all safety precautions. In general, most checks of the system should be conducted with the main battery lead disconnected to avoid shock or damage to the system. Other checks must rely on the battery or another power source to verify proper function. Determine whether power is needed or not, and proceed with caution.
  • General Inspection –With the engine turned off, conduct a simple visual inspection of all light or lamp locations. Check the headlights, turn signals, tail lamps, back-up lamps; each and every light, for any signs of missing parts, cracks, or other damage. Activate the four-way flashers and check all front, side, and rear signals for proper function; cancel the four-way flasher when you’ve completed a check of all bulbs in the system. Turn on the park lamps, check them, then turn on the head lights and operate both high beams and low beams, checking that all lights are working and are properly aimed and adjusted. As needed, start the vehicle if necessary to operate any of the lights. Check the dash and instrument indicator lamps along with all lights and lamps that the vehicle has; the owner’s manual will be helpful in identifying any lights or systems that you may not have considered, such as the bulbs for the ash tray, transmission shift indicator, headlight high beam indicator, or license plate.
  • Bulb Identification  – Eliminate guesswork and wasted time, money, and effort by referring to the owner’s manual. That handy little guide will give you the best method for determining what type of lights are needed. Some bulbs will look very similar but will have a different part number, configuration, and purpose, so always make sure that you have properly identified the bulb before attempting to replace it. Keep in mind that a bulb, especially in a pre-owned vehicle, may not be the correct one. Check and make sure that you have properly identified the bulb, type, and number involved.
  • Bulb Removal and Replacement – Some bulbs are difficult to access. There can be other parts in the way that must be removed or simply moved out of the way temporarily. Identify what must be done, assess your ability to do it; decide whether to have your auto repair shop conduct the repair. If you’re going to do it yourself, have the replacement bulb(s) with you, along with the proper tools. As necessary, disconnect the main battery lead before you begin. Some bulbs are retained in a plug-type housing that may be of the push-and-twist configuration, or may have a wiring harness or “pigtail” attached, or may be the press-in or screw-in type. Always determine what you’re working with first and proceed with caution and with patience to avoid breaking bulbs or causing other damage.

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