Tuesday, March 5, 2013

DIY Fix: How to Remove and Replace Glass Headlight on Your Car

Did road debris or a rock damage your headlight?  We show you how to replace the glass lens!

While spring is on its way here, the hours of daylight are still less than the hours of darkness and many drivers spend part of their commute using their headlights.  Many new cars have headlight housings made of plastic, but a lot of older cars have headlight housings made of glass which are prone to cracking to if they are struck by debris.

A small chip can quickly spread into a large crack and make night time driving hazardous for both the driver and other commuters.  The crack affects the beam pattern, increasing glare for oncoming drivers.  For the driver, moisture can enter the housing and short out the headlight, or the glass housing can shatter.

Our daily driver vehicle is equipped with glass headlight housings, and we recently had an errant rock create a chip on our housing which had spread to a massive crack in a few miles.  By the time we got  home from our work commute, the housing was threatening to completely break.  Rather than pay a lot of money to have the dealership/mechanic's shop fix the headlight lens, we decided to save some money and do it ourselves. 

Follow along as we show you a step-by-step tutorial on how to replace the glass lens housing of the headlight. 

Here's a look at our cracked and damaged headlight.  It's definitely not useful right now!

Our car in question today is a mid 90s Volvo 850, and its headlight lenses are made of glass.  As you saw in the first photo, the headlight had chipped and then cracked beyond repair using a simple resin filling.  We will show you how we replaced the lens on our car, and although other cars have some differences, it should give you an idea of what is involved to repair your headlight.  The job itself took us about 45 minutes to do including taking the time to photograph and document our steps.  Some cars may take a bit more time to do.  As a general disclaimer, we take no responsibility for any damage you do to your car or to yourself, we only provide this tutorial as a guide.  You assume all risks involved with servicing your vehicle.  If in doubt, have a professional fix your car.

The tools we needed for the job were:
- Flat tip screwdriver
- 10 mm socket and 12 mm socket
- 3/8" drive rachet and 1 extension
- Latex gloves, or mechanics' gloves if you're allergic to latex
- Rubbing alcohol and clean cloths 

You can see the 2 12 mm bolts that need to be removed to move the hood latch mechanism out of the way.  The socket is pointing at 1 of the 2 bolts.
We started by disconnecting the negative terminal of the battery to cut any power to the headlights.  Our car's terminal was held on by a 10 mm nut.  After removing the negative terminal, place it out of the way and be sure not to have it touch any metal surfaces.  We then removed the hood latch mechanism by the side of the front fender by undoing 2 12 mm bolts.  This allowed us to have more room to access the 10 mm bolts holding in the headlight assembly and to help us remove the corner lamp assembly.

Pull the metal spring back to slide it out of the plastic groove in order to remove the corner lamp assembly.
Next, we pulled on the circular metal spring and slid it out of the groove holding the spring in place.  Once the spring slides out of the groove, the corner lamp assembly is can be pushed out and removed from the car.
This is the corner lamp removed from the car.  It's also a good time to inspect/replace the gasket for the bulb housing and the bulb itself.
The electrical connector can be removed by squeezing the metal tab down and pulling at the same time.

The corner lamp assembly is attached by a single electrical connector which can be pulled off by squeezing down on the metal tab holding the connector in place. 

We then removed a similar electrical connector from the headlight assembly.  After that, we focused our attention to the 3 10 mm bolts holding the headlight in place.
This is 1 of the 3 10 mm bolts that need to be removed.  It is located right next to the radiator.

Here you can see the 2nd of the 3 bolts that needs to be removed.  The last one is directly below.
The last of the 3 10 mm bolts that need to be taken off of the headlight assembly.

Once we removed the 3 bolts, the headlight assembly will be able to come off by pushing it out from behind.  A little finessing will get it to clear the lower plastic garnish trim.

Here you can see the gaping hole left by the removed headlight assembly and the 3 bolt holes and electrical connector you had to take off. 

The clips come off by using gentle prying from behind with a flat tip screwdriver.
There are 8 metal clips attaching the headlight lens to the entire assembly.  We removed them by using a flat tip screwdriver and gently prying the clips off from the back.  Be careful not to use too much force as it could cause the glass lens to break.

Here are the 8 clips that need to be taken off the headlight housing.
With the clips removed, we carefully pulled the glass lens off the headlight assembly.  Be careful not to injure yourself since there could be shards of glass.  If the lens is stubborn and won't come off, you can use the flat tip screwdriver to lift the lens away from the rubber seal.

After the glass is off, we cleaned the inside of the housing and threw away the old lens.  Next, we removed the old rubber seal and threw it away too.  If your replacement lens did not come with a new rubber seal, you can reuse your old one if it's still in good shape.  Since our headlight lens did come with a new seal, we used the flat tip screwdriver to put the seal in place in the plastic housing.  Take your time when doing this step and be sure the seal sits neatly inside the plastic track.
We used the flat tip screwdriver to help us guide the new seal into place.
Our seal was a little long, and we had to cut the excess off before finishing up the seal.
We had to cut off the excess rubber to make the seal fit perfectly.  You may have to do the same.
With the new seal in place, the headlight housing should like this:
This is our headlight assembly ready for the new glass.
We took rubbing alcohol and wiped the inside of the new glass lens to remove any grease or oil.  Then we placed the lens against the housing and secured back in place with the metal clips.  It may take a little bit of force to get the clips back onto the lens and plastic housing.  We found it easiest if you start from the plastic side and then clip the clip on the glass lens.
We found it easier to attached the lens and plastic housing by having the clip secure the plastic side first and then snap onto the lens.
Once all 8 clips are attached, make sure the glass lens is lined up straight and that there are no gaps between the seal and the lens.  You don't want any moisture to get inside or it could burn out your headlight! 
Here's our headlight fully assembled and ready to go back on.
Installation is the reverse of removal, and don't forget to double check that you have attached the electrical connectors.  With the new headlight in place, we reconnected the negative terminal and checked to make sure the headlight worked.  Don't forget to double check your beam pattern and have it adjusted correctly too.
The new headlight lens fully installed and ready to help you see at night!
Congratulations!  You're now ready to enjoy your night time driving again, and saved yourself some money by doing it yourself!  Who knows, maybe this will encourage you to take on other aspects of car maintenance.  It's not too bad when you start to break it down into little steps right? 

Is there any routine/basic car maintenance you would like for us to make as a tutorial?  If so, send us an email!  Happy motoring and keep on driving!

Here's a link to a DIY license plate light installation: License Plate Bulb Removal and Replacement

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