Shed some light?
April 28, 2006 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me replace the driver's side headlight on my 1996 Toyota Corolla!

I'm short on cash these days, and I was led to believe that replacing headlights is a relatively simple operation. However, after buying a replacement bulb I discovered that the socket is underneath the car battery, which must be moved in order to install the new bulb.

What do I need to know about taking the battery out (tools, strategy, risk of self-injury, risk of killing car) and about putting the new bulb in? Is this as simple as it seems, or should I suck it up and go to a professional? If so, how much should I expect to pay considering I already have the necessary part?
posted by brina to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
taking the battery out is easy. just locate the 2 terminals on the top of the battery. there will be one cable going to each terminal, and a bolt that you can use to loosen the cable. use a wrench to loosen the cables. red is positive, black is negative. they should be marked, but pay attention anyway and remember which is which. the positive cable goes to the positive terminal on your battery, negative to negative.

some batteries are also held down by a bracket, sometimes with a wing nut or something. take that off too. then you can just lift the battery out. assembly is the same thing in reverse.

keep in mind that most batteries sit in a plastic tray, that you'd then (probably) have to figure out how to remove to get at something underneath it.

as far as risks - not much in the way of damaging your car, except that you'll have to reset your radio stations when you reconnect everything.

there IS a significant risk though of hurting yourself if you make an electrical connection across the terminals of the battery. battery exploding, lead shrapnel, vaporized sulfuric acid. just be careful you don't drop a wrench or something across the terminals and you'll be fine though.

tools - a basic socket set should get you through it. if it's a toyota you'll probably need metric tools, not inches.

have fun!
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:35 PM on April 28, 2006

oh, also - pick up a chilton or haynes manual for your car. they're usually pretty good and walk you through the steps to this kind of thing. you can get them at pretty much any auto parts store.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:39 PM on April 28, 2006

I had a teacher in back in high school who was mad when he came to class one day. Apparently he had to stay up late changing a bulb in his Camry because it was nearly impossible to get to.
To remove the battery disconnect the the cables in this order. Always disconnect the negative first and then the positive. When it's time to reconnect hook up the positive and then the negative last. This prevents any chance of the wrench causing a short.
posted by lemhuxley at 5:51 PM on April 28, 2006

As a small contribution to making sure this job comes in under budget, let me note that your public library almost certainly has a Chilton/Haynes manual too. (That said--if you're going to regularly work on your car yourself, it's one of the best investments you could make.)

And changing the bulb itself is easy-peasy. Just don't move the little screws that control the headlight alignment, because there's no reason to, and, if you do touch 'em, having to make sure the headlights are even will easily double the repair time.
posted by box at 6:19 PM on April 28, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice/reassurance, everyone! I'll try this tomorrow morning. Hopefully it won't be an utter failure ... If I don't post again, it means I've blown myself up somehow.
posted by brina at 8:07 PM on April 28, 2006

I fixed two headlights in a row by giving them a good whack with my fist. One was my own car about a year ago, and the light is still working, and the other is a friend's, whose light is still working. Before you go out and buy a new one, give it a good rap with your fist and see if it helps.
posted by wsg at 11:58 PM on April 28, 2006

All good advice above but I'll add two things: be careful not to twist the posts of the battery (the big lead terminals) while you're undoing or tightening the terminals on the cable. It's pretty easy to twist them off the underlying plate connections if you're over-enthusiastic and the terminal is corroded a bit.

Secondly, do not touch the glass envelope of your new headlight bulb. Any finger oil on it will cause it to fail very prematurely, so handle it only by the big metal tab that it's probably got. If you have touched it, clean it very carefully with isopropanol or methylated spirits and a lint-free cloth.
posted by polyglot at 5:28 AM on April 29, 2006

I'd be surprised if you had to remove the battery to change a headlight bulb. Instead, I'd carefully examine the headlight mounting, and see if:

1) You can't reach up directly, from under the car, to give the bulb holder a 1/4 turn twist, pull out the bulb holder from the back of the headlight assembly, and replace the bulb, or

2) Identify 2 or 3 headlight assembly mount screws accessible from the front of the car, which only mount the assembly to the car, and do not affect its aiming point. You can identify these easily with a screwdriver, because if they are mount screws, they will "tighten" to a final torque when you use a screwdriver on them. Adjuster screws typically don't "tighten" if you try to tighten them; instead, they just move the headlight assembly in a new focus direction. Just keep count of how many turns you make of any screw you try to move while identifying it, and move any adjustment screw back the same number of turns you tighten it, and you'll be fine. (Note: you may need a torx shaped driver tool to move adjuster screws, so this is a help in identifying them, too.)

It should only take a couple of minutes, maximum, to change a headlight bulb. It's meant to be a fairly quick and easy procedure, and I'd be really surprised to find that the recommended way to do it is to remove the battery. Keep looking for the easy way in; it's likely you'll find it.
posted by paulsc at 6:56 AM on April 29, 2006

there is very very very minimal risk of self injury.

Car batteries are realivly benign when you short them out...granted they can provide cranking current of several hundred amps, but that is a max value...RMS values are about 30-40 amps, and since it is only about 12 volts theres NO way you will end up electrocuting yourself.

unless you directly short the therminals for an hour or so theres no worries.
posted by I_am_jesus at 6:41 PM on April 29, 2006

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