How to Change Auto Light Bulbs

Replace the 5 most neglected bulbs in your vehicle

Is your car interior dark? High-mount stop lamp burnt out? Can’t see in the fog? Here’s how to replace auto light bulbs you never think of until you need them.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Replace those bulbs you never think about

The auto light bulbs that burn out most often are the taillight, stop, turn signal, backup and headlight bulbs. But there are many other bulbs in a vehicle that could use your attention, too. These are the five most commonly neglected bulbs that can affect your driving experience. Check yours to see if they work, and pick up replacements at any auto parts store.

Map light bulbs

Pry off the lens and pull the bulb out of the spring terminals. Snap in a new bulb.

Just grab and pull.
License plate bulb

Since a burned-out license plate bulb can get you a ticket, replace it if needed. Unscrew the lens or release the locking tab. Twist the bulb socket a quarter turn and pull it out. Snap in a new bulb and reinstall.

Twist and pull to remove, push and twist to replace.
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5 bulb changing tips

We’re not going to ask how many DIYers it takes to change a light bulb. But did you know there are a few tricks to changing the bulbs in your vehicle? Read the following tips and file them away in your long-term memory.

  1. Check the bulb for signs of tungsten filament deposits. The darker the buildup, the closer it is to burnout.

  2. If you’re replacing a bulb in an exterior socket, apply a very light coating of dielectric grease to the bulb’s contacts. That’ll prevent corrosion.
  3. A long-life bulb is worth the price. It’ll last at least twice as long as the original, so you’ll most likely never have to replace it again.
  4. A “blue” bulb (Sylvania SilverStar is one brand) gives off whiter light, making it easier to see in the dark. Use them for dome, map, fog, and backup lights.
  5. Skin oils can cause bulbs to swell and fail. It’s especially important to prevent swelling on headlight and fog light bulbs. But skin oils can also cause miniature bulbs to swell and fail. Always wear gloves when you handle bulbs.

High-mount stop bulb

A burned-out high-mount stop light bulb can also earn you a ticket. Pry off the interior trim cover. Then rotate the socket a quarter turn and swap out the bulb(s).

These bulbs are usually replaced from the inside.
Dome light bulbs

Pry off the dome light lens and spread the spring terminals. Drop one side of the “torpedo” shaped bulb out of the socket and lift the bulb out. Reverse to install.

Drop and lift to remove; reverse to install.
Fog light bulbs

Most drivers don't realize their fog lights are burned out until they're needed most. If one is burned out, replace them both. Reach behind the fog light assembly to access the bulb. If you can't gain access, remove the entire assembly and then replace the bulb.

Fog light bulbs are usually accessed from the rear.
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Flat-blade screwdriver or small prybar

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Various automotive light bulbs as required