Introduction: Improve Your Headlights!

About: Developing projects for HowToons @ Squid Labs.

If you have an older car, you may have sealed beam headlights. I did. I hated how my sealed beams were horribly dim, and didn't project at all. The low-beams were useless, and the high-beams weren't much better. I decided that it was worth some money to improve the headlights. Part of this decision was safety, which justifies the cost. My car has no airbags, and driving on Nebraska country roads there are often deer, which don't feel good on your car, and have killed people before.

I had a few options to upgrade my lights. I could buy some external driving lights from a company like Hella or KC. They are readily available in all shapes and sizes and are extremely bright. People often add them on their cars as additional fog lights, or even for off-roading. I decided that installing these on my car would be somewhat of a hassle. I would have to mount them, which involves drilling things. Then the new hole begins to rust (especially in the salty winters) and it creates more work. It would also put more load on the battery, and I would possibly have to install another relay.

I chose the second option, which was replace the sealed beam headlights with reflector enclosures. Then a normal halogen or xenon bulb can be clipped into the reflector and plugged right into the car's female plug. It was much less trouble, cheaper, and less things to go wrong in the future.

Step 1: Buy the Goods

I shopped around online until I found some good deals. I decided to go with a site called They were much cheaper than other places, and included free shipping. I ordered two conversion housings and a pair of bulbs. I ended up cancelling the bulbs because I found some cheaper bulbs at my local Napa auto parts. The total costs ended up looking like this:

  • 2 x Headlight Conversion Housings @ $22.68
  • APC Xenon Super White Halogen Bulbs (pair) @ $15.99
  • Total < $62.00

Step 2: Install

As soon as all of my supplies arrived, I began putting them together. Altogether, it doesn't take more than 10 minutes to change out the headlights.
First, I put the new headlight bulbs in the new headlight casings. Be sure to not touch the bulbs with your bare hands, because the oils will shorten the life of the bulb. The gloves are only to show this, and weren't actually necessary because I only held the bulbs by the metal bases.
Next, remove your old sealed beams and put the new assembly in place of it. They should simply plug in and fit exactly the same as the old. Obviously, it will be different for each car. For my car, I have to pull off the front grill to access the headlight screws. The new headlights were a hair bigger than the old ones, but still fit in the hole.
Look for other problems while you change the headlights. In my case, I noticed that one of my female H4/9003 connectors that plug into the headlight was deteriorating. The plastic had been crushed, so it didn't fit tightly on the new bulb. I have ordered a new female connector and will be fixing the problem. For now, I just have to be delicate with the loose connection.

The extra wires coming out of the headlight unit are for an additional bulb on the inside. I was not aware of this when I ordered them. There is a small blue light on the inside of the headlight that runs off of 12V. It looks kind of cool from the outside. I considered wiring them into my ignition wire and onto a switch on the dash. That way I could choose to have them on or off, but they would always be off when the car was off. I decided against it because they are very blue, not very bright, and probably illegal. The last thing I need is another ticket!

Step 3: Ironic Story

Of course, there has to be irony when doing something as trivial as installing headlights. Before I started this project, I knew I was going to Instructable it. So after putting together the new headlight units, I hopped in my car to go take pictures of the old headlights. I started it up and flicked on the lights. But behold! my left low beam had ceased working at this perfect moment in time. Regardless, I drove down to the closest non-streetlight lit place I knew. Nebraska has a riciculous amount of streetlights. Every road is fully illuminated. It isn't even necessary to have your headlights on to be able to see, and on many instances I have caught myself driving down the road with just parking lights. So to find a dark area, I had to drive down to some dirt roads by a group of ball fields.

Step 4: Test

After installing the new headlights, I drove to an empty parking lot to aim them. It was a good level surface, and there was a shed to point them at. I aimed them into what looked like a good pattern, but there is no way to know until you drive with them. It turns out that I needed to spread mine apart a little bit.

I am happy with the improved brightness of my headlights. The pattern is also better, and the high-beams spread much farther than the old ones. The pattern is still not terrific, though. There are some awkward lines in the low-beams. But, it is a 200% improvement over the old lights, and now I can safely see on non-lit roads.

Note: The pictures below are somewhat misrepresenting of the actual headlights. The camera slightly over-exaggerates the brightness of the lights. The color and pattern are fairly accurate. In particular, notice the whiter light on the new headlights and the spread of the new high-beams compared to the old high-beams.