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Afterthoughts: The Joys and Perils of Replacing Headlights

William Maley

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I thought would be it easy. The front headlights on my new-to-me 2011 Ford Fusion were beginning to dim and I figured some new bulbs would solve it. Ordering the bulbs, I began to think this would be an easy process. Just locate the sockets for the bulbs, replace them, put the sockets back into place, and done.

Little did I know this would be only a fantasy.

Before fully diving into this, I opened up the owners manual to the vehicle to get an idea of what I was getting myself into. It turned out that changing the bulbs is a very involved process. For the driver’s side, you need to remove the air filter box and pipe to get enough room to access the bulbs. My vehicle has two bulbs for the low and high-beams and making sure to pluck out right one will save yourself a lot of pain and suffering. I didn’t realize at the time that rubber covers for the light sockets hint at which bulb is which - smaller one is the high-beam, the larger one is the low-beam. Had I known this, I wouldn’t have spent a good half hour trying to get the high-beam back into place with me a fair amount of swearing and my best impression of Jeremy Clarkson’s “COME ON!” The only thing missing was ‘Yakety Sax’ being played in the background. 

After that goof, I would pull out the right socket and replace with the bulb with no issue. The same cannot be said for putting the air filter box into place as it took a bit of wrestling to get it back into place and hoping nothing broke. After accomplishing this, my attention turned towards the passenger side which would be even difficult. 

Fusion Lights 2.jpg

Here is a photo showing off the passenger side of the engine bay. There are various mechanical parts littered about including the power steering pump and coolant reservoir. Unlike the driver’s side, there is not a part you can remove for easy access from the topside. In the owner’s manual, Ford tells you to take off the wheel well cover to access the bulbs. I would have done this, but I didn’t have the correct tool and was scared of breaking them off if I used something like a crowbar. This would have been the point of giving up, but I decided to see if there was another way. Turns out there was as a YouTube showed you could get some space by moving the coolant reservoir. That’s what I ended up doing and it did take a fair amount of time patience as I was mostly doing this by feel.

After putting everything back in its place and checking to see if the lights were working, I felt like I had accomplished something major. Despite feeling sore throughout my body and being a fair bit annoyed at the process to do this, I had gotten the new lights in. It may seem ridiculous, but when you consider that most days I’m sitting in front of a computer, banging out words and editing photos, doing some work with a physical object feels unique.

While I was replacing bulbs, the internet blew a gasket when a report came out concerning the upcoming Ford Ranger. Due to the design of the 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder and placement of the oil cooler, the oil filter was placed at an odd angle. The removal procedure involved removing the driver’s side wheel, undoing a number of fasteners and moving the wheel well cover, and then use an “end cap tool” to remove the filter. Since then, Ford has issued a tweet talking through the procedure (see below).

Reading through this story after I had finished, I’ll admit I was a bit incensed. For anyone who wanted to do their own oil change, this procedure seemed like madness and would push the small number of those who do this away. But then I thought back to my Fusion with its cramped engine bay and it dawned on me, maybe this was the best option for Ford. Considering how much a new car houses in terms of equipment and parts, offering something akin to the list of steps may be have been the least terrible option. Sure, going through a number of steps just to remove an oil filter seems a bit much. But can you imagine the fallout if Ford just told everyone they needed to their dealer to have the oil change done? *Shudders*

Seeing Ford’s response earlier in the week reinforces this thought of mine. I understand cars are only becoming more and more complicated and that shade tree mechanics are either having to go through more hoops to accomplish repairs or throw in the towel. But do I think there is some conspiracy to stop those from doing their own service to vehicles? Nope.

I’ll admit that I’m not quite ready to tackle some of the issues that face my vehicle at the moment such as flushing the transmission fluid or replacing various bits of the front suspension. But this experience has made me slightly more confident in undertaking smaller repairs and improvements into the vehicle. It has also caused me to do a bit research into doing various projects so I know what I’m getting myself into so I don’t have as many frustrations.

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It looks like a finger tip type of job after looking it up.. or do it the way you did it. 

Light bulbs are either super duper easy or they are a huge pain in the @ss. Not too often are they like a 10 minute job. It's either 2 minutes or 45 minutes.. 

I replaced the driver side fog light on my Focus a few months ago and it probably took me 40 minutes to get it back in. When I was at the dealer last I asked them about it and they said it would only cost $10 INCLUDING the price of the bulb. It'll go there next time. 

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I recently had to replace light bulbs on my car which requires either removing front wheel (or turning it but it leaves very limited space for work) and removing part of the fasteners of the inner plastic guard and partially removing it.  In addition, on the right side to change the fog light I had either remove washer fluid tank or remove bottom guard and use tight space between the tank and the light bulb assembly.  Also, the mechanism that holds the light bulb is very tricky to operate and partially broke off due to the fact it is made from plastic and is over 8 years old. 

So changing a freaking light bulbs took me over a half a day and me using a major portion of curse words I know in four languages.  It truly buffets me why something simple and supposedly prone to burning out like a light will be engineered in a such stupid way.

Edited by ykX
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:puke: The ranger oil filter change mess is gonna I bet make many at their local grease monkey ignore putting back in those 3 clips and just let it flap so they can easily get to the oil filter. I wonder if the local oil change places will charge more for this. 

Ford you really F'd up the oil filter change part.

I can also see places leaving the filter in place and just changing the oil and still charging the customer for oil and filter.

What a mess that is.

Totally agree with Drew, engine bay pressure washes are awesome for keeping that area clean and easy to work on.

Awesome job Bill, changing stuff is never easy, but there is immense self satisfaction in doing the job yourself.

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Kudos for tackling unknown territory & coming out on top. At least it wasn't a circa '09 Malibu that requires body panel loosening to accomplish.

3 hours ago, William Maley said:

But do I think there is some conspiracy to stop those from doing their own service to vehicles? Nope.

You can't be serious. Years back, a mechanic friend detailed how saab kept creating different, proprietary fasteners (akin to Torx) on the front suspensions, eliminating shade tree mechanics (in addition to forcing mechanics to buy new tools from them). Neighbor had one of those late 90s maseratis- no way to check the cooling. Any BMWs have a dipstick anymore? 2nd Gen Jeep Libery oil filter cannot be readily seen, so Jeep has a little trough to catch the oil the filter coughs up upon removal. Remote oil filter kits are cheap (I may use one on the B-59 in fact)- any OEM could locate the filter in an easily-reached spot.

OEMs can easily engineer vehicles with an eye towards maintenance/service- it's not remotely beyond the same people engineering a computer-controlled 10-spd automatic. But people are lazy and dealers are greedy, and OEMs are willing to comply.

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Ugh..on my Jeep, from what I've seen on the Facebook WK2 group is the entire front fascia has to be removed to replace headlight bulbs.  

It was simpler on my old WJ, though in 17 years of ownership, I never had to replace the headlight bulbs (had to polish out the plastic covers which discolored from the sun a couple times).    Had to replace the taillight bulbs and brake light bulbs several times (those were easy). 

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