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How to replace your motorcycle’s headlight

Added February 19, 2021
Motorcycle headlight

Your motorcycle headlight is an essential component that helps you stay safe on the road. If you’re interested in doing your own maintenance, you may wonder if you can replace your headlights yourself. The answer is yes—and replacing your headlight is probably easier than you think. Plus, you’ll save money on labor. Follow this guide to learn how.

Don't skip the motorcycle maintenance safety prep

While changing a bulb may seem like a casual task, remember to put your safety first. Before you start working:

  • Clean and declutter your workspace
  • Secure the motorcycle on its center or side stand
  • Ensure your workspace has proper lighting 
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands
  • Wear eye protection

Use the correct motorcycle headlight replacement tools

Having the right tools on hand helps any motorcycle maintenance job go smoother and helps protect your motorcycle investment. Stripping screw heads, breaking bolts, or scratching paint can counteract any savings you get from DIY maintenance or repair. The owner’s or service manual will specify the required tools, but here’s a list of tools and materials you’ll likely need:

  • Various screwdriver lengths and tip sizes
  • Torx or common wrenches
  • Socket set
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Lubricant/degreaser, such as WD-40
  • Small wire brush
  • Aerosol electric contact cleaner 
  • Dielectric grease
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Paper towels
  • Powder-free nitrile gloves

Select a new headlight bulb for your cycle

Motorcycles come in a wide variety of styles and designs, from cruisers to hypersport bikes.  Their headlight enclosures, bulb types, and access to the light also vary. Consult your owner’s or service manual to find your motorcycle’s bulb replacement specifications and part numbers.

In most cases, the best headlight replacement bulb is the factory-recommended bulb, including bulbs from brand names like GE, Sylvania, or several well-known motorcycle aftermarket companies.

If you want to upgrade to a brighter bulb, consider: 

  • Your state’s vehicle laws: In some states, there are legal limits on bulb wattage.
  • Your motorcycle’s electric power capacity: Can your wiring and stator output handle the electric load?

Disconnect your old motorcycle headlight bulb

The two most common motorcycle headlight-mounting types are the classic individual headlight nacelle and the integrated fairing mount.

If your bike has fairing mounted headlights, your owner’s or service manual will detail how to access the headlight bulb. If your bike has external nacelles, there’s likely a trim ring holding the headlight in place with screws. Once you’ve accessed the back of the headlight lamp housing, follow these basic steps (the order may vary, depending on your motorcycle):

  • Gently fold back the rubber dust cover
  • Disconnect the plug from the headlight bulb
  • Open the bulb retaining clamp
  • Remove the bulb
  • Discard or recycle the used bulb with care

Don’t touch the new bulb’s surface

Halogen bulbs are made to handle the high heat produced by the light. If you touch a new halogen headlight bulb directly, the oil from your fingers can contaminate the bulb surface, cause uneven heating, and ultimately, lead to premature failure.

To ensure the quartz halogen bulb is free from contamination, wear clean, powder-free nitrile gloves when handling the bulb. Before installing, clean the bulb with a fresh paper towel lightly soaked with alcohol. Then let it dry fully on a clean, dry paper towel.

Connect your new headlight bulb on your motorcycle

First check for corrosion. If you see corrosion on the electric socket or bulb electric tabs:

  • Brush off corroded areas on the external parts of the socket and the old bulb tabs
  • Spray an aerosol electric contact cleaner into the socket
  • Insert and remove the old bulb a few times to help clean the contacts
  • Respray the socket with aerosol electric contact cleaner and allow to fully dry

After you’ve completed those steps, or if you didn’t find any corrosion, apply a light coating of dielectric grease to the new bulb’s electric tabs before plugging it in. Be sure to keep the quartz clean.

To complete the bulb installation, follow the steps you used to disconnect the bulb in reverse.

Always be prepared

The typical service life of motorcycle headlight bulbs can be long enough for you to take them for granted. Like any part on your motorcycle, headlights can wear out or fail at the least opportune time. In case of headlight failure while on a ride, it’s wise to always carry:

  • A spare headlight, stored somewhere it’ll be protected from vibration and the elements
  • A flashlight
  • The tools required to change the light
  • Alcohol wipes
  • A small packet of dialectic grease

Doing your own motorcycle maintenance is one of the most rewarding parts of being a motorcyclist. Changing the headlight on your motorcycle is a fairly simple task if you have the knowledge and correct tools. The more times you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get.

Till next time, ride safe! 

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