Changing car light bulbs: How much does it cost you?

Changing car light bulbs

It may cost nothing for a dealer to change the headlight bulb in this Renault Captur. Or it may cost you £40. (Picture © Renault)

Changing car light bulbs used to be something anyone with the scantest mechanical know-how could manage. But as cars become ever more complicated, so replacing a broken bulb has become increasingly expensive – for some drivers at least.

A new investigation has revealed a shocking variation in the price charged by motor makers for this simple repair. Some dealers offer free bulbs, some do the actual fitting for free, and some provide both at no cost. However, others can charge upwards of £70. And there’s no uniformity across manufacturers. 

Changing car light bulbs: Why is this important?
Faulty lights are the most common reason for cars to fail the MOT. Around 19 per cent of the cars that fail the annual roadworthiness check do so because their lights are illegal in some way.

Changing car light bulbs: Why can it be so expensive?
Cars vary hugely in complexity. For some cars it’s relatively simple to open the bonnet and get to the back of the light, remove the broken bulb and replace it with a new one. On others it can be fiddly and in yet more even the professionals struggle: with some cars, you may have to remove the whole front bumper to get to the lights. Then again, what’s a fiddly job for a DIY driver may well be easy for a mechanic well versed in working on specific models.

Changing car light bulbs: Can drivers DIY?
On some cars it can be quite simple. The first place to check is the model’s handbook. If that suggests it’s possible, head for the internet and the owners’ club or forums for your particular model. For example, we found this advice for changing the headlight bulb on a Ford Focus . And there was this if you need to replace the headlight bulb on a Volkswagen Golf .

Changing car light bulbs: huge variations for the same car
Should you decide to visit a garage, you’re likely to find a huge difference in cost, even for the same car. Investigators picked 50 of the most popular cars in the UK and rang three dealers for each model. The biggest price disparity was for a Nissan Qashqai . The cheapest cost £5.40; the most expensive was £50, a price difference of £44.40. On the Renault Captur, drivers might be lucky and have replacement bulbs supplied and fitted for free. On the other hand, they could have to pay £40 to have the job done. Dealers also disagreed as to whether new light bulbs should be covered under warranty.

Changing car light bulbs: Some charge £70
Fitting a new headlamp bulb is easier on some cars than it is on others so it’s difficult to make a comparison. However, drivers of the Mazda3 can spend as much as £71.99 having a blown bulb replaced. A MINI Cooper was next priciest on £69.46. However, Halfords offers to change light bulbs with prices starting from £7 so it’s worth asking there too.

Changing car light bulbs: What consumers should do?
The prices in the investigation are from main dealers which are traditionally more expensive than independent garages. A spokesperson for industry regulator Motor Codes said: “Labour rates vary vastly in the UK. If the work has to be done at a dealer or a garage, then the advice is to shop around before you buy.” It’s also important that drivers ensure they buy approved parts if they’re having work done away from a dealer network: this will ensure they don’t void their car’s warranty.

2 comments on “Changing car light bulbs: How much does it cost you?

  1. M A Lovett May 11, 2015 11:09 am

    Excellent article plus informative links which saves many DIY’ers time and money – not to mention bruised knuckles etc. Brill photos of the VW ones too. Thankfully, my son does all my maintenance on my Freelander so have saved these as he does maintenance on other cars too.

    Thank you

  2. Dave Skye June 17, 2015 3:49 pm

    I think it is absolutely ridiculous that one cannot change a headlamp bulb by the roadside. What happens if you get a failed lamp on the Autoroute to the South of France?
    I think it should be made illegal to produce a car whose bulbs cannot be change by the roadside.

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