Imagine thinking you’re about to go out for a nice summer evening drive to the local ice cream shop, only to find out your headlights are out. No mint chocolate chip for you, I guess.

Of course you want your headlights working. And since life tends to get a bit more confusing than “cup or cone,” knowing how to troubleshoot your headlight problem is more than just a convenience — it’s crucial.

Here are five reasons why your headlights might not be working, how to identify the problem and the solution.

The bulb is burned out

Identify the problem: If one headlight isn’t working, your bulb is likely out.

The solution: This one is easy. Replace your HID, LED or Xenon headlight bulb with a replacement. You can buy a headlight set or a single one depending on your preference.

There’s a power or charging system issue

Identify the problem: If neither of your headlights work, it’s probably not both of your bulbs burnt out. This leads to the possibility of an issue with the power, ground or charging system.

The solution: Determine if you need an individual part, like a fuse, relay or module. You can purchase the part that’s broken or damaged. If you have trouble determining the root of the power failure, you can take your vehicle to a mechanic to address the issue.

Check the switch or sockets

Identify the problem: Your high beams might not be working, which could be caused by bad switches. If one headlight isn’t working, but you change it to the other socket and it works, then it’s the socket, not the bulb. However, in some instances of socket corrosion, both headlights go out because the systems work as a pair. You might even see your low beams go out when your high beams work because they run under different sockets.

The solution: If you need to repair your switch, consider doing it yourself or taking it to a mechanic or authorized dealer. You can replace a socket on your own pretty easily, but identifying this issue is tricky and a mechanic can help you save time (and potentially money).

There’s a wiring issue

Identify the problem: You’ve replaced the bulb or bulbs, but you still have no headlights working. This might very well be a wiring problem. It could also be the fuses, which are in place to protect your car’s wiring system. Unfortunately, anything from nosy critters to corrosion could cause this issue. If you have access to a voltmeter, you can check the power at the headlight itself. From there, you’ll know if something is blocking the path of electricity.

The solution: I recommend taking this one straight to a mechanic, unless you have electrical know-how.

Your lenses are foggy

Identify the problem: I hear this one a lot because I, like many, wear glasses. But we’re talking headlights here, my friend. Your headlight lenses may be dirty, foggy, or even oxidized. This can block light, causing an issue in visibility while you drive. You’ll see or feel the dirt, but fog is on the inside, which means water has infiltrated your headlight system somehow.

The solution: For dirty headlights, restore them with anything from toothpaste and a toothbrush to an at-home headlight lens restoration kit. For foggy lenses, you can drill a small hole in the lens to let the moisture escape, but it’s a temporary fix. The long-term solution is replacing the entire assembly. To deoxidize your plastic headlights, you can recondition them on your own.

Get your headlights working, one way or another

This car part isn’t complex, but to find the root of the problem, ask yourself “why aren’t my headlights working?”

You’ll stumble upon one of these causes, and be able to resolve the issue in time to grab your ice cream — or whatever’s next in life. 

Rachel Curry
"Hey! My name's Rachel Curry and I'm a full-time writer who loves telling the world's stories as much as hanging with my dogs (and that's saying a lot). A University of Delaware graduate, I've traveled extensively, living everywhere from Ireland to Thailand. Bylines include Matador Network and Delaware Today."

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    1. Checking your fuses should be the first thing you do. Opening the fuse box is easy for someone to see if they have power going to anything that stopped working. Keep extra fuses around for you and for others too.

    2. the degradation of your old headlights tends to happen too slowly to notice, until one day you look at your car and realize the shape they’re in. New headlights do so much to refresh the look, and drive safer.

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