Clever Dudes Are Self Reliant Frugality

Clever Dudes Are Self Reliant: Changing a Headlight Edition

One thing that my wife and I discovered as we examined our finances looking for ways to spend less, is that there are many things that we spend money on every day that we could cut the cost if we did it ourselves. Individually they may not be a huge windfall, but cumulatively they can add up.   Sometimes it’s simply a change to decide to just do it, while others require the learning of a new skill. I’d like to share with you those new skills as I learn them.

Introducing the Clever Dudes Are Self Reliant series!

In this very first edition we’ll explore something that we all have to have done at some point: change a burnt out car headlight. When I have a light out, I’m usually notified by the employee at the express lube place as I’m getting my oil changed (another potential subject of the series!). That statement is normally followed up with a generous offer to have the bulb changed for the low price of $19.95. Normally I’d accept their offer, but not this time! I’m an intelligent and resourceful kind of guy, so I figured I’d take a crack at changing the bulb myself.

Getting Started

Not having a clue how go about accomplishing my task, I did what any self-respecting male does when beginning any job relating to a car. I popped the hood and stared at the engine. When I was satisfied that this action would not bestow upon me the knowledge of how to change the lamp, I retrieved the owner’s manual from the glove compartment and scanned the table of contents for instructions. Luckily for me, there was a section that detailed step by step instructions.

Out With the Old

The first step was to remove two screws that mounted the headlight assembly to the frame. I removed one without incident, but the second one slipped out of my hand and fell into the engine compartment. I heard the ting of the metal screw landing somewhere, but I couldn’t locate where. New tasks are normally rife with opportunity to practice creative use of curse words, and this one was no different. After a few minutes of searching, I gave up, intending to look for it again later.

I completed the removal of the assembly and light bulb without further incident and headed to my local Walmart in search of a replacement bulb.

In With the New

Putting in the new bulb was the easy part. I put the headlight unit back together, and tried to put it back into it’s place. I tried for about 15 minutes, but couldn’t seem to get it right. The screw holes were lined up, but the bottom of the headlight unit just seemed to stick out too far. I shoved, and pushed, and even hit it once or twice but it just wouldn’t stay where I thought it needed to be. I pulled out my flashlight, wondering if something might be in the way, preventing the headlight unit from being seated correctly. As I moved the light across the frame of the car, the lost screw came into my line of vision. I gently reached in and grabbed it.

Suddenly, things were looking up.

I decided to put the headlight into place the best I could, and then put the screws back in. Once I tightened the screws, the headlight was seated correctly!

My Recommendations

If you’ve never changed a headlight before, I would suggest the following to give you the best change of success:

  • Look for instructions in your owner’s manual
  • Read completely through the instructions before beginning.
  • Read completely through the instructions before beginning.  I repeated myself on purpose.  Do it!
  • Gather ALL the tools you will need to perform the task.
  • Get a bucket or some other container to hold all the screws and pieces you will remove
  • Before you begin, carefully inspect what it’s supposed to look like. Write it down if you have to
  • Go slowly, and work carefully.
  • Make notes and keep them. You’ll thank yourself the next time you have to perform the same task.


The bulb cost me $8.88, and it took me all together about 40 minutes to change the bulb. Next time it will go much faster since I know what I’m doing. That’s a savings of about $11. Not a huge amount of money, but the more self-reliant I am, the more I save. Plus, I have the satisfaction of having done something I’ve never done before.

How about you, fellow clever people? Have you learned a new skill recently that has saved you money?

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • I can see the problem of screws falling down into the engine compartment eating up time. I guess maybe I’m lucky but the cars I’ve changed headlamps on have only had clamps and rubber gaskets to contend with and took less than 5 minutes, even on the first try (Honda and Ford).

    Also you said ‘ripe with,’ but I think you mean, ‘rife with.’ See

  • Yep, screws getting lost is a pain. I’d suggest a magnetic screwdriver next time. They’re worth their weight in gold in that kind of situation.

    As for this kind of skills, well, I’ll only say I’ve saved about $15k (maybe more?) over the years between brake jobs, alternators, power steering pumps, engine rebuilds, body work, etc. I’m about to take on my latest adventure: flushing an automatic transmission in an older Ford Explorer, then swapping out the valve body! That’ll save me about $1k right there! It’s worth the roll of the dice to me.

    Never be afraid to take on something new. Most of what I learned came along before the internet was so full of articles and how-to videos. If I can do it, anyone can (I’m a network nerd by trade)!

    Good luck, and welcome to the wonderful world of DIY!

  • Thanks for the grammatical correction, Matt W – I have corrected the error. 🙂

    I can see how changing the headlight could only take 5 minutes – I would guess that if I went out to my garage right now and had to change it again that’s about how long it would take. Practice makes perfect, heh?

  • “I wish I had a magnetic screwdriver,” is EXACTLY what I was thinking, Andy! I’m always up for a challenge, and I’m approaching learning new skills as a fun adventure as well as a money saving proposition. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • “I did what any self-respecting male does when beginning any job relating to a car. I popped the hood and stared at the engine”<— that comment cracked me up! That's exactly what my husband does, then he calls me out to stare with him!! He's not mechanically inclined in the least bit and I was painfully trained by my big brother, who turned me into a tomboy! I 'assisted' him in taking an engine out of his Dodge Dart when I was only 11-the painful part was when he asked me what a tool was and I didn't know the proper name, he 'hit' me with it! So I learned real fast!! Now I have a 15 yr old daughter and I have taught her to check an entire vehicle before trips or at least 1x a month, she checks all fluids, tire pressure, belts for wear and tear, absolutely everything. The first time it took about an hour to go thru the entire process but she has it down pat now. I always felt it was very important to know your vehicle and I think it's even more important to make sure all dads/moms teach their kids, daughters especially. I've changed hoses and other things on my own vehicles and I will teach my daughter everything I can to be more self-reliant instead of paying big bucks to mechanic for something she can do for almost nothing. My husband is learning a few new tricks in the process as well! Next thing is teaching her to change the oil!

  • Wow Teresa, that is awesome! I just have one question for you…..what are you doing on Sunday? I could use someone to teach me those things!

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