Saturday, May 01, 2010

Changing the headlight blub in a 1997 Honda Civic

Today's post has nothing whatsoever to do with food. It also does not have any pictures.

I'm posting a description of how to change the headlight bulb in a 1997 Honda Civic (or, more generally, a 6th generation Honda Civic). I'm doing this because (a) the Owner's Manual lacks sufficient descriptive power and (b) so do most of the online forums. My hope is that you've found this page through an internet search and are trying to figure out how to replace the headlight bulb yourself.

I'm doing this without pictures, so read carefully. Also note that I'm making up the names of various car parts, favoring a descriptive name rather than what it may actually be called.

Problem: Your 6th generation Honda Civic driver's side headlight bulb has burned out. (If your passenger-side headlight has burnt out, these directions will be about 65% helpful.)

What you will need:
  • Small- to medium-sized hands. If you have overly large hands, you may need to try a different technique than what I describe below, or may need to get more aggressive with the power steering fluid reservoir (more on that later).
  • A replacement bulb. Should cost about $10 at Napa Auto Parts. Just tell the store what Make/Model/Year you have, and they'll get you the correct bulb.
  • About 30 minutes of your time.
  • Flashlight recommended.
  • Friend recommended, to hold the flashlight and the power steering fluid reservoir out of the way.
No tools necessary.

A note on locations and directions:
To reduce confusion, I will occasionally use anatomical terms of location.
  • Anterior = front end of the car, such as the bumper, headlights, grill, etc.
  • Posterior = rear end of the car, such as the taillights, trunk latch, etc.
  • Lateral = either side of the car. In this case, it will mean the Driver's side.
  • Dorsal = top of the car, such as the roof or hood
  • Ventral = bottom of the car, the side only your mechanic sees.
  • Medial = the center line of the car, drawn from the center of the anterior face to the center of the posterior face. This is the imaginary line that is traced by the H on the front of your car when you drive.
Handedness is as you face the car head-on. For example, the Driver's side is on the Right.


  1. Open the hood and prop it up on the hood arm.
  2. Look just behind (posterior to) the driver's side headlamp. You should see a dirty white plastic cylinder with a red knob on top, with black rubber hoses running in and out of it. This is the power steering fluid reservoir, herein abbreviated PSFR. Honda Motors put the PSFR in this location specifically to piss you off.
  3. Notice the PSFR is standing upright, thanks to a metal bracket. If you pretend that the dorsal (top) side of the PSFR is the face of a clock, and you are standing in front of your car, you will see the top edge of the metal bracket at about 10-o-clock. The PSFR is not bolted or screwed into the bracket itself. Rather, it has been slotted into the bracket from above.
  4. Pull the PSFR directly up, dorsally, sliding it up and out of the bracket. The hoses will resist. You should be safe from ripping or tearing the hoses out of the PSFR as long as you pull up the PSFR just enough to get it out of the bracket.
  5. Position the PSFR with the ventral side (bottom) of the PSFR on top of the bracket itself. This should keep it from slotting back into the bracket, and will give you a chance to think about the next steps. It may flop forward, and that's OK for now.
  6. Look or feel for the black plastic electric connector (BPEC) that plugs into the posterior end of the lightbulb. The BPEC is approximately a cube, and has wires running out of the ventral (bottom of car) face. You will probably need to try multiple angles of attack to get your hand into position to feel for the BPEC. I found that it was easiest to put my hand in from the left side of the headlight assembly (aka, the medial side).
  7. The BPEC is clipped into place thanks to two tabs that are part of the BPEC itself. The two tabs are basically imperceptible by touch, but they are there. One tab is on the medial face of the BPEC (that is, the face that is facing the centerline of the car, towards the engine block). The other tab is on the lateral face of the BPEC. Theoretically, you just pinch the BPEC on the medial and lateral sides to release the tabs, and pull it away from the bulb. Theory is not reality with your 6th generation Honda Civic.
  8. The trick to extract the BPEC from the bulb is to recognize that you likely cannot simultaneously pinch both tabs at the same time. Unless you have tiny, tiny hands.
  9. Using your right hand, hold the PSFR out of the way, in a dorsal and posterior direction from the headlight. I used the top of the bracket as leverage so that I was basically just pushing the PSFR posteriorally. This is where it's handy to have a friend.
  10. Using your left hand, apply pressure to the lateral side of the BPEC and pull it medially and "away" (posteriorally) from the bulb. I found that I can pull on the lateral side of the BPEC with the tip of my left index or middle finger.
  11. Then, apply pressure to the medial side of the BPEC, so that you are pushing it laterally and "away" (posteriorally). I was able to use my left thumb.
  12. Repeat the prior two steps in quick succession, over and over. Basically, you are trying to wiggle the BPEC out and away from the bulb. You will eventually succeed.
  13. Congrats, that was the first hard part.
  14. Next, you will need to remove the big black rubber ring (BBRR) that surrounds the posterior end of the bulb itself, like a doughnut. It is just wedged into place over a circular plastic lip. Wiggle it off in a posterior direction. There are tabs and other features you can pull on, but just grab onto any part of the BBRR to wiggle it off. This is the easy step.
  15. Your next obstacle is a stiff metal wire that acts as a gate to hold the bulb in place. This is where it is handy to have a clear mental image of what the wire is, and how it is configured. The wire is basically a gate that uses tension to push the lightbulb in an anterior direction, holding it in place. Like a gate, the wire has a hinge on one side, and a lock on the other side. The "door" part in this gate metaphor is just the wire itself, which is pushing against the posterior end of the bulb.
  16. The Hinge is on the lateral side of the lightbulb housing. The Lock is on the medial side of the lightbulb housing. Basically, you want to somehow unlock the wire, so that it swings on its hinge away from the bulb in a posterior and lateral direction (because the hinge is on the lateral side of the bulb).
  17. Therefore, the part of the wire you need to focus your attention on is the Medial end of the wire. That is, the part of the wire that is attached to the medial side of the light bulb housing. Stick your fingers into the round plastic housing of the lightbulb, and feel for a "U" shaped wire structure -- it will be on the medial side of the circular housing. In other words, if you are staring directly at the front of the headlight, looking at the lightbulb on-end, the U feature will be at 9-o-clock. The round part of the U will be pointing medially, and the two "ends" of the U will point laterally. This U structure is intended to provide you with some surface area to push on. This is the part of the wire you'll be pushing on to unlock the gate.
  18. But how do you unlock the gate? You need to visualize the lock as being like a safety pin. It uses the tension in the wire itself to stay in a kind of plastic trap, and you need to figure out which direction to push on the wire to unhook it, just like you would a safety pin.
  19. But which direction? Push anteriorally (towards the front end of the car, applying even more tension to the bulb), and move it dorsally (top of the car) out of the trap. You may need to try variations on this maneuver, but the general idea is that you push anteriorally and then move dorsally (while still pushing anteriorally). This is the hardest part. EDIT: In reading how others have described this step, it is possible you just need to pinch the ends of the U shape together to unlock it. I am not going to bother verifying this, but you might want to try this technique as well.
  20. The wire gate should spring open, releasing the bulb. Just pull the bulb out in a posterior direction.
  21. Time for a beer.
  22. At this point, you are ready to put the new bulb in. You basically just follow the above steps in reverse. I'm not going to write that out step-by-step for you, because the most important thing is that you have a mental image of how this works, which you should have by now. However, some things to keep in mind:
  • Don't touch the "bulb" part of the new bulb with your fingers, as the oils from your fingers will shorten the longevity of the bulb. At least, that's what everyone says. I'm not sure if it's true, but this process was annoying enough that I wouldn't want to risk it.
  • Be sure that the wire gate is "open" when you put the bulb in. Otherwise, you won't be able to push the bulb in all the way.
  • When you put the bulb back in, align it appropriately before locking the wire gate. The prongs are wide and flat, and form a 3-sided box. You want the missing forth side to be on the bottom (ventral side).
Hope this helps ... comments and improvements welcome.

Keywords: replace 1997 Honda Civic headlight lightbulb replacement torment hell


Fay's Too said...

That is brilliant. I believe I could actually do that following these directions. That's saying something, since I do a lot of some-assembly-required things. My general rule is: The more parts you have left over, the more points you get. When you get a whole big gob of points, you win.
I win often.

chiporum said...

OR - You could trade the car in on a NEWER model and let the next owner figure it out, BUT you guys are amazing and clever! n

js said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your posting had the only description of how you actually "unclip the holding wire." I have a few choice words for whoever wrote the civic user's manual. It took me about an hour - but I did finally get this done. I'll probably just go to the shop the next time. Thanks again, though, couldn't have done it without you! Jenni S.

Nisha said...

Thanks so much! I did the passenger side a few years back, no prob. Driver's side = HUGE pain. But still not worth the $25 Sears wanted to charge just for installation. Thanks for helping me save a buck and affirm I am not a mechanical moron!

Nisha said...

Thanks so much. What a pain! Passenger side from a few years ago was so easy; your guidance made this doable so that I held on to the $25 bucks Sears wanted and held on to my self-respect too!

jaredbb said...

Thanks! This really helped simplify what should have been a easy bit of routine maintenance. The passenger side bulb was cake. My only complaint is that step 21 should have a stronger drink. Beer is barely adequate for the task at hand.

flatland family said...

Hey, that was great. It took my five minutes, with my son holding the flashlight. That's after 20 minutes of cursing in the dark alone. The wire spring is a push in and up affair, and the black plastic plug/wiring harness came off without any wiggles or curses. Nice and easy when you know how! Thanks much.

sir adam said...

great man great ideas i like it for my car and love it like a fan so your work is appreciate able and in the last i would like to thank you dear for sharing it with us so nicely civic headlights

Davidjohn said...

New web site is looking good. Thanks for the great effort.


Related Posts with Thumbnails