Headlights Going Crazy ('04 Pontiac Grand Am)

Allright, so I have a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am. About this time last year, I was driving on a small two lane road with trees lining it and turned on my brights to see any wandering critters. As soon as I turned off my brights, I noticed my left headlight was out. I immediately thought that I burnt out that light and it needed to be replaced. It was reasonable, as this would have been the first time I would need to change them since I first got the car.

So I go get some bulbs and replace both headlights. Turn on the car to check and…the left one is still out. Thinking there might be something wrong with the bulb, I switched the new bulbs. Left one is still out, so it’s not the bulbs. I opened up the fuse box and switched them around, as well as switching in and out the spare fuses, and the same result: left one out, right one on.

I just said forget it, and forgot about it for awhile. Then, one day while driving, the headlights switched. The left one was on, the right one was off. It was like this for about a week, then it switched back to left off right on. For a long time I just had at least one headlight and it wasn’t too big of a deal.

A few weeks ago I was leaving somewhere at night and then suddenly: no lights were on. However, my high-beam indicator was on in the dashboard. I waited a while, and the lights didn’t do anything, so I just started driving back, with no lights. I was flipping the high-beams on and off repeatedly, and nothing helped, until I decided to hold the high-beam switch on the wheel. One headlight finally came on.

Since then, the headlights have been a problem. Sometimes one headlight, sometimes no headlight (and the high-beam indicator on the dash blinks crazily or is on all the time), but never both headlights are on.

If anyone has any idea as to why this is happening, I’m all ears. Thanks in advance.

Often the ground to the chassis will become corroded, or even the plug that plugs to the bulb. Both are exposed indirectly to all the crap coming at the front of the car.

This one’ll need a hands-on look-see

The problem might be with the multi-function switch in the steering column. I had a 2001 GM vehicle come in where the headlights would turn off and on randomly. It turned out to be a defective multi-function switch. A common problem with GM vehicles.


Given that you know the bulbs actually function then you’re down to a wiring problem or the switch as noted. I’d probably start at the bulb sockets & check for gunk & corrosion, blow them out with electronics cleaner & apply some dialectic grease.

Do you guys think this is something I might be able to fix myself?

If not, should I take it to a GM dealership or just like a Pep Boys?

Thanks again.

Since they seem to switch sides, my money is on Cig’s suggestion. Personally, I use “contact cleaner and lubricant” from Radio Shack. It comes in a spray can, and one can lasts forever. Wash the connectors out good with it and post back with the results.

You could very likely fix this trouble yourself if you have the desire to. If you want to do this I suggest you first purchase a factory service manual for the car. Check out Ebay for some good prices on them. Even if you have to purchase a manual at full price they are worth the money they can save you in just one repair like this. Having a manual along with a digital meter to check with you can fix about any problem that comes up. The car is getting to an age where things like this can happen more often so having a manual that at least covers the electrical systems of the car is a big plus to have in my opinion.

Allright, update on what happened. Based on cigroller’s suggestion:

“Given that you know the bulbs actually function then you’re down to a wiring problem or the switch as noted. I’d probably start at the bulb sockets & check for gunk & corrosion, blow them out with electronics cleaner & apply some dialectic grease.”

I got some contact cleaner and lube from Radio Shack and opened up the left headlight, which was the one that wasn’t working. I disconnected the battery and took the bulb out and cleaned the socket with it, trying to get as much corrosion out as possible. I plug everything back in, turn the car on and…the left headlight worked! But oh, the right headlight isn’t working now. So now it seems to definitely be a switch problem. The only problem is, I don’t know anything about the switch or how to replace it. If there is any more advice on this, let me know. Thanks again.

Your issue seems to be, not that the headlights go on & off somewhat randomly, but that each one can go on or off somewhat randomly. As such I doubt it is a switch problem. The switch will just send 12V out to the wires - there’s nothing about it that is set up on a Left/Right basis.

So you cleaned one headlight socket - what about the other? But even that’s just the beginning. Those wires run all around under the hood & eventually do end up connected to the switch in one way or another. The problem can be anywhere along those routes. For weird things like this I normally suspect a bad ground first, so go all the way back to mountainbike’s initial post about that.

All around in various spots under the hood will be bundles of ground wires attached someplace on the body. You’d want to find them all, pull them, clean then & reattach. If you do some internet searching you can probably find the exact locations for those ground points for the Grand Am.

As Cig said, try washing the other socket out and post back with the results.

Since the switch is working for the left side then the right side should work also. The right side may simply be burned out, the socket is in the same shape as the left side was, or there is a grounding problem to the socket.

Another update.

So I cleaned out the other (right) socket today. It was much more corroded that the left one. See attached picture. Still, I cleaned it out with the contact cleaner and lube and then put it back on. It did not work immediately; however, I pushed the bulb and socket together and put some pressure on it, and then it worked (both were working at the same time). However, this has happened before, and it will only last maybe one ride and then one will go out again. I did not remember how corroded that socket was. I wonder if changing the socket will help. Thanks for the ideas.

I think that’s you’re problem. You’re probably going to need to just replace both bulb sockets. You can often buy them at auto parts stores and you’ll want someone who knows how to do basic electronics work - especially soldering as it will likely involve cutting the wires and splicing on new sockets. The best way to do the splice connections is with solder and heat shrink tubing.

If you look closely you may also be able to remove the connectors from the plastic casing for a better cleaning. You have to make sure you know which wires go where. Then there are normally little plastic tabs that hold the electrical connector in the socket. You need something suitable for depressing the tabs to free the connectors. This allows a better cleaning and then they snap back in. If you try this note their correct orientation and, once again, wire locations.

Just an update. I replaced both sockets on the car and they are both working now, at least for the time being. I think this may have been the problem. Thanks everybody!

Thanks for taking the time to report back. We don’t get followups all that often, so its always nice to know how it turns out.

Thanks for the suggestions. It only ended up costing me about $30 to fix instead of taking it to a dealership or shop and cost god knows how much. And it made me feel good about myself too, actually doing something productive.