Headlights: not reliably working

2003 VW Jetta VR6:

Headlights are not coming on…reliably, at least. Both halogen bulbs have been changed twice in the last 5 months. This is what I know of the headlight issue I’m having:

  1. If the bright light indicator on my heads-up display is on when I start the car, I have no headlights. Switching between high and low beam in the car does not do anything when this bright indicator is stuck on…I have only found one fix…see number 2.
  2. I get out of the car and tap on the front right headlight…the lights come on, but the front right is much brighter than the left. The lights are on the low-beam setting at this point. Only tapping the front light gets the lights to come on…high beams do work once I get the lights to turn on.
  3. Once the lights are on, they do not reliably stay on…they might turn off while driving down the road. Pulling over and tapping on the front right light will get them to turn back on. (think this might be a loose wire issue? if so… i can’t figure out where, or what needs to be done to fix it…)
  4. Very odd thing… prior to starting the car, the bright light indicator is on…I pull up on emergency brake and it toggles the bright light indicator. I get out of the car and tap the light, lights are on, go back in the car and pull up on the emergency brake…the lights go out. Put the emergency brake down, the lights come back on.
  5. I’m completely perplexed by this headlight issue.

Anyone else able to empathize, or offer a fix, or advice?



You have an intermittant short to ground somewhere. I’d suggest taking the car to a shop that specializes in auro electrical systems. Tracking down the cause will take a multimeter and a schematic.

On these VW’s a faulty control module can also be the problem.You’ll need to find a shop that specializes in German/Bavarian imports. They’ve probably seen a similar problem and know the correct fix.

Could be many things, but before doing anything else, a mechanic would first back-probe the voltage at the connector to the headlight, on both the wire side and the headlight side. Headlights (esp on bright) are a high current device, 20 amps or more, and extremely sensitive to a high resistance (bad) connection. It isn’t uncommon for these connectors to corrode, and the connector either needs to be cleaned or often replaced (using a new pigtail with a new connector already installed – VW probably sells these headlight pigtails at the dealership).

I suggest you look for a bad connection near the right side headlight since that seems to be sensitive to the problem. It sounds like there is a faulty connection to ground possibly or power connection to the left side light. Perhaps just disconnecting and reconnecting connections will solve the issue.

My Subaru will turn off the DRL lights by pulling the emergency brake handle up a notch. If sounds like your vehicle is wired similarly.

Thank you for all of your very quick and helpful replies. Cougar, it does give comfort knowing your lights react to the e-brake, too - I will try disconnecting/reconnecting everything. This gives me more things to try on my own and suggestions for where to take the car if I can’t get it. Appreciate the feedback.

@jonesdyl, try googling ‘Jetta Forums’, and find a good discussion forum for Jetta’s. You’ll have an easier time finding someone very knowledgeable with your car and very specific things to look for.