CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

New headlight bulb creates complaints from other drivers

I recently replaced the driver’s side headlamp bulb on my early 90’s Toyota Corolla. Unlike the $1300 bill I’d get if it were a certain model of Lexus discussed here prior, the the total cost for replacing a headlight bulb on this Corolla was $10.99 plus tax. Took about 5 minutes to replace, and 4 minutes of that was decyphering the bizarre pictorial directions that came w/the new bulb.

But now other drivers are complaining. How do I know this? By their actions – putting on their high beams in my face, flipping me off, etc – I think what they are saying is that my new headlight bulb is too bright.

Here’s what I’ve done so far. I parked facing a big blank wall. I turned on the headlights to judge if the new bulb is aimed correctly. As far as I can tell, both the driver side and the passenger side bulbs are aimed at the same height and direction. However, the driver’s side is noticeably brighter than the passenger side bulb. This is not that surprising, as the passenger side bulb is original to the car, and therefore almost 20 years old.

What should I do to avoid this headlight-hatred directed at me and my poor innocent Corolla? I was thinking of putting in a new bulb on the passenger side. My theory is that the oncoming driver is confused by bulbs of different brightness. So if they were both equal brightness, the’d look like any other car and the complaints would subside. What do you think?

I think you might want to replace the right hand bulb and see what happens. You will be out $10.99. After you replace the bulb, check again to see if the lights. Be sure that the low beam is not as bright as the high beam and that both lamps are of equal brilliance.

Thanks. There’s not much downside as eventually I’ll need another bulb anyway.

It’s possible that your headlights are aimed too high but because they were so old and dim, oncoming drivers didn’t notice.

How did you manage to get a bulb to last 20 years? That’s impressive.

Oncoming drivers get confused when a car with unequal headlights approaches…

Yeah I agree but it might be that your driver’s side bulb is set a little high. The left side should point down and to the right a little bit if I recall.

Are you certain that the bulb is seated properly and that it’s identical to the old bulb in dimensions? If it’s not in the proper position, the light won’t be reflected correctly.

You could consider switching the bulbs so that the brighter one is on the passenger’s side. However, now that you know that the old bulb is dim, I’d want both bulbs to be new for safety reasons.

I agree with Bing in that my cars have always had the passenger’s side aimed a bit higher than the driver’s side, although I’ve never had a Subaru.

By the way, don’t forget that you don’t want to touch the bulb with your bare hands when installing it.

I checked the new bulb again, and it is oriented and seated the same as the old one. And it is the exact same Sylvania part number as the old bulb.

Do you sometimes find you need to re-aim the headlights after installing a new bulb? I thought the aiming was fixed by the thing that holds the bulb, and as long as you don’t change that part and simply install a new bulb, you never have to re-aim the headlights. Or do manufacturing differences in bulbs require re-aiming sometimes?

@shadowfax … I have no idea why the passenger side bulb has lasted 20 years w/out replacement. It is still the original bulb that came w/the car. I drive this car at night all the time, 5-6 times a week, so I have the headlights turned on frequently, and have been doing that same routine for the past 20 years. The driver’s side bulb is on the third one now. It must be a fluke that the passenger side bulb has lasted so long.

Side note having nothing to do w/cars … Light bulbs can last a really long time sometimes. I think I recall hearing about a light bulb in a firehouse somewhere that is original to the place, and it was first installed in 1905 or something like that. Over 100 years old. It’s the oldest continuously operating light bulb in existence. The explanation one fireman said for its lasting so long: It has no light switch associated with it. It is never turned off except the rare occassion that the power goes out.

Thanks to all for informative replies …

I’ve read about the same lightbulb.

I’ve also had scanning electron microscopy performed on failed tungsten filaments (the same ones used in light bulbs) encapsulated in inert gas to determine premature failure cause. Heated tungsten filaments even in a totally inert environment (totally protected from oxidation) fail because over time the heat changes the grain structure from fibrous to crystalline. Once changed, thermal contraction and expansion or shock can cause the structure to fail. If that firehouse lightbulb was the one of the millions made that actually ended up in a totally inert environment, and it has never been subjected to shock or to thermal cycling, it is entirely possible that it’s still lit. I believe the story. Statistically, there would had to be one sealed in a perfect environment, what with all the countless billlions of lightbulbs that have been made.

But that doesn;t help you.
Yes, it is common to have to reaim headlights after changing the bulb. There are numerous procedures on the internet for doing so.

And, by the way, headlights do degrade over time. It’s probably time ti change that passenger side bulb also,

I’m inclined to agree with you that people are basing their reaction on bulbs of different intensity. If you change the other bulb and the abuse continues you might consider having someone use a headlight aimer and adjust them accordingly.

Regarding that firehouse light bulb, many years ago an editor from a motorcycle magazine was going to road test a bike from LA to SF use the shakedown run as an excuse to see that bulb.
He stated that it had a dim orange glow and the filament was about an 1/8" thick. :slight_smile:

The oldest lightbulb is now 111, in a firehouse in Livermore, CA, on the eastern edge of the Bay Area. It has its own web site at www.centennialbulb.org. It has been moved four times, usually because the building was being torn down. Those moves are the only significant time it was off. It is a carbon filament bulb, origally 60 watts, now drawiing just 4 watts. Obviously, our future headlights should have carbonized bamboo filaments, a very green technology.

I believe you put a line 4 feet high across a wall then from 10 feet away, the lights should be centered on that line. (Working on a level surface). The left headlamp should point slightly inward.

“It is a carbon filament bulb, origally 60 watts, now drawiing just 4 watts. Obviously, our future headlights should have carbonized bamboo filaments, a very green technology”.

Great idea. We would have to get out of the car, go around to the front and light a match to see if our headlights are on.

I’m not familiar with carbonized bamboo filaments as a filament technology. Can you fill me in?

My 16-year old car still has both original bulbs, so some can last a long time.

You’ve done well. I typically get about 2-3 years out of a set of headlamp bulbs. But, than, I always turn my lights on when I’m driving, day or night, regardless of the weather. If it enabled one person to see me who otherwise would not have, if it avaoided one accident, it was worth it. Interestingly, we’ll never know of the accidents that got prevented, only the ones that didn’t!

The thing about tungsten-halogen lamps is their degradation is fairly linear throughout their life. Having a long life with slow degradation usually leads the user to not notice how poorly they are performing until a new set is installed. Kinda like your eyes going bad as you age. It isn’t until you can’t see anything, you go in and get glasses and wow, what a difference!

Look inside the lamp envelope, if the glass looks cloudy or darker than clear glass, that’s tungsten that has been vaporized and re-deposited on the interior surface of the glass.

Longevity really depends on a few factors; time of use, number of cold starts, how much physical shock the elements have taken during operation, etc.

TT, you are exactly right.
And here in New England, during the winter, the effectivity of the lights is also degraded dramatically by the weather and the road spray… It amazes me that people don’t clean their headlights.

Yes, the right headlight low beam is supposed to be aimed slightly to the right and slightly down.
This illuminates the side of the road where there might be pedestrians, etc.
The left beam is supposed to be aimed a bit more to the right and slightly down.
I am sure you can get more precise directions, but I always used to adjust my own without them.

Great idea. We would have to get out of the car, go around to the front and light a match to see if our headlights are on.

Funny! I am reminded of a science article on a news page. Some joker commenter said they could get around the problems of a space ship traveling to the sun, and being burned up, by landing at night.