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VW Beetle head lights blow out

My friend has a 2002 Beetle and the head lamps seems to blow out about every 2-3 months.

I looked at the connectors and there is no water leaking in and the connectors seem sound. Nothing appears obvious by eye. There may be a voltage spike when it is turned on but I don’t have a way to test for this.

Any ideas as to what is going on and what to do to address this.

She seems to think this is a common problem with this model.

The new Bug does seem to have it’s share of electrical problems. My aunt has a 2003 VW Beetle and I just replaced the wiring to her headlights and taillights. I also added several grounds to her circuits which seems to have helped the problem. I decided to replace the wires when the Bug wires measured too much resistance. They are not 100% copper by a long shot.

Check battery voltage with the engine running, accessories off, revved to 2-3000 rpm.
Shouldn’t ever go over 14.5V.


I think you are on the right track…It must be a voltage spike causing higher current and thus more heat. The question is why? What is the root cause of this? If the voltage exceeds 14.5V is the only smoking gun the voltage regulator? Could something else be in play?

I am not familiar with this car. Is the regulator integral to the alternator?

I will add the day lamp running lights were disabled to help extent the life of the bulbs and they are now blowing in 2-3 months. So either the bulbs are getting cheaper or the problem has been progressively getting worse

Is it possible that the bulb is being contaminated during installation?

A halogen bulb will only explode if you touched it with you fingers, because the oil in your skin causes an uneven heated area on the bulb itself. You should never touch a halogen bulb with your fingers when replacing it. Use a piece of kitchen towel to touch or hold the bulb.

Thanks for you reply and it is good advice. The bulbs are not exploding. Just burning out.

I helped with the last bulb change and latex gloves were worn. We were mindful to not get any contaminants on the glass of the bulb.

I’ve noticed a slightly Higher rate of bulb burnout on my 03’ GTi as well… Compared to my other vehicles it seems that I have already replaced more headlight bulbs on this VW than on ALL my other vehicles combined.

I would definitely do a Voltage check on the this Bug while running. Check the bulb to see if any fingerprints are on the glass…The oily fingerprint acts like a Mirror on the bulb…it reflects the light and heat BACK at the element…and thus causes them to burn out MUCH faster than normal.

It could be faulty or cheaply constructed bulbs…Could be the way the Bug drives over bumps…if the headlight housing is loose and causing excessive vibes to the bulb itself.

Could be quite a few possibilities to look into here. Go with a HIGH QUALITY Bulb this time…and mark down the date of bulb install… Keep track of it from here on out… Clean the new bulbs glass surface with Alcohol and a lint free cloth prior to install…DO the Voltage check…check the Headlight housing for loosness… Etc… Bout all I can think of… Oh yeah… You can Also run your own high quality GROUND WIRE from each bulb…run it to a nice solid ground and see if that helps. All these things could easily help with this issue. But at the end of the day…if they are making crappy bulbs on us…how can we ever figure that one out? Yknow? Good luck with this…this is one of those annoying issues that we need to pay attention to in order to figure out. Hopefully these suggestions give you something to operate upon.


OK…Thanks Honda Blackbird…

What do people consider a high quality bulb. I believe Sylvania H1 bulbs were recently used.

I noticed from a quick internet search that Philips makes an extended life H1 bulb. They market it as a Green Bulb. i.e. it will not end up in the land fill as quick as a conventional bulb.

I once had a car with electrical gremlins–an '81 Firebird. It would go through a brake or tail light every month or so, and I never figured out why. The charging voltage was fine on it. It had other weird problems too.

But I wonder if on the Beetle if the problem could be related to the way the lamps are mounted? Perhaps vibration is killing them? Just thought I’d throw that out there.

This can help diagnose voltage problems:

I think you need to follow circuitsmith’s advice and either check or have checked your charging system.

However, I do want to add appoint. I use Sylvania Silverstar Untra bulbs. They’re much, much brighter. But when putting new bulbs in a friend’s car recently I chose not to, because they only have a lifespan rating of 250 operating hours. Sylvania currently makes four different levels of headlight lamp (they used to make five), each brighter but each with a lesser lifespan. The “standard” lamp is rated at 1000 hours, mine at 250, with two in between.

The reason is that the brighter light is achieved simply by using a filament that burns hotter. A hotter filament means that it burns brighter but burns out faster. It’s a tradeoff. I think the ones I installed in my friends car had a rating of 850 hours. They were one step up in brightness from the basic lamp.

The lamps are made right here in Hillsboro, NH. I’ve toured the facility and gone over he technical docs with one of their engineers and with their HR manager. It’s cool stuff. Their incandescent home lamps used to be made in Manchester, NH. That plant is closed now. Everyone got laid off. Sigh.

It’s a common problem on these cars. My friends mother has a 2007 and she was stranded out of town when both front lamps failed.

Two suggestions:

  1. If memory is correct, German cars around that year had poorly-rated electrical systems so you might check with the dealer or a good garage to see if there were any factory notices about that problem.

  2. check for a short somewhere. We had an older car that would periodically lose its tail lights FINGAR (For Irritatingly No Good Apparent Reason) and one day I had the trunk open, incidentally moved the wiring around, and noticed a spark. The tail lights suddenly didn’t work, and voila – a piece of electrical tape fixed the problem. Apparently the friction against the wire wore part of it away over the years, and a bare part of the wire hit metal at random times as the car moved around.
    Good luck locating a short but you might trace the wiring and ensure the insulation integrity is good. With luck it will happen somewhere close to the light switch, near an obvious friction point, or the headlight (especially if water is entering).
    Let us know if something works.

Thanks for everyone’s comments. She is taking it to her mechanic today for some other work and will have them take a look at it. They are suppose to be VW/Audi specialists so it may be interesting with what they come up with.

I recommend purchasing OEM bulbs from the dealer and seeing if they last longer. OEM bulbs typically have tighter specs and I have found that they last quite a bit longer than most aftermarket bulbs.

I installed silverstar ultras in my 2002 Mitsubishi Eclipse for the extra brightness and range in 2007. They performed as advertised. Of course the short bulb life was not advertised. When they burned out 2 years later I re-installed the OEM bulbs. I gave the car to my Son in 2011. One of the original bulbs failed last week. 10 years total service. I think you might have something regarding OEM bulbs.

It’s a tradeoff. The brighter bulbs simply burn the filaments hotter, which results in shorter life. The back of the packages shows the differences in brightness, but you need to look carefully at t he 4-pt narrative on each individual package to find the differences in life. They seem to prefer not to make this obvious.

Me, I like the extra brightness, but it’s expensive. The Silverstar Ultra bulbs cost three times as much as the Standard bulbs ($24/bulb as opposed to $8/bulb), and they only last 1/4 as long (250 hours as opposed to 1000 hours). That means they actually cost 12X as much as standard bulbs. Fortunately, Sylvania makes two different in-between levels for those that want a bit more brightness without the outrageous cost.

Very common problem. Seems as if it’s bad sockets. Reaplace them yourself. It’s a cheap part, but VW charges huge bucks.

Heres a how to video.

If there’s no obvious problem at the headlight connector (burned socket pins, etc), I guess what I do is purchase from among the list of approved aftermarket bulbs (Sylvania is a good brand from my experience) the least bright version, as it will draw less current and produce less heat. It’s probably the least expensive too. And purchase the replacement bulb from a different parts store than you purchased it from last time. I’ve had a problem before where a parts store had a bunch of bad bulbs, and when I went back to get a replacement for one that burned out in 2 months, they just gave me another bad bulb from their stock. They apparently didn’t realize the whole lot of bulbs was faulty. A bulb from a different store fixed the problem.