Lamps for high beam and low beam need replacing every once in a while. Back in the 70s, it was still done by your friendly gas station attendant, but today we prefer to do it ourselves. The newer a car is, the less it lends itself to hobby mechanics. Some of you may like it that way (because many self-inflicted errors can be avoided), but others may well not find it that great. Because if you tinker yourself a bit here and there, you have a good overview of how your little four-wheel friend is doing. We know many headlights from the front, but not so much from the back. In this series we will show you a few examples, starting with an almost historic H4 design finishing with xenon – which you shouldn’t really change yourself.

So let’s start somewhere simple; in the 70s, where that friendly gas station attendant mentioned earlier checked the oil, cleaned the windows, and after his comment of “Oh, one of your main headlights is gone” had put in a brand new lamp in just a few minutes. Just like that. Because that was part of his service. Today you mainly get alcohol, cigarettes and cellphone accessories at the gas station. If you ask for a bottle of oil or a light bulb, they look at you in a funny way. But I don’t want to complain; it seems to be us customers who now want to buy food and drugs the whole night through. And since we now refuel ourselves, we also have to change our own lamps. In my test specimen, which some of you may well know by now, it’s still very easy. It’s from the 70s, what can I say.

Under the heavy hood there is no big block encapsulated in plastic, which connects the rear of the headlights to ancillary units. There’s a massive chunk of iron, and around it is a lot of space. You could easily fit a small kitchen between the engine block and the headlight; I can reach everything without dislocating my arm or breaking my wrist. That’s definitely unusual. The plug with the three contacts at the back of the standard H4 lamp is quick and easy to remove, and then the rubber cap can be pulled off by giving it a gentle tug. The cap prevents moisture (or spiders) from getting through the opening into the headlight. Placed directly underneath is the thick round metal bracket, which I can unlatch and remove from its grooves by pushing and turning.

And before I know it, I’m holding the lamp in my hand. Please don’t hold it by its body but always by its base. You’ll recognize a failed H4 lamp by its burnt out filament when you hold it up to the sky or a light. It’s just as quick to fit the new one; and it’s not possible to put it in the wrong way round (or only with brute force) because it only fits if you align it the right way. I push down and turn the bracket, replace the rubber cap on top, and put the plug back on. Didn’t even take five minutes. If the small 4W parking light bulb is also burned out, you can remove it and its base from the headlight housing by giving it a 90-degree twist. Technical progress is all very well, but when it comes to some of these steps, I’d be grateful if they stayed this simple. But there are options. We’ll tell you about them in subsequent stories. Stay tuned.

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