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Here's Why a Broken Headlight Can Be a Costly Fix

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2015

If you're thinking about buying a used car with a broken headlight, you might not want to believe the seller if he or she tells you it'll just be a "couple bucks" to fix it. Headlight repairs may not be as cheap as you might expect, as some can cost more than $1,000. How is that possible? We have the details.

HID vs. LED vs. Halogen

The vast majority of cars use one of three types of headlights: halogens, xenons (sometimes called high-intensity discharge lights, or HIDs) and LEDs.

In general, LED lighting is only used on high-end luxury vehicles -- though it's making its way to more affordable models, too. Originally debuted by the Audi R8 supercar a few years ago, LED headlights can now be found on vehicles as inexpensive as the Acura ILX sedan, which starts at less than $30,000 with shipping.

But while LEDs are designed to last the life of a car, xenons and halogens aren't. And in some cases, these lights can be very expensive to replace.

Why So Expensive?

In general, a burnt-out halogen headlight is still cheap to fix. Figure less than $20 for the bulb, plus about the same amount of money for labor if you want a technician to replace the light for you. But halogen headlights don't provide the same amount of illumination as xenon lights, which is why some drivers prefer vehicles equipped with the costlier xenons.

So what does a xenon headlight cost to replace? Just the bulb can often exceed $100. The higher pricing comes from the fact that xenon light bulbs are more powerful than halogen, and while a Xenon headlight is designed to last longer than a halogen, it can still burn out.

But here's the real kicker: If the headlight assembly is damaged -- if the assembly has leaked or suffered damage in an accident, for instance -- the costs can go exponentially higher. While a halogen assembly likely won't top a few hundred dollars, a xenon headlight assembly can easily run more than $700 -- and some are above $1,000 once you factor in labor costs.

Our Advice

With this in mind, our advice is simple: If you're looking at a used car with a broken headlight -- and especially if the car in question is equipped with xenon lights -- be sure to bring the car to a mechanic before you sign the papers. The light in question could end up costing a lot more to fix than the seller suggests -- and if it does, you'll want to negotiate that cost into the purchase price.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Here's Why a Broken Headlight Can Be a Costly Fix - Autotrader