All cars have multiple car light bulbs to help you see and be seen in the dark. Headlights light the road ahead, fog lights improve vision in poor weather, brake lights indicate to other drivers that you’re slowing down, and turn signals let other drivers and pedestrians know where you want to go. Inside your vehicle, bulbs are required for components such as the instrument cluster, gear shift lever position indicator, and glove box. It’s a given that car light bulbs don’t last forever, but replacement options vary.
Headlights to See and Be Seen
Most vehicles are equipped with standard-voltage halogen headlight bulbs with one or two filaments—two if the bulb has both high- and low-beam functions. Fog light bulbs are similar. Halogen bulbs must be replaced with new halogen bulbs, but colour and brightness vary by application. The typical halogen bulb emits a yellowish light, but whiter bulbs give you better definition, and brighter bulbs project a little farther. The only caveat is that brighter or whiter bulbs may not last as long as standard OEM (original equipment manufacturer) bulbs. Also, if your headlights are hazy or fogged, a brighter bulb won’t help.
High-voltage xenon or HID (high‑intensity discharge) headlights must be replaced with HID bulbs, which are sometimes available with different colours or brightness. HID bulbs are much brighter and whiter than their halogen counterparts yet tend to last much longer. Xenon headlights certainly have advantages but be aware that aftermarket HID conversion kits are not road legal. This is because HID bulbs require specialized reflectors and lenses to properly focus the beam without dazzling oncoming drivers.
A recent addition to the headlight field is LED (light-emitting diode) technology. It used to be that all LED headlights were factory-fitted, but LED headlights like these are now available for many vehicles fitted with halogen headlight bulbs. LED headlights are bright and long‑lasting, not to mention easy to install, requiring zero modifications to your vehicle.
Marker Lights, Taillights, Turn Signals, and More!
Inside and outside your vehicle, standard low-voltage incandescent bulbs make you visible to others and help you see when it’s dark. Most marker lights, brake lights, turn signals, and reverse lights, as well as the CHMSL (centre high-mount stop lamp), use standard car light bulbs. Inside, the dome light and other lights are similar. Some bulbs are hidden behind a pop‑out panel or cover, while others may require a screwdriver or nut driver to access.
Just like brighter and whiter headlight bulbs, brighter bulbs are available for many of these applications, though they may not last as long as OEM‑type bulbs. Recently, LED replacements have become more reliable and longer-lasting, and they’re just as simple to replace as standard bulbs. Unfortunately, some LED lights are not replaceable, requiring that the whole light assembly be replaced.
Shopping for Car Light Bulbs
The many options you’ll find in the car light bulb aisle may seem overwhelming. The application book or any of the experts at your local NAPA Auto Parts store will help you determine which bulbs you need. Just look up your vehicle’s year, make, and model, and take note of the bulb location and number (e.g., 194, H11, 9006). Then, find the type of bulb you need (e.g., halogen, high performance, LED). Check out this video to see Chris Robinson explain how to shop car light bulbs.