From time to time we like to bore regale you with the projects upon which we are currently wrenching. Sometimes it’s a LeMons car that’s being turned into some kind of mobile theme park, other times it’s a classic (well, classic by my definition) car requiring some TLC, and today it’s a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee that’s a recent purchase. I’ll be covering a few other projects on this car in upcoming installments, but today we’re going to tackle replacing those nasty worn out headlamps. While only nine years old, this Jeep’s former life in upstate New York left it with a pair of headlight lenses that are cloudy and reduce the light’s effectiveness by about 50%. This is a common occurrence with the plastic lenses that have been de rigueur on cars and trucks for the past two decades, and I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of cars being driven around with headlights that are a sickly shade of yellow. Glass lenses don’t suffer the same fate, but are also more prone to breakage from flying road debris (an errant truck mud flap knocked out the lens on our old Civic years ago) and they are much more expensive to replace. The initial idea was to get a polishing kit that claims to return your clouded plastic headlights to their original clarity in just a few steps and a few days worth of wax-on, wax-off. At around $40 for the kit, that seemed the most cost effective way to fix the problem as replacement lights from the dealer were quoted at over $300 a pop, and they’d have to order them because they didn’t have them off the shelf. A quick Google search found that Amazon had replacements for under $40 each, and not just the lenses either, but the entire housing including new bulbs. While more expensive than the polishing kit, replacing the lights would be faster and had a greater likelihood of success, so an order was placed.
A week or so later, and we had our new lights. The lens and sidemarkers were identical, albeit lacking the miasma- inducing cataracts of the factory units. As we didn’t yet have the service manual for the Jeep, removal and installation of the lamps was undertaken through Holmesian deductive reasoning, lacking only the fictional detective’s pipe and jaunty cap. Having the new units allowed for unfettered discovery of their back sides revealing the three mounting pins and slot for the long vertical screw that secures each into place. Removing each of these two nail-like screws, and applying a bit of even pressure with a small brake spoon (the right tool for the right job, my friends!) popped each lamp out without problem. You can see the slot in the plastic surround for the securing screw noted by the blue arrows in the picture below. There is a corresponding slot on the back of the light cluster through which the shaft of the screw fits, holding the unit in place.
The red arrows indicate the pressure-fit receivers for the pins on the back of each light cluster. You can note that the one on the upper-left was pulled completely out with the old cluster, owing to the copious quantity of rust on that pin. The same thing happened on the other side and each receiver had to be retrieved and popped back into place before the new clusters could be pressed home. As I noted, the new clusters arrived with both high and low beams already in place, and it was small work to snap the other three sockets into their corresponding holes at the bottom of the cluster. The pins can been seen in the above shot, one to the upper-right of the larger light, one to the lower-left of the smaller, and the last with the fat section of loom resting against it at the bottom of the cluster. Reassembly is just a matter of hooking up all the electrical connections, which of course are simply plugs with plastic securing tabs, and pressing the cluster in until it snaps into place with the pins solidly held in the receivers. The longs screw is inserted from the top and tightened to ensure the light remains captured. The last part is testing the lights to ensure every thing is hooked up correctly and all the lamps are working, which in my case revealed a blown sidemarker bulb. As you can see, the new lamps improve visibility both from in front of the car, making it look like new, and from behind the wheel where the new lamps provide significantly better illumination. While having to drop $600 for new clusters at the dealer would have made the $40 kit look like a bargain, finding these Taiwan-made replacements for under $40 a pop made replacing rather than polishing seem like the better idea. The results offered instant gratification and the Jeep is now a lot safer on the road. Next time, we’ll be installing a factory trailer hitch package and later we’ll be pressure testing the cooling system to determine if it is showing any signs of leaks. If you have any questions regarding wrenching on this car or your own, don’t hesitate to email us, and maybe we can offer some helpful suggestions to the problems that have you scratching your head.