Hooniverse Projects- 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee

I can see for miles and miles, I can see for miles and. . . oh wait, no I can't.

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.

0 Comments

  1. I should buy replacement lenses – just the lenses – for my 240. They were just hot-glued on from the factory anyway and can now be popped off by hand and replaced. It's a wonder there's no moisture inside.

  2. Throw some leak finder and a UV light in with your pressure test.
    Nice score on the Taiwan headlamps. What was the manufacturer name on them? Oh, little wrench tip, before you do this aim the existing lamps at a wall, mark the position of the lamps on the wall when turned on. Then when you are done installing these compare them. Just because they have the nice little bubbles or marks doesn't mean they'll be right.

      1. Like a accident replacement or someone messed them up? Then I'll still use the wall trick and have the customer pick the car up at night. Deliberately set the pickup late and then go for a ride with them so they can say if they are correct or not.
        I've been doing it long enough I can get pretty close without headlight aiming devices, which I do see now as a waste of money, and normally only have to tweak them a turn or two.
        It becomes second nature doing many things. Most times as I pull to a garage door the lights are on, or I try them to see if the lows and highs work. After so many cars you get used to about where on the door the lights will land. Easy way to up sell a bulb replacement if one is burnt out and I'd rather not have my customers explain the complimentary free beer on their breathe if they get pulled over for a headlight out.

    1. Don't know the manufacturer, and actually the left one was from a different maker than the right side. Both are "supposed" to be DOT compliant.

      1. I'd imagine at $40 a pop they skipped a few things in the design or plastics used but overall you'll be ok. I've used the lower cost units before and have had good luck. Heck, I'd use them on my own.

    2. Oh that wall marking tip is a great one! Funny how some of the best tips leave you smacking your forehead in a, "Of course! Why the heck didn't I think of that?" kind of way.

  3. Of all the cars I've seen, I think late 90's Pontiac's headlights are the absolute worst. The pair on my Grand Prix had turned a delightful piss yellow by the time I let the old girl go, with the passenger side being so dim it could hardly light a dark room let alone the road. I had a friend who's Grand Am of the same year had a lens that actually let in so much water that it resembled a fishbowl.

  4. I credit my Father for that trick and many, many other old school tricks he has. I am just passing them along like I am suppose too. It was funny, the first time I actually heard him say that to me was just after I started Tech School in '93. The "instructors" made us always use the headlight aiming devices. So one of the first times I go to replace a headlight bucket in a older car at the shop Dad asks what I am looking for.
    "Head light aimers."
    "There are four of them in the building, just pick one and pull up to it."
    "Huh?………..ohhhhhhhhhhhh."
    He shook his head and complained that the tech school learning was going to have to be unlearned.

    1. That would be the V8. The '96 that this Jeep replaced had the 4.0, and that was a sweet engine.

  5. I recently replaced the pitted and worn lenses on my M3, along with the foglights and turn signals as well. (I had to pay $100 just for the lenses, not the whole unit for instance.)
    They were a bit more expensive altogether than yours here, but really, really easy to replace and MY GOD well worth it.
    The car is a daily driver, the bottom of my front bumper can't even really be waxed anymore… But none of that even bothers me with how much of an improvement the brand new lights look. Totally and utterly cleaned up the look of the whole car.

  6. wow, a 2001 Grand Cherokee from upstate NY and the worst problem you could find is dull headlights? Forget checking under it for leaks, check for parts that have fallen/rusted off.

  7. Baking soda and water mixed into a paste and rubbed on with a cotton rag then rinsed away would have gotten you a 95% result for much less money.
    Still, the ones you installed do look nice and the writeup was well written. Thanks for sharing the info.

  8. I have two words for you, which as an early WJ owner you will eventually be confronted with: Blend doors.
    Have fun with that. I hope you also enjoy buying brake rotors. =)
    Other than that it's a fun Jeep. I think you will enjoy it.

  9. I've had a three-bottle kit of plastic polish on my shelf for a couple of years, left over from a few bike windshield cleanups. Twenty minutes with this and a polishing bonnet on my angle grinder will take care of all but the most UV-challenged headlamps.

  10. Your article has extra fantastic worth to your website. I say this mainly because to me personally I come across it important. Perhaps to some one else it is not but to me you did great. With thanks for that information.

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