The Honda Civic’s rare combination of reliability, practicality and handling has made it one of the most popular compact cars in history.
Like any other car, the Civic’s headlights can give out over time and you’ll have to replace the bulbs every few years.
But if your Civic’s headlights keep burning out, this article is here to help.
Why Do My Honda Civic Headlights Keep Burning Out?
Frequent headlight failures in a Honda Civic are usually caused by improper handling of the bulb during installation. Other common reasons also include wiring issues, electrical problems, corrosion, excess moisture and using aftermarket bulbs.
If your Honda Civic’s headlights are constantly burning out, this list of common causes can help you successfully figure out a solution.
1. Improperly Handling the Bulb
The most common reason headlight bulbs burn out in a Honda Civic is incorrect handling during installation.
This is a common issue in all cars, so it’s not exclusively a Civic or a Honda problem.
All generations of the Honda Civic since the 1970s have used halogen headlight bulbs, although higher trim levels in newer models might be equipped with either HID (High Intensity Discharge) or LED headlights.
Halogen headlights operate at very high temperatures which makes the glass bulbs very fragile.
Holding the bulb with your bare hands smears oils, salts and other contaminants onto the glass which creates hotspots that cause it to crack and blow up rather quickly.
Any time you handle a halogen bulb, whether you’re just taking it out of the packaging or installing it in the headlight assembly, you need to use rubber or latex gloves, or at least use clean paper towels, to make sure contaminants don’t get on the glass.
If you think the bulb is already dirty or contaminated, you can always wipe it down with high purity alcohol or electronics cleaner then let it dry out completely before installation.
2. Using Aftermarket Bulbs
Fitting either cheap or higher output bulbs instead of the OEM headlight bulbs usually results in shorter lifespans and more frequent replacements.
Even high output bulbs from name brand manufacturers have shorter lifespans compared to standard OEM bulbs because they produce more heat which causes the tungsten filament to burn out quicker. The extra heat can also damage the headlight assembly, connectors, and wiring as time goes by.
OEM bulbs are typically rated for around 1,000 hours while some low quality replacements might only last a few hundred hours at best.
If you’re already using OEM bulbs or name brand replacements, but they still keep burning out in just a few months, you might want to grab a set from your nearest Honda dealer to make sure you’re getting the original part.
3. Bulb Connector Issues
A worn out, broken or burnt headlight connector is another common cause of bulbs burning out prematurely.
Headlight bulbs will have shorter lifespans if they’re:
- Constantly turned on and off
- Not getting the right voltage
- Operating at higher temperatures
If the headlight connector is not properly fitted, the loose connections between the electrical contacts can create an electrical arc that causes voltage spikes and more heat which shortens the lifespan of the bulb.
It can also make the bulbs intermittently turn on and off which increases the possibility of electrical surges. The extra heat cycles where it rapidly heats up then cools down also weakens the filament and the glass.
In older Civics up until the seventh generation, the bulb connector can be easily detached with just a bit of force. The bulb itself is held onto the headlight assembly by a metal retaining clip. Newer Civics have a different socket that has a plastic tab which locks it into the bulb’s connector.
If any of these bulb connectors are not fitting snugly or the locking mechanisms are not working properly, you might need to splice in a new connector.
If you have a modern Civic and the headlight bulb connector’s locking tab is broken, you can insert a piece of rubber or foam in between the two connectors’ interfaces to make it fit tightly again.
Related: 6 Most Common Honda Civic Problems (Explained)
Corrosion inside the headlight bulb connector or some other part of the lighting system’s wiring can cause electrical gremlins that will make your headlight bulbs burn out quicker.
Corrosion increases the resistance in an electrical circuit which leads to more heat. It also prevents the electrical connections from making proper contact which can make the headlight appear dimmer than normal or flicker, ultimately reducing their lifespan.
If you’ve already replaced your headlight bulb several times or notice that your headlights are flickering or getting dim, check the connector for signs of corrosion and scrape it off with a screwdriver or sandpaper.
You should also check for corrosion on the battery terminals and ground wires because these are the main starting points of many of the car’s electrical circuits.
After cleaning out the corrosion, it’s common practice to apply some dielectric grease on the electrical contacts to protect them from excess moisture and oxidation.
5. Wiring Issues
If the wiring for the headlights has worn out insulation and exposed wires, or has broken strands of wire inside, the headlight bulbs can also burn out quickly.
Headlight wiring insulation can get stripped in the following ways:
- Deterioration over time
- Getting caught or pinched on body panels
- Chewed up by rodents
Without the insulation, the wires can cause a short circuit when they touch against each other or on any metal part of the chassis.
Even if all the wiring is intact, the strands of copper wires inside it can also break over time, especially if the wires are bent or stressed repeatedly. If the wires inside aren’t making a good connection, it can cause the lights to turn on and off repeatedly with just a bit of vibration, which, as mentioned previously, shortens the life of the bulb.
If only some of the wires inside are broken or frayed, the remaining wires won’t be able to provide the right amount of current to the bulb, causing it to become dim or flicker, shortening its life. The electrical circuit will also have higher resistance which causes more heat.
These issues can be difficult to trace without the help of a mechanic or an auto electrician. You can visually inspect the wiring for any obvious breaks, fraying, or missing insulation. Burn marks or signs of melting are also telltale signs of wiring problems.
If you don’t see anything wrong, turn on the headlights and check if any of the wires get too hot to touch. If there are broken strands of wire somewhere, the remaining wires that are still intact will produce more heat because they are getting overloaded.
Fortunately, headlight warning harnesses are not very expensive at all and are quite easy to replace.
You should also check if any of the ground wires connected to the body of the vehicle look damaged because this can cause all sorts of electrical issues.
The 2001 to 2002 Honda Civic did have a widespread recall because of a faulty headlight switch wiring harness that caused the low beams to stop working. But this would cause the lights to not turn at all and shouldn’t affect the longevity of the bulbs.
6. 12-Volt Battery Issues
A weak 12-volt battery won’t be able to provide the correct voltage to the halogen bulbs. Aside from producing less light or flickering, the lower voltage can cause the bulbs to burn out faster.
At lower voltages, the bulb will have trouble reaching proper operating temperatures and the halogen process will basically stop working, which reduces the light output significantly.
More importantly, the lower operating temperature prevents the evaporation of the tungsten from the filament, and it just ends up collecting on the inside of the glass bulb, turning it black. It also degrades the filament much quicker because the halogen cycle is supposed to deposit the evaporated tungsten back onto the filament.
According to Osram, a five percent deviation in the operating voltage can affect lamp life by up to 50 percent.
If the bulb is still working but just looks blacker than normal, you can reverse the process by running it at its rated voltage which should make the tungsten deposits evaporate properly.
Most 12-volt car batteries last around 3 to 4 years. If you haven’t had a new battery fitted in a couple of years and you’re frequently replacing the bulbs, it might be time for a replacement.
Before replacing the battery, you can test it with a multimeter or take it to AutoZone where they can do a proper load test.
How to Test the Battery
- Turn the headlights on for 2 minutes to remove the surface charge
- Set the multimeter dial to the ’20 Volts’ setting.
- Turn off the car
- Connect the red probe to the positive battery terminal; black probe goes to the negative
If you see less than 12 volts on the meter, you might need to replace it as it can no longer hold a charge.
Corrosion on the battery terminals can also prevent the battery from providing enough power to the car’s electrical system.
If you see any white deposits on the battery, disconnect the battery terminals and clean them out using a toothbrush dipped in a baking soda and water mixture. Make sure the bolts are tight when you reconnect the terminals.
7. Alternator Problems
If your alternator or its voltage regulator aren’t working properly, the headlights might be getting too much or too little voltage, which will cause them to burn up faster.
When the engine is running, the car’s electrical system runs off the alternator which normally produces between 13.5 to 14.9 volts. If it operates outside of this range, you can have all sorts of different issues with the electrical system.
You can test the alternator’s voltage output using a multimeter. The process is similar to the steps outlined previously for a 12-volt battery test. You just need to turn on the engine to get a proper reading.
When testing the alternator, turn on the lights, AC and other electrical systems to see if it’s able to keep up with the extra load. Try revving the engine to see if it goes past 15 volts, which would mean it’s overloading the electrical system and the headlight bulbs.
You can also insert the multimeter probes into the headlight sockets to check if it’s getting the right voltage with the engine running. If not, there might be something else wrong with the wiring.
Here’s how one owner on CivicForums.com described their experience:
“Last weekend, I replaced both headlights on my ’02 LX Coupe with a set of Sylvania Silverstar bulbs. The bulbs worked for a couple short trips, but then last night I turned them on and they lit up for a split second and went out. I thought I’d blown a fuse but I checked and the fuses were fine.”
“I went out with the multimeter to check my voltage. With the car off I got 15v from just the battery. Once the car was running it moved up slightly to what I’d guess is about 17v.”
For these types of issues, it’s best to take your car to a mechanic or an auto electrician for a proper diagnosis.
8. Excessive Vibration
The filament of headlight bulbs are very fragile and are prone to failure if the car has lots of harsh vibrations or if they’re just rattling about in the headlight housing.
It can also knock the electrical connectors of the headlight bulbs loose which causes intermittent sparks and voltage spikes.
Excessive vibration can be caused by:
- Going off road
- Large potholes and bad roads
- Headlight assembly not properly fastened
- Headlight bulbs not locked in place
- Worn out engine mounts or suspension
The first thing to check is if the headlight assembly is bolted down properly. After that, check if the headlight bulb is installed properly and is locked in securely.
Older Civics have a metal retaining clip to lock the bulb inside the headlight housing. Starting with the eighth gen Civic, the headlight bulbs have to be turned so that the connector is pointing downward to lock it in place.
Excessive vibration can also be caused by worn out engine mounts which many owners simply dismiss because their vehicle is already several years old. But this is actually a common reason for early headlight failures.
Some aftermarket engine mounts cost less than $100, and depending on how many you have to replace, it might take a mechanic roughly 2 to 3 hours at most to do the whole job.
A blown shock absorber or regularly driving through really bad roads can also damage the headlight bulbs which are relatively fragile, as previously mentioned.
9. Water Leaks and Condensation
Too much condensation or moisture inside the headlight assembly can cause a short circuit and make your headlight bulbs fail prematurely.
Condensation inside the headlights is actually normal, especially if you live in a cold and humid environment. It’s more common in newer Civics because their headlight housings have vents for extra ventilation.
To make sure the condensation doesn’t mess up your headlights, simply turn them on for a while to make the water evaporate faster.
Older Civics up until the seventh generation model also have a rubber cover at the back of the headlight assembly that protects the bulb and its electrical contacts from water intrusion. If this gets damaged or cracked, the bulb is more susceptible to electrical shorts and the connector can also become corroded.
If you’re seeing abnormal amounts of condensation or if there’s water pooling inside the headlight, you might have a problem with the headlight seals and you’ll have to replace the entire headlight assembly.
You can attempt to reseal it if you don’t want to spend money on a new set of headlights. The easiest way is to just apply a thin layer of silicone sealant around the edges of the lens where it meets the plastic parts of the headlight.
The more involved, but cleaner looking, method requires heating up the headlight for a couple of minutes to loosen up the old adhesive, then pry off the lens and apply new sealant.
10. Automatic Headlight Feature
When using the automatic headlights, your low beams are going to be turned on more often and lowers the total lifespan of the bulbs.
The ninth generation Civic started getting automatic headlights with its higher trim levels. It became a standard feature in the tenth gen model.
Here’s how one owner on the 9th Gen Civic forum described their experience:
“The auto light feature is one of my least favorite things about my SI. It’s so sensitive that driving during sunrise, sunset and cloudy conditions they are constantly turning off and on.”
Aside from turning off the auto headlight feature completely, you can also adjust its sensitivity in the vehicle settings which should make them turn on less often and increase the longevity of your low beams.
If you suspect that the automatic headlights are not working properly, check if there’s anything blocking the dome-shaped sensor in the middle of the dashboard.
Related: Honda Civic: 11 Common Problems (Useful Guide)