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Status Report, Vol. 53, No. 8 | November 29, 2018 Subscribe

Minor crashes can result in big headlight repair bills

Lincoln Continental

Low-profile hoods and bumpers look sleek but leave expensive headlights vulnerable to damage in even minor fender-benders.

As part of its headlight evaluations, IIHS gathered price data on original equipment manufacturer (OEM) headlights. Replacing just one front headlight on two-thirds of the good-rated vehicles costs more than $1,000, far exceeding the typical insurance deductible of $500.

All of the good-rated headlights are LEDs or high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, which are more expensive than traditional halogen headlights but more energy-efficient.

Prices for an OEM headlight range from $526 for the Subaru Legacy and Outback to about $3,200 for the BMW 5 series.

This is the case for headlights that rate poor, too. For instance, a poor-rated halogen headlight on the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class is $615, an LED on the Honda Civic is $826, and an HID on the Chevrolet Silverado is $1,295.

Headlights consist of a molded plastic assembly that includes a housing, reflectors and a lens, and most are designed to fit just one model of vehicle. Even though bulbs or LED units and power modules can usually be replaced when they wear out, if any part is damaged the whole headlight generally must be replaced.

"Repair costs for a minor crash could easily double if a headlight is damaged," says Sean O'Malley, senior test coordinator at IIHS. "Not to mention the extra time your car will spend in the shop getting fixed."

The Institute's experience with one automaker indicates that manufacturers have wiggle room when it comes to setting prices.

"When we did an initial survey of prices last year for 2018 models, Ford was charging $4,555 for a Lincoln Continental headlight, the most expensive one in our survey," O'Malley says. "We let Ford know the price was out of line with other manufacturers. This year that same headlight costs $1,667."

Expensive headlights aren't a new issue. The Institute's bumper test program has highlighted the problem since the 1990s. In tests of 2007 midsize luxury cars, for example, it cost $847 to replace the HID headlight on the Infiniti G35 and $1,046 for the one on the Lexus ES, not counting installation fees (see "Nothing luxurious about this: $5,486 damage in a minor bump," August 4, 2007).

Stronger bumpers could help protect not only headlights but also other front-end equipment, such as radar sensors and turbochargers. Reinforcement bars that extend far enough outward beyond the frame rails to protect the front corners of vehicles would help to limit damage to headlights in low-speed crashes. Bumpers that are taller and higher off the ground also would help.

Prices for an OEM headlight assembly

Subaru Legacy $526 Hyundai Elantra $1,348
Subaru Outback $526 Hyundai Sonata $1,365
Chevrolet Volt $540 Lexus NX $1,461
Kia Niro hybrid $792 Alfa Romeo Giulia $1,480
Mazda CX-5 $804 Lexus RC $1,545
Subaru Crosstrek $860 Mercedes-Benz GLC $1,560
Kia Rio $883 Genesis G80 $1,597
Hyundai Kona $910 Hyundai Santa Fe $1,642
Subaru Impreza $927 Genesis G90 $1,658
Subaru WRX $927 Lincoln Continental $1,667
Kia Soul $1,027 Kia Forte $1,788
Mazda CX-5 $1,085 Toyota Camry $1,810
Honda Ridgeline $1,134 Mercedes-Benz E-Class $2,580
Kia Sedona $1,167 Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class $2,820
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport $1,203 BMW X3 $2,840
Lexus NX $1,213 BMW 5 series $3,242
Kia Optima $1,262
Headlights improve, but base models lag

Just over half of 2018 model vehicles have headlights that adequately light up the road at night and limit glare, but most good-rated headlights are optional.

©1996-2018, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org