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DIY: taking apart headlights (56k: 20 low resolution pictures. you decide)

77911 Views 61 Replies 29 Participants Last post by  Cking
disclaimer ToyotaNation may or may not endorse various DIY projects such as this one, but all DIY projects are purely "at your own risk". If you are at all uncomfortable or inexperienced working on vehicles (especially electronics and mechanical), please reconsider doing the job yourself. It is very possible on any DIY to damage your car, void your factory
warranty, disable a safety feature, create a hazardous condition, or harm or even kill yourself or others. Examples would be melting you headlights, the vehicle failing on you, getting an electric shock, or disabling an airbag to name a few.

do you...
  • have a broken headlight housing and want to replace it but don't know how to?
  • have want to take the headlights apart to paint them, add some shit to them, take the amber reflector out, etc.?
  • have some projectors laying around for a retro, but don't know how to take headlights apart?
well, you're in luck (hopefully :lol:). i have a 2003 toyota camry LE, and decided that the chrome had to go, along with the amber reflectors. this diy applies to all 2002-2004 USDM camrys, but may also apply to all gen 5-5.5 camrys (2002-2007). my instructions are for taking the headlights out of the car, and taking them apart for the purpose of painting them black. headlight replacement instructions can be deducted from this diy- just skip the parts where i take the headlights apart. and i'm not doing a retrofit, but taking the headlights apart is one of the steps to retrofitting projectors. maybe in the future.

note: i hope the 20 low resolution pics (@ around 40 kb each) weren't too much for the 56k'ers. if so, please let me know so that i can put a warning in the title.

items needed

^in the garage. the electric screwdriver and masking tape are optional.

^in the kitchen. the electric screwdriver is optional and in place of #2 philips screwdriver in picture.

step 1 - removing headlights from car
disconnect all bulbs (three on each side for 2002-2004 camrys; four on each side for 2005-2007 camrys). remove bulbs from harnesses and keep them in a dry and safe place. be careful to keep fingerprints, oils, dirt, or any other contaminants from the bulbs. keep harnesses from interfering from headlight removal.

in order to remove the headlight housings from the car, you have to move the bumper out of the way a little bit to gain access to a certain bolt on the side of the headlight. before we move on, first study the location of the nuts and bolts holding the upper portion of the bumper on page 1 of the exterior trim pdf and the location of the two bolts and the pin and clip holding the headlight to the body on page 8 of the headlight pdf of then proceed to the first sub-step:

^unscrew the two screws with a phillips screwdriver and undo the center clip/fastener highlighted in red with some prying action from the flathead screwdriver. these hold the top portion of the bumper to the bumper support.

^underneath the car right in front of the front tires, unscrew this screw with a phillips screwdriver. this screw holds the splash guards to the bumper. repeat on the other side.

^at this point, you should be able to pry off the splash guard from behind the bumper with your fingers in the direction noted (the red arrows). if you have trouble, you can use a screwdriver with masking tape on the business-end to prevent scratches. pry enough so that you are able to see the bolt/screw in the picture below:

^unscrew this bolt/screw with screwdriver. this screw holds the corner of the bumper to the corner of the fender. after removing the screw, with some force, peel the bumper from the car. repeat on other side.

^peel the bumper away from the car, outwards, enough so that you are able to unscrew the bolt highlighted in red with a socket wrench with a 10mm socket. the bolt holds the bottom portion of the headlight to the car. notice how the clips of the bumper belong to the space between the headlight bracket and fender (green arrows). be careful around the bumper- do not apply any pressure because it it being held on by the bottom splash guards. if you feel more comfortable with the bumper completely off, then go ahead and take it off.

^unscrew the bolt highlighted red using the socket wrench with the 10mm socket. there headlights are now held on to the car by an alignment pin and clip. simply pull directly forward away from the car to disengage both, freeing the headlight from the car. repeat on other side.

^closeup of the pin insertion point on the car's left side. (phone's marco did not work well this time)

step 2 - baking the headlights

^preheat oven to 200 degrees using bake function. if you know your oven temperature control is inaccurate, then compensate and lower the temperature.
note: other instructions say anywhere from 150 to 400 degrees, but 150-200 degrees allows the oven to remain on/heating without damaging the headlights by melting it. it is scientifically proven that the melting point of the Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS) plastic (the part of the headlight with the lowest melting point) is usually around 230 to 250 degrees fahrenheit depending on mix. in addition, the melting point of ABS is not sharp- you can bake the headlights at 300 degrees easily with no visible harm, but the headlights might get slightly warped. the melting point of the butyl adhesive is far lower than that at around 150 degrees. i chose 200 degrees to prevent melting of the headlight and to promote relatively faster melting of the butyl adhesive holding the headlight together. furthermore, i make no guarantees- 200 degrees may still melt the headlight... cuz ain't no scientist, hence the disclaimer :lol:

^unscrew the two small screws highlighted in red with a phillips screwdriver. remember the pin mentioned in the first step? it's highlighted in purple.

is your oven preheated @ 200 degrees fahrenheit yet? if so, then you can move on.

^stick the headlights in the oven. make sure that there is plenty of space around the headlights, and use the rack positions to position the light so that there is plenty of space between the heating elements and the top and bottom of the headlight. one tip i've seen is to put the headlights on a brick or tile, to prevent metal-to-plastic contact.

^close oven. bake for ten minutes. (oh... now my phone's marco works well...)

step 3 - taking apart headlights

^carefully and slowly pry the headlights apart, making sure that the butyl adhesive is pliable enough. if you're having trouble, you may have to put the headlights in the oven one or two more times to soften the butyl adhesive. once you have the headlights apart, let the adhesive cool and harden a little bit so that it doesn't get all over the headlight assembly, especially on the lens.

^unscrew the small screw at the top. this small screw holds the shroud to the lens. the shroud is further held to the lens by clips at the bottom. slowly pry them off, removing the shroud from the lens.

^remove the amber pieces (if your own plan requires the removal that is). the circular amber refractor was a bit hard to take off, i had to grind at the refractor's clips behind the housing a little bit using a fine file.

step 4 - painting time

^now that the lens and housing are apart, do what you want with the headlights. i painted the shrouds black myself.

step 5 - assembling headlights

^reinsert the amber reflector and amber refractor on the housing... or whatnot. make sure the clips are securely fastened and not loose. also make sure that all parts of the headlight assembly are clean. when assembling the headlights together, it is good practice to apply extra adhesive/sealant to make sure that there are no leaks in the headlight assembly seal. i personally use black RTV silicone because of its sealing abilities and similar properties to the OEM butyl adhesive that was already on the headlight. i used black, instead of clear, so that i can see it better. be a little bit liberal with the extra sealant/adhesive- since water entering the headlight housing equals a shitty day and shitty light output. there's nothing wrong with sealant overkill.

step 6 - baking the headlights again

^the headlights may not be properly sealed and aligned- the heat will fix that. heat for ten minutes, then push the lens and housing together to tighten the seal. repeat until it looks flush as before, if not flush'er. again, nothing wrong with sealant overkill.

repeat steps 2-6 for the other side if you already haven't done so. ;)

step 7 - reinstall headlights on car

^reverse the first step. reinstall headlights bulbs.

step 8 - final check
make sure that the headlight assembly, bumper, fender, splash guards are all flush with each other like before. aim headlights according to page ten of the headlight pdf of store all tools. consume beverage of choice. recycle.

update: other users have reported that using the more popular heating method (higher temperature pre-heat and turning off the oven before putting the headlights inside) worked for them quite successfully. here's what they said...
this is an old post.....but a little hint if u have a hard time on the seperation stage try heating your oven to about 385 turn it OFF then put the lights in for 2 minutes....less time in the heat it worked for me better that way but it prolly depends on your oven, and your prying techniques... use like a cookie sheet thats NOT in to start its the best way to prevent any accidents, i did 4 i had 2 old ones and 2 new ones and took all 4 apart fine with the 385 method the first one i used was 200 for 10 minutes and it didnt wanna come apart.
this process is almost exact same as the skafia/integra-r writeup - the trick with that (and it works very well as i've done a few retrofits in my time) is you preheat the oven to 400 degrees then TURN OFF the oven and put in your lights for 7-10 minutes. when you pull the lights out, the lens comes off very easliy without prying. as long as you have a good set of gloves to keep your hands cool you're set.
their instructions, as well as mine, fall under the disclaimer at the top of this thread.

update: the link in step 8 regarding headlight adjustment may be dead at this time. for now, i'll whip up a quick instructional on headlight adjustment...
behind the headlight assembly, do you notice a screw attached to a washer that seems to have teeth at the edge of them pointing to the headlights? it's situated between the low and high beam and it's an 8mm bolt. that screw is the adjustment screw. don't screw this bolt too far in or too far out- it might get stuck, rendering the beam permanently misaligned. if you're looking at the screw, screwing it in clockwise will lower the beam and screwing it out clockwise will raise the beam.

find a very flat surface with a light-colored wall (behind supermarkets or industrial areas work well). park next to a wall with the headlights on (low beams only), facing it with your car. you want to be as close as possible. mark the low beam's cut-off line with masking tape or a marker.

reverse the car,perfectly perpendicular to the wall, 25 feet away from the wall. adjust the beams so that the the low beam's cutoff situates 2.1 inches lower than the mark on the wall.
^one of the sources i looked at.

note: there is no horizontal adjustment/alignment screw on the gen5 camry's headlights, nor is it necessary.

feedback and corrections appreciated.
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· ASE Master Technician
2006 Lexus GS430
2,532 Posts
Very nice write up! But you may want to to move the screw removal on step 3 to before you bake them.

· ASE Master Technician
2006 Lexus GS430
2,532 Posts
Oh, I like that poohbear!

· Taco Tuesday!
1,890 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
Great write up! So did you just use black engine enamel paint?
yup. low gloss black 500 degree paint. don't need to use engine enamel paint, it's just the can i had laying around. i did a very light 3000 grit sand beforehand just to make sure it would stick, but i doubt it would make a difference because it's not exposed to the elements.

edit: and no primer. i thought the primer would just add to the number of coats (2-3) and make things harder to put together. there's not a lot of room to play around with imo- the amber stuff barely snapped back in.

Nice write up....but i though there was a previous write up on this...
damn. i was afraid of that. sorry then. i blame it on my long TN hiatus (join date vs. number of posts. :lol:)

· Registered
1,125 Posts
^ HAHA. Never can have too much info on how to do it.

"Great write up! So did you just use black engine enamel paint?"

I used primer and super high heat gloss black paint but i've also tried without primer and it works fine regardless, no problems on my headights *knock on wood*

· Premium Member
2018 Toyota Camry SE
449 Posts
this is an old post.....but a little hint if u have a hard time on the seperation stage try heating your oven to about 385 turn it OFF then put the lights in for 2 minutes....less time in the heat it worked for me better that way but it prolly depends on your oven, and your prying techniques. used flat black paint with no primer no elements so it works fine, the flat looks good makes the lights almost look like projectors ALMOST but not even close at the same time :D
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