By on December 12, 2018

Unless you’re still tooling around in a hand-me-down rig donated by your grandfather, chances are good you’re not in possession of a car outfitted with sealed-beam headlamps. That car might also have real 5 mpg bumpers, further insulating you from lofty repair costs.

For owners of newer cars, plenty of pain awaits after a fender-bender, though advances in passive restraints have relegated most of that pain to your wallet. After smashing through potentially thousands of dollars of camera and sensor gear housed in your bumper and grille, the next thing damaged in a low-speed, front-end impact is your headlamps. New figures from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveal what you’re likely to pay for a replacement. (Hint: it’s a lot.)

However, if you’re one of the few people who shelled out for a new Lincoln Continental this year, there’s good news here.

The IIHS recorded the price of OEM headlamp assemblies for 2018 model-year vehicle as part of its latest round of headlight rankings. While not an exhaustive list, you’re likely to see something you may recall from glancing at the driveway a few minutes ago.

In terms of replacement cost, the peepers found on the Subaru Legacy and Outback ranked lowest, at $526. Your insurance deductible probably covers all by $26 of that part. The Chevrolet Volt, which will soon be deader than disco, rang up a $540 bill for one of its headlights. After that, prices climb quickly.

Say the aforementioned Subarus are too stodgy for your discerning tastes. Well, prepare to face $860 for a Crosstrek unit and $927 for a lamp belonging to a WRX or Impreza. A pre-revamp Kia Soul asks $1,027, while the Mazda CX-3 warrants a $1,085 invoice cost. Your sensible and affordable Hyundai Elantra sports headlamps that rival the cost of a used Elantra from the previous decade ($1,348). A Santa Fe demands $1,642, which is 82 bucks more than a Mercedes-Benz GLC.

Sadly, the IIHS doesn’t specify whether the figures provided are for optional or standard units, though it’s unlikely the 2018 Camry’s entry-level headlamps warrant the listed $1,810 replacement cost. That’s probably the optional LED units. Going from base halogen lamps to LED or HID units can really pack on the price, with the Mercedes-Benz GLE offered up as an example. Base halogens on that model, which apparently suck, cost $615 when ordered from the OEM. Spring for the upgraded lamps and cost rises to $2,820.

The priciest lamps in the short list are that of the BMW 5 Series, which carry a cost of $3,242. That wasn’t the case last year, when it was discovered that Ford Motor Company charged $4,555 for Lincoln Continental headlight assemblies.

“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,” writes Sean O’Malley, senior test coordinator at IIHS. “We let Ford know the price was out of line with other manufacturers. This year that same headlight costs $1,667.”

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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24 Comments on “Insurers Rejoice! Headlamp Replacement Costs Are Still Really High, Says IIHS...”

  • avatar

    “We let Ford know the price was out of line with other manufacturers. This year that same headlight costs $1,667.”

    What a steal!

  • avatar

    Don’t insurance companies have access to lower prices? These sound like the MSRP figures you’d get at a stealership.

    • 0 avatar

      They certainly do have access to cheaper prices. About a year ago I did a lower bumper crunch on my car, nothing too bad but it nagged at me. With the way it’s built the entire front end had to be replaced, so a couple of estimates made me pass on getting it fixed. Fast forward a few months later and I hit a deer. New front fascia, new hood, 2 new headlights and paint all paid for by the insurance company for around for 1/2 the cost I got quoted for just the front fascia.

  • avatar

    I generally approach this problem by not, you know, *hitting stuff all the time*.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s great, until somebody, you know, *hits you*. Especially if that other person in uninsured or you live in a no-fault state.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s fair enough, but I’ve been driving for 20 years and have been hit once. It sucked, but the cost of replacing a headlight cluster once every 20 years isn’t, you know, my prime financial concern.

  • avatar

    Crazy markup! I just went to a Toyota Parts website, and found something interesting. Headlights like 4runner or Tacoma without any Led components were around 300 msrp, but as soon as you add any LED components to them, the price more than Doubled. And in the case of Corolla which is all led, it appears as if it is integrated. If it goes out, do you have to replace the whole thing?

  • avatar

    Similar pricing information has been around for decades. I don’t remember any of the details but some wonk priced all the parts needed to build a 1980s econobox that cost about 9K OTD at the dealership and the parts costs without assembly came out more than 10X the MSRP of the car.

    With these prices I can see why the insurer would write off a newer car with only moderate damage. Might be wise to get replacement insurance on some of these cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Further down this post a commentor who works in the OEM lighting industry listed the reasons for the high cost of these headlight assemblies. I agree – it takes a lot to properly produce them. That being said, that re-priced Continental headlight assembly (reduced from $4555) did not cost Ford anywhere near the $1667 current price when costed into a new Continental at assembly. There is a fair economy of scale (even with this relatively low volume model) when sourcing components for vehicle assembly. Headlight assemblies are frequent collision repair items such that I would bet that there were a large percentage more manufactured for this reason than consumed at assembly thus contributing positively to the economy of scale and the price to Ford from the vendor was very likely less than half that $1667. It’s not just the dealers who make more money in the service department after the sale – the manufacturers have been on that gravy train for years.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    And I thought the $650 cost of replacing a headlight (LED) on my former 12 Leaf was exorbitant.

  • avatar

    I had a headlight lens crack on my wife previous Volvo C30, water would get in and short out the HID bulb (also pricey). A standard parts search showed they go for $800 and the dealer wanted $200 more! I spent many a night searching the interwebs until I found one $300. Regardless of cost these come as empty shells so you had to transfer over all the electronics (ballast) and bulbs, but that was plug-n-play. However if you didn’t have the items to transfer (IE: they were damaged) the cost goes up even more. The good news is swapping them out was super easy, you just pull a pin, unhook the wiring and the whole unit slides out.

    The process of just getting to the bulbs on my C7 ‘Vette is a nightmare, you have to remove the entire front bumper! So I fear what a replacement set costs.

  • avatar

    What exactly factors into a headlight which would lead to that price?

    I can think of motors, ballast, possibly sensors for those equipped with automatic highbeams. Other than that I’m struggling to determine what, other than greed, allows for the high prices.

    • 0 avatar

      An aftermarket HID bulb, ballast and projector cost about $300-400, and that is absolute bottom of the barrel stuff. OEM grade stuff is probably 2x that. Then you add in the leveling equipment and the assembly itself… $1500 or so sounds pretty reasonable. LEDs are even more complicated, and then you can have headlights that steer.

      Good thing is plenty of cars either get crashed or trashed so junkyards can help. Aftermarket assemblies help too. But there’s only so much that can do.

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        You are right, a junkyard is a godsend.

        Unfortunately, headlights are located precisely where they have the highest probability of being damaged during an accident.

    • 0 avatar

      If you take a look at many modern headlamp assemblies, especially ones with intricate designs, you’ll note that there are lots of different compartments, textures, tolerances and other things that need very careful consideration in design that costs $$. The complex tooling required to manufacture them is also terribly expensive.

      This is why you still see late model stripper fleet spec vehicles on the road with generic sealed beam headlamps. Saves a lot of cost for those who don’t care what it looks like.

    • 0 avatar

      OEM LED headlamp supplier here.

      Factors that play into costs:

      -Light Distribution Modules which contain the code to control the lamp functions.
      -Injection molding Tooling of housing, lens and various sub components
      -Plating and or painting of interior components.
      -Lens manufacturing which includes coating and annealing.
      -Testing including aim, leak, and electrical
      -Manpower and other tooling needed for the assembly line that needs to run at a certain JPH to meet customer requirements.
      -Also included in other tooling is Poke-yoke’s as some lamps are built for market specific vehicles such as China which requires a “CCC” marking. Some lamps may even have the same lens but have a different aiming mark which is laser etched–wrong lens on the lamp means the entire lamp must be torn down for scrap.

      • 0 avatar

        I appreciate the feedback from you all. I confess I’m a bit of a cynic about most things and genuinely run into trouble guessing what things should cost versus what they do cost.

        The tooling costs and ancillary costs associated with headlight construction make sense.

  • avatar

    This story makes me feel a bit better. I have a ’17 Lincoln MKZ and almost a year ago exactly I had a deer run across in front of me. I was only doing 30 mph so damage was minimal. One bit of damage was that the plastic lens of the left headlight had several hairline cracks in it. It was replaced as part of the repair (through insurance) and the assembly cost them $2250. It made me (almost) pine for the days of sealed beams…

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    I hit ( another ) deer last year with my 2010 F-150. It was a glancing blow on the driver’s side but she broke all of the rear plastic by the bulb hole with her head ( she was fine: i’d braked hard and turned away from her when she hit me. she ran away – without giving me her insurance information, i might add ). I found a pair of used but pristine OEM headlights, including ballasts, for CDN$150.00. on Kijiji. Easy cheese, and I have a spare passenger side headlight if she comes back the other way…

  • avatar

    Those damn 5 mpg bumpers had to go, they were trashing fleet mileage averages.

  • avatar

    A few years ago a drunk lady, who got in a minor fender bender and attempted to flee the scene, was hauling ass down my street. She ended up going off the road in front of my house and hit a street tree and came to a fast halt.

    I could smell the booze from my front porch.

    You’re probably wondering what this has to do with headlamp assemblies.

    The next day I found the two headlamp assemblies about 10′ from the point of impact. They self ejected.

    In my garage are what appear to be in good condition early 2000s lexus es350 headlamp assemblies.

    Been meaning to sell these.

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