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Upgrading modern car headlights: Chrysler 200 and 300, Dodge Dart, Ram, and Fiat

by David Zatz

With winter on the way, you may well be wishing you had held out for a car or truck with HIDs - but what do you do if you have a limited budget and aren't happy with the headlights?

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There are many bad replacement bulbs out there, overpromising and under-performing. Fortunately, automotive lighting expert Daniel Stern led us to a relatively inexpensive, high quality solution for cars and trucks with bi-halogen projectors and HIR2 (9012) bulbs - the Chrysler 200 and 300, Dodge Dart, Ram, and Fiat 500, 500L, and 500X.

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Up to 2015 (2016 for the Fiats), GM bulb #23342527 (around $16) is a perfect fit; the 2016s, which use 9005 bulbs, can go up to a Philips 9011 HIR bulb, around $19. The 9011 gives you an extra 650 lumens (to 2,350 lumens), but you have to trim the fittings somewhat.

Regardless, the cardinal rule is "never touch the glass." Wear gloves or be extra extra careful.

Shall we begin?

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Here's the bulb box. Note that it doesn't say anything about the standard size, and has absolutely no packing material inside. Yes, they pack the bulb into a loose fitting box and let it rattle around. The supplier sent it to me in a box - with packing material above, but not below, the bulbs.

The best way to open this box is from the bottom, so you can grasp the bulb by the base. They don't make you shove the bulb into a socket any more, it's a whole assembly. That might partly be because it's directional - you will get weird results if you put it in upside down. More on that later.

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Now to get into the car. On our Dart, there are access panels within the wheel wells, and we suspect the 200 and Fiat have similar designs. They open easily if you push the tab in towards the center of the car. Did we mention that you should park the car with the wheels turned in? (Or out. It doesn't matter, and you can probably do it with the wheels facing ahead.)

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That lets you see a cap and two connectors that you should ignore. Turn the cap a little, and it should come right off. (Sorry for the flash photography, we did this at night.)

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Can't see much in there with the cap off. You can see even less with your eyes; to get these shots, I stuck a phone into the gap between the tire and light cavity. Here's another.

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So now you have to stick your hand in there, slowly and carefully, and get into the hole. You will feel (not see!) the end of the old bulb. Feel it carefully and figure out which way the wires are pointing - you will need the new one to go in the same way.

Rotate it just a little, it should move easily, and you can sort of wiggle and jiggle it out (also remembering the angle it leaves at). This is so easy I can do it! The first one will likely take a few minutes. The second one will take seconds.

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Here is the bulb, connected. The wiring is held on by a clip on the back, which is very easy to push back with your finger, (not too hard!), or you can use a spudger, credit card, etc. A spudger (plastic prying tool, used for computers and such) is ideal and requires the least force.

In any case, it's easy to take off the bulb assembly; the new one only goes on one way so that's one mistake avoided.

Now, we put the new one in. I fell prey to habit and installed the first one upside down, with the wires leading down. I figured that out when I turned the lights on, and it looked ... bad. I did the second side and realized the wires go up, not down out of the bulb. Weird? Absolutely! It seems to put a little extra stress on the wires. I wonder why they did it that way? In any case, that meant I had to squat by my other wheel, with my arm in the headlight tube, fiddling and trying to get the first bulb out, and it did not want to come out. It was really a matter of patience and jiggling and wiggling and it finally came free; then I could put it in the right way.

Putting the bulbs back in was pretty easy if your arm remembered where (and how) the old ones came out, and then it's just a matter of putting on the covers, which is easy enough.

Now, without further ado, the results.

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Oops, I screwed up the camera angle - but all photos were taken at the same shutter speed and aperature so they can be compared. The new ones are less brownish, brighter within the cutoff, and have a wider range - that is, more light to either side. They seem to distribute the light better. (The sharp cutoff is to avoid blinding oncoming drivers, for which we have the brights, or high beams.)

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The high beams present a somewhat less spooky pattern, distribute a lot more light to the sides, and are brighter overall. Neither one is a "HIDs versus halogens" comparison, but they are definitely an improvement, and for well under $40. It's not a hard project if you don't make stupid mistakes.

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