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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Update 02/22/21: After collecting data for about 3 weeks, I observed a tendency for a particular bulb to fail more frequently--especially on very rough roads (gravel with washboarding). The other one would fail too, but far less often (like 1:10--during this time I swapped bulb side L->R and then later ballast side). That led me to try changing the bulbs. After swapping in OEM Phillips bulbs, the problem no longer occurs.

Original Post:
Greetings, first post here and first time Volvo owner. Love the vehicle, just trying to debug & fix the flickering headlight issue.

TL;DR: Observed driver side flicker and fail once, passenger side flicker and fail more regularly. Disassembly and cleaning of connections produced moderate improvement with passenger side still flickering. Cold weather--no observed correlation to bumps etc.

Observations etc.:
  1. Day 1: got the car home from dealer. Started it after sitting for 5 minutes. Observed driver side light raise up and flicker continuously until system shut it off with bulb failure warning on cluster.
  2. Day 2: morning, started the car. After driving for 1.5 minutes, passenger side light flickered enough to cause system shut off with bulb failure. Restarted car and problem did not appear again until evening. In evening after car had been parked for an hour or so, started and drove for a couple of minutes until continuous flickering of the passenger side light cause system to shut it off with bulb failure.
  3. Day 3: removed headlamp units completely. Removed bulbs and ballasts. Sprayed all plastic connectors with automotive electric contact cleaner. Switched left bulb and right bulb. After driving, observed flickering from passenger side (seemed less than before).
Worth noting is that temperatures here have been -6C to -14C (21F to 6.8F). I haven't observed much of a correlation between bumps/rough roads or temperature and the flickering. Both ballasts appear to be the factory original units (date etc. match). Problem seems less noticeable after driving an hour or so or at higher speeds.

The limited data I have above suggests that it is likely the passenger side ballast that needs replacement. I'm thinking of observing it for a few more days, then switching the passenger side ballast to the driver side to confirm my suspicion.

Questions that I have:
  1. I've noticed both bulbs are labelled as Osram 66144 D1S. Is that factory original or a replacement?
  2. Is the discoloration in the pictures of the bulb receptacles at the bottom of this post indicative of a problem?
  3. Is there a way to tell by looking at the bulb filament if it is worn out?
  4. I would have expected to only observe the passenger side failing, but seeing the driver side fail on the first day suggests to me that there may be something else at play (i.e. the CEM)--is there a good way to debug that?
  5. Any other things I might do to debug this? (I don't have a scan tool and am not conversant on the differences between a generic one and any volvo specifics and whether those might pull different codes related to this.)
  6. Any other parts of the system that could cause this? (leveling sensor / stepper motor etc.)
Thanks in advance.

Other Forum Posts:

I've boiled the ocean searching a multitude of forums about this and seen a bunch of data/suggestions, but not with enough frequency or follow up to draw any conclusions about:
  • Comments suggesting connectivity/connector issues:
    • Correlation with temperature (low temperature).
    • Problem went away when "WD-40" sprayed into bulb connector.
  • Comments mentioning that cheap bulbs that may be counterfeit worked for limited durations of time (i.e. 1 week up to 3 months).
  • Comments suggesting balance or bulb replacements worked after basic process of elimination.

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Welcome. I don't own the same model so I'm responding in general.
1. Even if the Osram 66144 is not the model that came with the vehicle originally, OE branded bulbs (Osram, Philips, etc.) of the right type (D1S, in this case) should be equivalent replacements. And if you buy replacement, you want to replace them at the same time.
2. There might have been some condensation that promotes rust. But a D1S bulb's electrical contact should strictly be at the connector that comes out of the integrated igniter in the back of the bulb. So that shouldn't be a concern from an electrical connection. If you can pass a small mirror in, it may be a good idea to check if the browning goes to the reflective bowl material inside. That could affect the low beam's distance lighting effectiveness. OE projectors can brown over time, and whether or not they do is a bit of a random occurrence. But that's a different issue.
3. In theory, the electrode ends close to the capsule where the HID arc takes place wears out over time. I've never tried to observe this, as I think it isn't something that is easily inspectable bye eye.
4. A 2013 year model started life sometime in 2012, so that is 8 years of HID bulb service. Depending on the hours the low beams are on, it may be at the end of its lifespan.

Yes, there are counterfeit bulbs that look very close to OE.
If the connector that provides power input to the ballast can be isolated, try to see what happens if you manually connect them to a power source. You can hold them directly to the car battery terminals for a very short time to see if it ignites easier or not. I don't like doing this on the car battery because you'll see a spark.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Welcome. I don't own the same model so I'm responding in general.
1. Even if the Osram 66144 is not the model that came with the vehicle originally, OE branded bulbs (Osram, Philips, etc.) of the right type (D1S, in this case) should be equivalent replacements. And if you buy replacement, you want to replace them at the same time.
2. There might have been some condensation that promotes rust. But a D1S bulb's electrical contact should strictly be at the connector that comes out of the integrated igniter in the back of the bulb. So that shouldn't be a concern from an electrical connection. If you can pass a small mirror in, it may be a good idea to check if the browning goes to the reflective bowl material inside. That could affect the low beam's distance lighting effectiveness. OE projectors can brown over time, and whether or not they do is a bit of a random occurrence. But that's a different issue.
3. In theory, the electrode ends close to the capsule where the HID arc takes place wears out over time. I've never tried to observe this, as I think it isn't something that is easily inspectable bye eye.
4. A 2013 year model started life sometime in 2012, so that is 8 years of HID bulb service. Depending on the hours the low beams are on, it may be at the end of its lifespan.

Yes, there are counterfeit bulbs that look very close to OE.
If the connector that provides power input to the ballast can be isolated, try to see what happens if you manually connect them to a power source. You can hold them directly to the car battery terminals for a very short time to see if it ignites easier or not. I don't like doing this on the car battery because you'll see a spark.
Thanks for your thoughts Satrya.

I've been observing the car the last few days after disassembling the headlight units and cleaning all connectors. The amount of flickering is markedly reduced and I haven't been able to produce a bulb error. This suggests to me that it's either temperature related or is due to a bad/intermittent connection that got better with the cleaning I did.

I was also wondering if this was related to the active bending lights, so I tested a number of laps with that disabled and enabled in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions and wasn't able to see a relation.
 

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I'd be surprised if ABL circuitry affected it as well; the connectors are presumably designed to withstand the relative movement. It is possible that the bulbs are also showing its age, but cleaning the contact points make up for it a little bit. In the world of headlight retrofits, I know that OE ballasts can be more picky when it comes to igniting HID arcs in the bulb than good aftermarket ballasts, because they assume tighter tolerance in what the HID bulb requires in terms of operating current and voltage. As the bulbs age, or when trying to power up an aftermarket HID bulb that require more power, some OE ballasts will refuse whereas some aftermarket ones will power through. So it may be a case of your OE system sensing something is not quite up to par.
 

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Greetings, first post here and first time Volvo owner. Love the vehicle, just trying to debug & fix the flickering headlight issue.

TL;DR: Observed driver side flicker and fail once, passenger side flicker and fail more regularly. Disassembly and cleaning of connections produced moderate improvement with passenger side still flickering. Cold weather--no observed correlation to bumps etc.

Observations etc.:
  1. Day 1: got the car home from dealer. Started it after sitting for 5 minutes. Observed driver side light raise up and flicker continuously until system shut it off with bulb failure warning on cluster.
  2. Day 2: morning, started the car. After driving for 1.5 minutes, passenger side light flickered enough to cause system shut off with bulb failure. Restarted car and problem did not appear again until evening. In evening after car had been parked for an hour or so, started and drove for a couple of minutes until continuous flickering of the passenger side light cause system to shut it off with bulb failure.
  3. Day 3: removed headlamp units completely. Removed bulbs and ballasts. Sprayed all plastic connectors with automotive electric contact cleaner. Switched left bulb and right bulb. After driving, observed flickering from passenger side (seemed less than before).
Worth noting is that temperatures here have been -6C to -14C (21F to 6.8F). I haven't observed much of a correlation between bumps/rough roads or temperature and the flickering. Both ballasts appear to be the factory original units (date etc. match). Problem seems less noticeable after driving an hour or so or at higher speeds.

The limited data I have above suggests that it is likely the passenger side ballast that needs replacement. I'm thinking of observing it for a few more days, then switching the passenger side ballast to the driver side to confirm my suspicion.

Questions that I have:
  1. I've noticed both bulbs are labelled as Osram 66144 D1S. Is that factory original or a replacement?
  2. Is the discoloration in the pictures of the bulb receptacles at the bottom of this post indicative of a problem?
  3. Is there a way to tell by looking at the bulb filament if it is worn out?
  4. I would have expected to only observe the passenger side failing, but seeing the driver side fail on the first day suggests to me that there may be something else at play (i.e. the CEM)--is there a good way to debug that?
  5. Any other things I might do to debug this? (I don't have a scan tool and am not conversant on the differences between a generic one and any volvo specifics and whether those might pull different codes related to this.)
  6. Any other parts of the system that could cause this? (leveling sensor / stepper motor etc.)
Thanks in advance.

Other Forum Posts:

I've boiled the ocean searching a multitude of forums about this and seen a bunch of data/suggestions, but not with enough frequency or follow up to draw any conclusions about:
  • Comments suggesting connectivity/connector issues:
    • Correlation with temperature (low temperature).
    • Problem went away when "WD-40" sprayed into bulb connector.
  • Comments mentioning that cheap bulbs that may be counterfeit worked for limited durations of time (i.e. 1 week up to 3 months).
  • Comments suggesting balance or bulb replacements worked after basic process of elimination.

Images:
View attachment 117066 View attachment 117067
1. Depending on where you are, and which headlights you got, based on which packages you got with the car. Philips or OSRAM are the OE bulbs. I believe that the OSRAM should be a D1S bulb. The OSRAM part# might not be the factory one, only because sometimes companies and manufacturers update their parts, so the part numbers aren't the exact same as what the car would've come with. But just to clarify, nothing to be concerned about here.
2. The rust like discoloration that you can see in the photos, could be worrisome. That is rust, and there shouldn't be rust there. If there is rust there, that means that there is condensation getting into your headlights, and that your headlights aren't sealed. This could be because they are cracked or damaged, or somebody has taken them appart or even a factory deffect.
3. I know that you can tell with the tailight bulbs specifcally, I do not know if you can with the headlight bulbs. But with the brake light bulbs, if you look at one that is burnt out and compare it to one that is good. The one that is burnt out, will have a black/brown spot on the glass part of the bulb, and sometimes the filament looks REALLY BLACK.
4. I personally, prefer to go the simplest/logical/easiest way to replace things. I would take it back to the dealer, and see if they can warranty the part. Cause usually, if a part shows up on a workorder, they it has a 1 year warranty. I do that with wiper blades all the time. Volvo wiper blades are overpriced, and they don't last an extraordinarily long amount of time. I probably get away with 4 "free" sets of wiper blades from the dealer due to part warranty. Was your car in the dealer for headlight replacement or something else? Due to the fact that it is recommended that you replace these bulbs at the same time, the dealer could've replaced both. Also worth noting, headlight issues and messages are an early sign that your battery is on its way out in these cars.
5+6. One thing you could do is: Unplug the battery of the car, and leave it unplugged for 5 minutes. You can keep the hedalights plugged in, or unplug them if you would like, it doesn't really matter. Plug it back in, drive for 30km (around the amount of distance for the car's computer to do a full cycle check and come up with a CEL(check engine light)). After this, if you have had no issues it could've just been a bug or something like that
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I'd be surprised if ABL circuitry affected it as well; the connectors are presumably designed to withstand the relative movement. It is possible that the bulbs are also showing its age, but cleaning the contact points make up for it a little bit. In the world of headlight retrofits, I know that OE ballasts can be more picky when it comes to igniting HID arcs in the bulb than good aftermarket ballasts, because they assume tighter tolerance in what the HID bulb requires in terms of operating current and voltage. As the bulbs age, or when trying to power up an aftermarket HID bulb that require more power, some OE ballasts will refuse whereas some aftermarket ones will power through. So it may be a case of your OE system sensing something is not quite up to par.
Thanks for that info. After 2 weeks of driving the problem occurs less frequently and it's difficult to put my finger on when/where/conditions that cause it. I've ordered a pair of the Phillips OEM bulbs and figure I'll give that a shot since it's relatively cheap and the ones that are mounted seemed a bit cloudy.

If you were looking at having to replace ballasts would you go OE or use an aftermarket product? (I seem to be seeing some that are a direct fit, but I wasn't aware that they could be more robust/capable than the OE part.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
1. Depending on where you are, and which headlights you got, based on which packages you got with the car. Philips or OSRAM are the OE bulbs. I believe that the OSRAM should be a D1S bulb. The OSRAM part# might not be the factory one, only because sometimes companies and manufacturers update their parts, so the part numbers aren't the exact same as what the car would've come with. But just to clarify, nothing to be concerned about here.
2. The rust like discoloration that you can see in the photos, could be worrisome. That is rust, and there shouldn't be rust there. If there is rust there, that means that there is condensation getting into your headlights, and that your headlights aren't sealed. This could be because they are cracked or damaged, or somebody has taken them appart or even a factory deffect.
3. I know that you can tell with the tailight bulbs specifcally, I do not know if you can with the headlight bulbs. But with the brake light bulbs, if you look at one that is burnt out and compare it to one that is good. The one that is burnt out, will have a black/brown spot on the glass part of the bulb, and sometimes the filament looks REALLY BLACK.
4. I personally, prefer to go the simplest/logical/easiest way to replace things. I would take it back to the dealer, and see if they can warranty the part. Cause usually, if a part shows up on a workorder, they it has a 1 year warranty. I do that with wiper blades all the time. Volvo wiper blades are overpriced, and they don't last an extraordinarily long amount of time. I probably get away with 4 "free" sets of wiper blades from the dealer due to part warranty. Was your car in the dealer for headlight replacement or something else? Due to the fact that it is recommended that you replace these bulbs at the same time, the dealer could've replaced both. Also worth noting, headlight issues and messages are an early sign that your battery is on its way out in these cars.
5+6. One thing you could do is: Unplug the battery of the car, and leave it unplugged for 5 minutes. You can keep the hedalights plugged in, or unplug them if you would like, it doesn't really matter. Plug it back in, drive for 30km (around the amount of distance for the car's computer to do a full cycle check and come up with a CEL(check engine light)). After this, if you have had no issues it could've just been a bug or something like that
Thanks. I purchased the car used recently and was really just trying to get a sense about whether the original owner had replaced the bulbs or not (it's an out-of-province import, which has it's upsides given the road conditions and salting here).

I'll take a closer look at the discoloration in the headlamp units again for the issues you mentioned. I'll also see if I can get the previous records from the dealer. Funny you mention the battery--it's been replaced with something from Canadian Tire but I wasn't able to ascertain the vintage. Testing seems to show it's fine and I haven't experienced any starting issues.
 

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If you were looking at having to replace ballasts would you go OE or use an aftermarket product? (I seem to be seeing some that are a direct fit, but I wasn't aware that they could be more robust/capable than the OE part.)
Reputable aftermarket ballasts can be better, because they are built to assume the (poorer) tolerance of aftermarket bulbs that can require higher startup power draw, and because almost all of them are potted. Many OE ballasts aren't potted because they are designed to fit under the headlight housing or inside the housing. Depending on where you place the ballast, potted vs not may or may not be an issue. But having been interested and somewhat involved in the aftermarket HID lighting retrofit for a while, I've also seen forum posts of reputable ballast customers reporting issues. In some cases, the "manufacturer" responds that they switched suppliers (most likely for "process improvements" aka cost reduction reasons) and attributed the glitch to that. In that sense, you also want to be careful when going the aftermarket route. TRS' very good aftermarket ballasts experienced this at one time iirc. Also not unusual, is less known vendor selling fakes of more popular aftermarket ballast "brands"; this apparently happened for a while with FastBright ballasts. Ymmv.

If I were to get new ballasts, I would find a reputable vendor and not get the same thing from a lower cost alternative that don't seem to have been around for a while with a long term customer reputation. This applies to OE ballasts as well, as there is a chance that OE ballasts can be take offs from salvage yards that might have served a long life (and may be past its prime).
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Reputable aftermarket ballasts can be better, because they are built to assume the (poorer) tolerance of aftermarket bulbs that can require higher startup power draw, and because almost all of them are potted. Many OE ballasts aren't potted because they are designed to fit under the headlight housing or inside the housing. Depending on where you place the ballast, potted vs not may or may not be an issue. But having been interested and somewhat involved in the aftermarket HID lighting retrofit for a while, I've also seen forum posts of reputable ballast customers reporting issues. In some cases, the "manufacturer" responds that they switched suppliers (most likely for "process improvements" aka cost reduction reasons) and attributed the glitch to that. In that sense, you also want to be careful when going the aftermarket route. TRS' very good aftermarket ballasts experienced this at one time iirc. Also not unusual, is less known vendor selling fakes of more popular aftermarket ballast "brands"; this apparently happened for a while with FastBright ballasts. Ymmv.

If I were to get new ballasts, I would find a reputable vendor and not get the same thing from a lower cost alternative that don't seem to have been around for a while with a long term customer reputation. This applies to OE ballasts as well, as there is a chance that OE ballasts can be take offs from salvage yards that might have served a long life (and may be past its prime).
Thanks, that's super interesting. I've seen potting done in RC car electronics for waterproofing purposes. Appreciate your info on the aftermarket as well as sourcing and distribution recommendations. I was entertaining trying to get a recent salvage ballast for cheap to swap in to try and eliminate and had just gotten to the stage in thinking about how to know if it too isn't defective.
 

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You're welcome. I've read about OE ballasts from salvage years being able to perform just fine for years on end. I wouldn't rule it out especially if the supplier has sold many units before and tests them before reselling.

But yes, I was surprised to see many OE designs aren't potted, although it shouldn't be an issue under the OE use I described.
 

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Update 02/22/21: After collecting data for about 3 weeks, I observed a tendency for a particular bulb to fail more frequently--especially on very rough roads (gravel with washboarding). The other one would fail too, but far less often (like 1:10--during this time I swapped bulb side L->R and then later ballast side). That led me to try changing the bulbs. After swapping in OEM Phillips bulbs, the problem no longer occurs.
I am SOO glad you posted this. Especially with the timing of your update. I literally just purchased my first Volvo, 2011 XC60 T6 and love it so far. I've been a BMW guy my whole life but wanted to add a Swede to the family. I am having the exact same issue you were, literally. I was about to make a long post and man am I glad I saw this. You saved me an hour of writing. And that's why the search function is awesome. I'm going to buy some OEM D1S bulbs to start. Hopefully solves my issue as well. Where did you purchase yours from? I don't want to get counterfeit ones off of Amazon or eBay. I was thinking FCP Euro. Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I am SOO glad you posted this. Especially with the timing of your update. I literally just purchased my first Volvo, 2011 XC60 T6 and love it so far. I've been a BMW guy my whole life but wanted to add a Swede to the family. I am having the exact same issue you were, literally. I was about to make a long post and man am I glad I saw this. You saved me an hour of writing. And that's why the search function is awesome. I'm going to buy some OEM D1S bulbs to start. Hopefully solves my issue as well. Where did you purchase yours from? I don't want to get counterfeit ones off of Amazon or eBay. I was thinking FCP Euro. Thanks!
Glad to hear this post was helpful. I actually bought them from Amazon.ca, these ones: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00CAV7T56/

Before I installed them, I went online to Phillips to confirm they were authentic through their verification program. Hopefully this solves your situation too. Your mention of BMW makes me miss my E30, which is currently sitting in a garage in Oakland, woefully neglected due to covid. Not sure if you're in a cold climate, but if your experience is anything like mine, the next issue you may encounter is the hood latch on the left side failing to open--it was -30C here a couple weeks ago and I had to reach into the grille and reef on the cable housing to get it to release. Great vehicle though, despite the little hiccups. I'll probably be posting about that soon.
 
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