At some point all Reattas will have headlight problems.  Even low mileage cars are no exception. Because of age, most likely all of the headlight motor wearable items on these 20+ year old cars will be in poor condition if they have never been replaced.  The bellcrank [also called a crank arm] could be worn out and/or the rollers could be disintegrating .

If you are experiencing headlight problems, here are the first things to check:

Raise the hood and verify that the knobs on the end of the motor rotate when you turn on the headlights with the switch.

If you have a 1988-1989 model car, you can also use the button on the console to activate the motors.

If they knobs don't turn, you could have an electrical problem. 
NOTE: This tutorial only covers mechanical problems with the headlight motor gearbox and the mechanical linkage that opens and closes the headlights.

If the knobs are turning you have either bad rollers inside the motor or a bad bellcrank. In many cases you will have both bad.

NOTE: If you put on a replacement bellcrank and not the rollers, all the torque is transferred to the old weak rollers and they will fail in a short time.  The same is true if you put new rollers in the motor.  The old factory bellcrank will probably fail shortly.

If possible, I suggest you disassemble the headlight to the point where you can get at the bellcrank.

Here is what to look for:

When you turn the black know on the end of the motor.  If the nut that holds the bellcrank in place turns and the bellcrank DOES NOT, then the hole in the bellcrank is either rounded out or badly worn.

Next, open the hood and manually turn the knob on the end of the motor about ten turns to partially open the headlight.

Lift the headlight assembly by hand and see if the crank arm or linkage is loose on the shaft coming out of the motor.  If it is loose, most likely the bellcrank is bad (see photo).  You should not be able to raise and lower the assembly more than about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch by hand.  If the assembly moves more than that most likely the bellcrank is bad.

The bellcrank that attaches to the motor shaft is made from soft zinc and the motor shaft is steel.   Over time the steel eats away the soft zinc and the connection between the two is lost so the headlights will not open.

The bellcrank should be tight on the motor shaft. If there is any movement between them, the bellcrank is worn to some extent and should be replaced.

Three factory bellcranks are shown in the photo below.  Look at the motor output shaft hole.  You can clearly see what happens over time as the hole in the bellcrank wears.

  • On the left is a good hole with flat sides.
  • In the middle is a hole that is starting to look like a "bow tie"
  • On the right is a hole that has rounded out and will not lock to the motor shaft.

2.  BAD ROLLERS: (called rollers because they look like rollers, but do not actually roll)
With a magic marker, put a line across the end of the motor shaft (so you can see it move).  Next put a box end wrench on the bellcrank nut.  Now turn the black knob on the end of the motor.

When you turn the knob, the motor shaft should turn. If you can turn the black knob 1/2 turn or more and the motor shaft does not turn, then the rollers are bad and should be replaced.

The photo below shows the parts inside the motor gearbox.

  • The rollers are the tan colored parts that lock the white gear to the output shaft.
  • The pile of chips is broken rollers.
  • The bottom left of the photo shows how all the parts fit together.

The replacement bellcranks that Kingsley (Reatta Specialty Parts) and I (Barney Eaton) sell are much better than the factory units and will probably last the life of the vehicle.  HOWEVER, the rollers are plastic, and probably for a good reason.  There is a lot of torque on this headlight assembly.  Should something in it fail, it is best that the cheap parts fail first.  The rollers are cheap compared to bellcranks, big white gears and other parts.

Thanks to Barney Eaton for supplying the photos and the information used in this tutorial.

Thanks to Jim Finn for his comments that were used to update this tutorial.

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