Monday, January 08, 2007

Whatever happened to do-it-yourself car repair?

Last night on my way to the curling club, I came to the realization that it wasn't quite as bright as it should be in front of my car. After I got there, I got out of my car to take a look and sure enough, my front passenger-side headlight was out. Ignoring my past experiences ["All that work for a $10 lightbulb" 11/20/2005 ], I figured "Hey, no big deal. I'll pick up a new bulb tomorrow." And so this morning on my way to work, which just happens to go right past a car parts store, I picked up a new headlight for my 2001 Nissan Altima for the amazing low price of $8.69. After work, I got a screwdriver and wrench and headed down to the garage to replace the headlight. As I recalled from the driver's side headlight just over a year ago, everything has to be done from the inside under the hood. Unfortunately, where on the driver's side I had the battery to contend with blocking my access to the bulb, on the passenger side I had a slightly less movable object, the coolant tank.

After pondering just how much work it would take to wedge my hands in far enough to get at the bulb, then realizing that I'd never actually get the bulb out once I did, I retreated to the assistance of the owner's manual. Despite my hopes to the contrary, the instructions had not changed since the last time I tried to find the instructions to replace a headlight only to ignore the manufacturer's recommendation that you take the car to the dealer, lest you follow their instructions on how to completely remove the front bumper of your car.

For more than a brief moment, I contemplated actually following said instructions and removing the front bumper of my car in order to replace the headlight, and even went so far as to remove one of the supposedly 4 screws holding on the bumper. After regaining my senses in a bout of extreme frustration, I put everything back together, closed the hood and ranted to myself all the way back upstairs. A bit of research online led me to the exact situation I had already deduced from my own first-hand experience. BUT... the suggestion quickly came that there really is only one screw that holds the coolant reservoir in, and after you remove that easy-to-access screw, all you need to do is use, and I quote, "more than a little upward force", and the coolant tank will just pop right off and you can move it to the side. Could it be so easy?

Back downstairs I go, open the hood back up and do a little further investigation. I removed the screw that holds the coolant tank down, and then pulled up on it. No success. Wiggled it a little and pulled up again a little harder. No success. Stared it at glaringly, cleaned it off and reached down as far as I could to get a better grip, and pulled up even harder. No success. Hmmm, did I miss something? Did a little investigative work to figure out just how it was held down there and saw a bit of a clamp on the left side that appeared to hold it on there. Took the end of a screwdriver and used a little leverage to pull up on the top edge. POP! It came loose and I just lifted it right out and set it off to the side.

Now I had easy access to the bulb, just a twist of the locking ring and out came the old bulb, in went the new one, voila! Snapped the coolant reservoir back in its holder and screwed it down, and that was it. All-in-all a 15-minute procedure, 10 of which were trying to get the darn tank off, and now both my headlights work again.

This brings me to the rant of the night, if it's so easy (obviously) just to remove the coolant tank to get at the headlight, WHY does the instruction manual give you the daunting instructions to remove half the front of your car to get at it? I'LL TELL YOU WHY... to convince less-adventurous folk to take their car into the dealer who can charge them an arm an a leg to "remove the front of the car to get at it, because it's so difficult." Of course, once you take it in, they probably just pop off the coolant reservoir and replace it in all of 5 minutes and charge you for 1.5 hrs worth of labor. OK, so I'm probably exaggerating and there's some legal liability reason why they can't actually tell you to remove the coolant tank or the battery or whatever. Like that makes it any better.

Well, that should cover the headlights for a while now. What will go wrong next? I dunno, but maybe it'll be time to get a new car by then.

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