John Brock: How many mechanics does it take to change headlight bulb?

  • Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How many mechanics does it take to change the headlight bulb of a 2007 American-made family automobile? I haven't the foggiest notion but I do know that it will cost almost $500! Can you believe it?

The front bumper must be removed in order to get to the dang bulb. That's why the labor cost is so high. I don't blame the local dealers. I blame the manufacturer who was stupid enough to design such an arrangement.

I know for a fact that no local shop is ripping me off because I got prices from two firms and both were well over $400. This is ridiculous. There are at least two headlight bulbs on my auto and each one costs a king's ransom, so, I will be blowing upwards of a grand just to light my way along the nighttime highway.

 I truly believe that cars are designed by manufacturers to create repair work for their dealers into eternity. Otherwise, what engineer would design a car that you had to take apart to replace a light bulb? Of course, I have always said that windshield wipers were designed by Northern engineers who have never been caught in a sudden Southern thunderstorm.

My first automobile was a well-used 1932 Ford A-model. I got it for about $200 when I was fifteen years old and carrying a morning newspaper route. Whenever a bulb needed changing I would go down to the Western Auto Store and pick one up for less than a buck. I would loosen one screw, take the old bulb out and insert the new one in about 5 minutes.

I have always bought American-made automobiles but there was one terrible exception. In the early 1960s, the bank convinced me that I should purchase a repossessed Renault. It was pronounce “REE-nalt” in those days. It was only one-year old and I was told I could have it for a song. They didn't lie and the song that comes to mind is “Nobody knows the trouble I've seen.” It was one big headache.

For starters, most people thought the metric system had something to do with the local library. No mechanic within 40 miles had metric-measured tools and I had to go two towns away to find someone to work on the blasted thing. The car got good mileage but whenever you had to drive a hundred-mile-round trip every week or two for repairs, I would have been just as well off in a Chevy.

I was running a chain of weekly newspapers and my office was about 30 miles away. I usually drove the Renault and left the family car with my wife to cart our sons here and there. One day, I needed the larger auto and my wife was driving the Renault with the kids when the little monster car caught fire!

A Good Samaritan came along with a fire extinguisher and after my family had safely exited the vehicle, he proceeded to put the fire out resulting in no damage to the motor or automobile.

I was furious when I found out and asked my wife: “Why didn't you let the blasted thing burn to the ground? It was fully covered by insurance and we would have been saved forever from the Renault curse. I finally traded it in on an American-made automobile and have driven one ever since. I read just this week that the Pope bought an old Renault (I'm not making this up) to tool around the Vatican. I hope they have plenty of fire extinguishers.

After this headlight headache, I may need to shop around a bit for my next vehicle. But all vehicle makers are probably operating under the same outrageous rules and regulations of the federal government. I contend that your vehicle costs thousands of dollars more than it should because of government mandates. It's all a part of Big Brother's penchant of wanting to create a heaven-on-earth existence which is risk-free from every conceivable danger. And the consumer pays dearly for it. When we were first married, my wife and I could have bought two six-room houses for what the average new vehicle costs today.

I liked it when my A-model Ford was less complicated than any riding lawn mower is today. Whenever I had trouble with my A-model, I just pulled over to the side of the road and fixed it with a pair of pliers, a screwdriver and minimum know-how. Now you have to take your ailing riding lawnmower or auto to a mechanic to hook to a computer to “diagnose” the problem.

But we consumers are also to blame for the complicated vehicles we drive today. We insist on every new gadget that some engineer can conjure. I read that there are over 70 computer-operated instruments in our cars today. Try fixing one of those when it malfunctions. We insist that every imaginable gadget be included in our new vehicles. Honda is even advertising their vans equipped with a central vacuum cleaner. Don't that just suck the life out of rationality?

And of course, there's been talk for years about an automobile that will drive itself along the highways of life.

As for me, I'd rather keep it simple by getting to where I'm going at a modest cost. I'll play with my gadgets when I get home.

John Brock is a retired college professor and, newspaper editor/publisher, who lives in Georgetown County. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper, or by Email at brock@johnbrock.com.

Opinions that appear on this page in Letters to the Editor or in columns do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

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