The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 13, 2009

A Tale of Taillight Trouble

Filed under: Cars — Brian Lutz @ 12:31 am

Back when I used to drive around my old beater Camry, I would usually find out that I had a burned out taillight when one of the local police officers pulled me over to point it out (and presumably also to figure out how many outstanding warrants they had on me.)  I can’t say I blame them (after all, there’s a good chance I was lowering the property values of the neighborhood just by driving through it,) but I never actually got ticketed for any of the times I got pulled over for this.  I suspect that the car’s tendency to burn out taillights on a regular basis probably wasn’t helping matters much though.   Changing the bulbs was a pretty serious pain too, as the unopenable tailgate, tight spaces and even tighter sockets made the task far more trouble than it should have been, a problem which became most evident when I managed to have the burned out bulb break in my hand and leave a nice  little gash in my pointer finger, from which I still have a nice little scar. 

So when the time comes to replace a burned out bulb on my current car, the job should be a whole lot easier, right?  First of all, a handy (read: annoying) warning light on the dash tells me when I have a burnt-out bulb somewhere, a feature which removes the need for the participation of law enforcement agencies in the process.  Unfortunately, it also proves decidedly unhelpful in telling exactly which bulb is the one that has failed.  If it isn’t something obvious (you’d probably notice pretty quickly if you didn’t have a turn signal) there’s always the option of hooking up the car to the computer via a somewhat expensive diagnostic cable, but my Dad happens to have one.  Assuming you can navigate your way through the slightly convoluted software it’ll tell you exactly which light happens to be burned out, plus half a zillion other things that might be wrong with the car (hopefully not all at the same time.)  Anyway, I had managed to figure out which bulb was the one in need of replacing, and I knew I happened to have one around the house somewhere from a previous bulb replacement, but a rather thorough search through my apartment failed to turn up the location of this bulb.

At this point, I could have easily wasted half my Saturday trying to find the bulb I had, but I had other things I needed to get done, so it was off to the auto parts store.  I find that I rarely have reason to visit any of these since I got my current car a couple of years ago, partly because it’s under warranty (and has been pretty reliable, at least in terms of engine/mechanical parts during that time)  and partly because I seriously doubt any of the auto parts stores in town would stock anything more complicated than windshield washer fluid for my particular vehicle.  After all, even though my car isn’t anything too fancy, it IS still red and European, so it comes with all the parts costs with only half the prestige.  Normally on the rare occasion I would need to visit the parts store, I’d go to the one on the other side of town, but since I was trying to get this done as quickly as possible.  so I decided to try the one that’s a little bit closer. 

Normally at the auto parts store, there’s a number of books hanging off the shelves that contain self-serve information on the various maintenance parts one might need for their car (stuff like filters, wiper blades, lights, and other things like that.)  Although it does take some digging through the book to figure out the right part number, it makes it relatively easy to find this.  It turns out that the store I went to apparently doesn’t believe in these things, because there wasn’t a single one of the things anywhere in the store.  I suppose if I had any clue what I was actually doing I would just know this info in the first place, but even then, the part numbers in this store seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with the part numbers used anywhere else in the civilized world, so it probably wouldn’t have done any good anyway.  The only way I was going to be able to figure out anything would be to have someone look it up.  Two wiper blades, an alternator and a semi-lengthy discussion on the merits of particular snow chains later, I was finally able to get the part number, and $2.18 later, I was finally out the door, having spent much longer in the process than I would have if I had just gone to the other store in the first place.  Lesson learned, I suppose.

Once I returned home, I set about the task of replacing the bulb.  Sure enough, as soon as I went to grab the necessary tools, the bulb I had on hand mysteriously appeared in a place that I probably would have looked if I had been paying attention in the first place, upgrading the whole parts store trip from “misadventure” to “fiasco”…  Or so it would seem.  The actual bulb replacement is relatively straightforward on my car, but there are a couple of tools needed, and a bolt that needs to be extracted from a tight space.  A little bit of tinkering around and several trips back into the house for different tools later, the taillight assembly came off the car, and the replacement bulb went in.  I got everything put back together, put the key in the ignition to check, and…  The bulb warning was still on.  Double-checking to make sure the connector was reinstalled correctly, I went back to check, and found that the other bulb in the assembly had decided to choose that particular moment to burn out, thus making it necessary to remove the whole assembly again.  Fortunately the other socket takes the same bulb, and for some odd reason I just happened to have a couple of extras on hand. 

Finally, the second time around both of the bulbs decided to work at the same time (although I did plug in the assembly by itself to test this BEFORE reassembling everything again) and I finally managed to get the annoying warning light off the dash for the time being.)  Of course, as you’d expect for any halfway decent car these days, the manual recommends just letting the dealer take care of this.  If not for the fact that they’d probably charge some particularly horrendous amount of money, I think I’d be half-tempted to just let them go ahead.  It’s not necessarily a complicated job to do this… At least not until I manage to find half a dozen ways to complicate it unnecessarily.  Still, I do suppose that I managed to avoid maiming myself in the process this time around, so that’s got to count for something, right?

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