The other night I was pulled over by a policeman. It was a Saturday night. He was trolling I'm sure, for drunks. So was the other police car that was sniffing around this stretch of road. It was easy pickin's, like shooting fish in a barrel.
I produced my license and registration, proof of insurance, passed the follow-my-pen-with-your-eyes-to-see-if-you're-drunk test. My wife sat in the passenger's seat in a cold sweat wondering what I'd done, wondering how much this was going to cost.
"Have you ever been arrested?"
"Any outstanding warrants?" he asked.
"Nope," I answered. "Just speeding tickets." The beam of his flashlight finally turned away. "I'll be right back," he said. Then he left me to do some business in his patrol car.
It was an interminable wait, there on the side of the road with cars whizzing by, drivers and passengers with their necks craned thinking, "Look at that sorry bastard."
"The reason I stopped you," the policeman said when he returned, "is that you have a burned out headlight here on the driver's side."
"Really? It doesn't look burned out."
"Yeah, it's burned out. I'm going to give you a fix-it ticket. You've got 'til March 29th to fix it....."
We drove off to have dinner with our friends. "That light's not burned out," I said to my wife.
Yesterday, with a few hours open to fuss around with my burned out headlight, I decided pop the hood of our 2005 Prius and see what was going on. In the time between the fix-it ticket and yesterday, I'd discovered that my left headlight was spontaneously turning off by itself. The high beam was fine. It was just the low beam. If I turned the switch off, then back on, the light worked. Then after a while it would go off again. The cop wasn't lying after all. Perhaps I should give people more credit.
I've changed a lot of headlights in my time. No big deal. This job should cost twenty bucks or so since it's a fancy bulb.
I unscrewed the protective cover over where the radiator probably was. This being a Prius, nothing under the hood looked like it would in a normal car. I peeked behind the headlight casing and saw... nothing. Nothing anyway that looked like I could just reach down and twist it, pop it out and replace it.
Off to spend some time on the internet. YouTube is usually a good place to find how-to articles on such things, so I sat with my coffee, poking at the keyboard.
This is the turning point in this account of my personal experience where I could either, item-by-item, describe everything that happened from that point - or, I could employ the phrase: "I'll make a long story short." I've chosen the latter.
The summary: For a person of my mechanical ability to change a headlight on a 2005, unless I want to remove part of the bumper and spend an hour and a half chasing lost screws around the driveway, it costs at least $300 to have a mechanic do it for you. Part of the reason is that the light bulb costs around $180 if they supply it.
So why not just change out both bulbs since the other one might go bad too? Because it might cost $300-plus too.
So it looks like my almost-paid-for, gas miser computerized car has an economy-killing flaw. A flaw that makes it suddenly less loveable. So what else can't I do on this car? Change the wipers? Check the dipstick?
Does this whole thing sound weird or is it just me? No, it's not just me. Take a look at these entries at www.consumeraffairs.com on the topic of Prius headlights. Or perhaps this LA Times article from 2011. One friend suggested I look for a recall notice on my car at http://www.toyota.com/recall. Sadly, there is none for my car.
Ideally, after so many irate customers steaming after a headlight change, Toyota would kindly redesign the bulb access method. Did they? I think I'll stop at the dealer and take a look at the 2012s.
But for my car? Time to pay.