That Time of Year Again…

And this time, it was more painful and expensive than usual.

Every year you have to renew the tags on your car, which involves an inspection. Herself’s car is due in May, and look at the date – it’s the eleventh hour again.

For those uninitiated, you don’t go to the DMV in Texas for your tags. All the DMV does is vehicle titles. DPS (State Police) do the drivers licenses. For your tags, you go to the county tax office, and pay the tax on your car.

Texas makes it simple. You can renew by mail, and you can renew by waddling to the grocery store customer service desk. Unless it’s expired. In that case, you go to the tax office. And since this car was owned when we lived in Plano, that means a trip to Plano. That’s happened in the past, and as luck would have it, by the time I got around to doing the deed, it was mid month, so I breezed in and out of the office.

This is why I’ve been pestering herself to leave the car with me to get it inspected. You get the car inspected, then go to Tom Thumb and get the tags. On a good day, less than an hour’s time invested.

But Houston, we have a problem. Driver headlight was out. That won’t pass.

So off to AutoZone I go, and I pick up a two-pack of bulbs. Why not? Do them both.

The lights on herself’s Maxima go way back. And this one was behind the fuse panel. No moving stuff to get at that. I puzzled a bit and found the best way was through the inner fender. Snap a few plastic connectors and reach up. What could go wrong?

Plenty. First one I took out was actually the turn signal. Whoops. And since I couldn’t see and reach at the same time, I had to feel my way to put it back. It goes in one way, and one way only. I did that twice. I probably blew 15 minutes just trying to get it back. Keep in mind, it’s hot. It’s been raining. So it’s unseasonably muggy here. Also keep in mind the bum shoulder.

So what I see is a grey dome that looks like it may turn. It did. And behind it, the lamp. Hey, that connector doesn’t look the same. Back to the web I go. Turns out it’s an HID lamp. Awesome. I have to return the one I have and buy one they don’t have. So I go to Order two. What the hell. At that site, they cost the same as the two I bought and now have to return. BTW, Herself knows this, so now I’m on the hook. So I put it all back and wait.

Then I get the bulbs and go through this pain again. Get the new one in, hit the switch, and….


So I grab the other bulb. No way both are bad.


I check fuses, I check power. I got none at the bulb. So I start researching. HID lamps have a ballast. Huh. Who knew?

That ballast is $230-$250 everywhere I look.


Hope that’s the problem. They have Chinese knock offs on eBay for $50. Nah. Can’t wait. Don’t want to do this again if it fails later.

Turns out O’Reilly has them the cheapest. So I get it and get to work. It’s under the headlight assembly. This time, I jacked up the front and took the wheel off. Soon as I pull it off, water flows down my arm.

The Ballast
Here’s how to get to it.

Well! There’s your problem. Turns out there was a rock hit on the headlight assembly, creating a crack where water flowed in. That had to be sealed. No time to replace it, and I’ll need day to disassemble the whole front end to do it.

That’s what caused my suffering

Bolting the thing back with my gimp shoulder in the dark was painful as hell. Why do I not think of my headlamp flashlight when I do these things?

But I got it done, clicked the switch and it fired up.

Took it to inspection and scored the tags a day later.

I love to brag about how easy my Jap cars are to fix. The story I tell is that one day, I replaced the struts in my 4Runner. It took an hour and a half, and I didn’t even get dirty. Which is how things usually go with my Toyotas. Since I had time, I tackled the fuel pump in my ‘silence of the lambs’ van. A 1983 Chevy van.

Three hours later, my knuckles are busted. My hands are black with grease. I’d been spewing a constant stream of profanity for the whole time. Who the purple fuck builds this crap like this? I vowed that if I ran into a GM engineer, I’d kick him in the nuts. Almost every American vehicle I’ve bought led to nothing but frustration and pain. Oh… I have stories. Don’t get me started on Ford and their special tool 87549-a that I need to remove whatever I’m fixing.

Why don’t I just bring it to a shop?

Because I’m a man and I fix things myself.

That part was $229, plus tax. To fix it, with labor, you are talking $500+. For a headlight. I spent nearly that on parts alone. A friend of mine, when I told him this, told me that he had a friend that had to pay $1000 to have the same task done on his Benz. They had to take the front off to do it.

So I’ll do it myself.