Last weekend, I had to replace a burned out headlight on my daughter’s Chevrolet HHR. I figured this was a do-it-yourself job. So I went to my local auto-parts store, scored a new halogen bulb, went home, and popped the hood.
Roughly 45 minutes and a few choice words later, I got the job done. In the course of replacing one burned-out bulb, I used a socket wrench and pliers to partially remove a plastic liner inside the left front wheel well. I took out about a half dozen fasteners, of two different kinds. Then I had to work my hand through a tangle of wires to get at the offending bulb, disconnect it, twist it out, and then replace it. I did all this by feel, because I couldn’t see my hand, wedged inside the fender between the half removed plastic liner and the wires and metal around the light.
When I was done, I had to toss everything I had been wearing into the wash, since I’d wound up on my back under the car during the process of detaching and reattaching the fender liner.
Yes, I read the directions in the owners’ manual and did what they instructed. Let’s just say the manual understated the degree of difficulty by half.
It turns out amateurs like me aren’t the only ones wondering why some of today’s vehicles are such bears to repair. The difficulty of replacing broken parts or restoring vehicles damaged in collisions is a growing concern to the auto service and collision trades and the insurance industry.
“Vehicles are becoming more and more difficult to repair,” says Denise Caspersen, manager of the collision division for the Automotive Service Association.
In their quest to make cars safer, lighter and more fuel efficient, car makers are using more exotic materials in the bodies of vehicles, such as high-strength steels, aluminum, steel-plastic sandwiches. That presents a challenge to body repair shops, because technicians now can’t just assume that the metal they are cutting or welding is old-fashioned steel.