Fun With Lightbulb Replacement

Friday morning, my driver’s side headlight bulb blew on the way to work. I noticed, stopped on Shawan Road at the stoplight there that I didn’t have two headlight reflections in the bumper of the car in front of me. Just one. On the passenger side.

Hum, I thought. Hum. At the office parking lot, I investigated. Yes, indeed. The low-beam light was out.

I have the tools! I thought. I bought the special nut driver I need when the passenger side light blew! so, to AutoZone up the street I went on my lunchbreak and, twenty-ish dollars later, I had a Sylvania H7 bulb in hand.

I thought about changing the bulb yesterday. But it never got above thirty-five, and I thought today would be warmer. I should have gone with my original plan. It’s really no warmer today than it was yesterday, and at least yesterday was sunny. Today, however, is overcast. I’m not always the swiftest tool in the shed.

I knew the driver’s side was going to be tricky. I didn’t realize how tricky.

The problem is the battery. It’s right there, in the way, between me and the headlight assembly.

First, I had to find the locking nut.

I removed the battery cover for a little more working room. Unfortunately, while I could see the pictogram instructions for the locking nut (a lock in both locked and unlocked positions, with arrows pointing which way to turn), I could not see the nut itself. That was under a hose! I couldn’t reach the hose to push it out of the way, and with the battery in the way I needed something of length to push it.

Why I decided on a wooden spatula I have no idea. But when I went in the kitchen and rummaged through a drawer, it seemed like the best possible tool. It was long, it was wooden (so it was unlikely to cause any electrical shorts), and it was a very narrow handle. It turned out to be ideal. I was able to use the spatula handle to nudge the hose out of the way, and with the nut exposed I then attempted to get my nut driver on the nut.

It took a few attempts, as I essentially had to do it blind; the only angle I could really see the nut from was precisely the angle I had to get the nut driver on the nut. Once I did, there was no doubt. Not only was it secure, but it was wedged in such an angle that the handle itself was held in placed by the battery case and the frame. I turned the nut, and the headlamp assembly was unlocked.

Next, I had to find the release latch.

The idea is, hold the release latch and slide the assembly out. On the passenger side, this is possible as you can see it and reach it. On the driver side… well, on the driver side, the battery is genuinely in the way. The latch is under the battery. However! If you can slide something between the battery and the air conditioning vent right behind it — we’re talking a gap of about half an inch — you can hit the very end of the latch. And as soon as you release the latch, the latch will spring back up and the assembly will be held in place.

So I turned to my wooden spatula.

What followed was an absurd comedy of errors that lasted close to ten minutes. I got the headlamp assembly loose rather quickly. It was getting the whole thing out that took time. The spatula had no force of its own, so I had to attempt to hold it in place while also attempting to pop out the assembly.

I also managed, at this point, to tear back every single one of my fingernails from the attempt.

Once the headlight assembly was out, it was time to put the new bulb in. I thought about doing it right there, but my fingertips were numb — remember, it was only thirty-seven degrees — so I went at did it at my dining room table.

The bulb replacement was the quickest part. Pop off the leads, unhook the spring that holds the bulb in place, pop out the bulb, pop the new one in, hook it into place, pop on the leads.

Putting the assembly back did not take anywhere near as long. It was not, however, easy. I had it misaligned, and then I thought I had it in place so I locked the nut and removed the driver, only to discover that it wasn’t in place at all and it didn’t work at all.

So I had to repeat all the steps — use the spatula to move the hose, try to get the nut driver in place without being able to see what I was doing, use the spatula to try to push the release lever…

To my surprise, repeating the steps was infinitely easier than discovering the steps. I had the assembly out and back in within about two minutes. This time, I could tell it was in place — the rubber seals around the headlight assembly were tight against the body. And when I started up the Beetle and tested the lights, everything worked.

All told, it took about twenty-five minutes to replace the headlight bulb. I sort of expect that I’ll have to replace the high beam bulbs within the next few months; they’re working fine, but bulbs don’t last forever.

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