Engineering for Insanity

Most of us have seen the series of self-help books entitled “_______” for Dummies,” which are designed to give us the nuts and bolts of a given subject. I would personally like to find “Automotive Engineering for Dummies” and mail out mass quantities to every designer and engineer employed by the automakers of today.



Lets be clear right up front, I’m all for technical automotive advancement. Modern cars are quite simply some of the best ever built, and their overall track record of reliability and safety bear that out. The engines and drivetrains of today deliver more power and superior fuel economy than any predecessor, and they do it on lower octane unleaded pump gas. All of these advancements came by way of research, hard work, and the forward thinking minds of smart people. I applaud them, one and all.


I also have a level of respect and sympathy for those tasked with trying to package modern systems into smaller, lighter weight vehicles. This area is always filled with trade-offs, and some of those are glaringly exposed when it comes to maintenance and repair.


The first few cars I owned were equipped with sealed beam headlights. They were made of glass, prone to crack or break, and produced a weak light compared to modern units, but usually a couple small screws and one electrical plug made them easy to swap out. Halogen lights that followed were also sealed beam and much brighter but were soon replaced by the bulb-in-socket twisted into a plastic housing.


The latter wasn’t a bad idea as most early set-ups made the housing relatively easy to remove and gain access to the bulbs. The plastic housings on the other hand tend to turn white from extended UV exposure or lose their seal, allowing condensation to form inside. The water droplets will soon rust the bulbs into their sockets, cause electrical shorts, and generally create headaches all around.


It stands to reason that as cars have become more reliable, automotive service departments have less work to do, or so they say. In my personal experience, there have been exactly zero times I’ve seen an auto repair shop empty with everyone twiddling their thumbs. If this problem does indeed exist at dealerships, it might be due to the following example of engineering insanity.


The headlight housing on my 2011 Chrysler 200 recently filled with condensation, so I ordered new replacements. I’ve swapped housings and bulbs on my wife’s Pontiac Aztek in about a half hour, so I expected no big problems. Little did I know…


YouTube has been a wonderful modern resource of information with regard to auto repair. Some of these videos are posted by auto mechanics, which tells me they wish desperately a few of us would learn to do some of these ridiculous tasks so they don’t have to be bothered quite as often.

After discovering I had to remove the entire front bumper cover from the car in order access the headlight housings, I asked myself why on earth anyone would think this was a good idea?


The day off I had to get the job done was a hot cooker outside with temps in the 90s. Thank God for power tools that help speed such things along, but by the time I was finished I had to believe any shop mechanic would find the job equally annoying.


I’ll admit when I was cleaning up afterward, I had thoughts of finding the engineer/designer who came up with this brilliant scheme and dumping him naked into high speed traffic.


Curiosity then forced me to my computer to see if my car was an isolated problem child or if others suffered similar debacles. I was astounded to find a huge number of models designed exactly the same way. One post on a forum I frequent told of a visit to a dealer for a faulty headlight. Two and a half hours labor plus parts whacked this owner’s wallet for $300, and the dealers wonder why business is down? Am I suddenly not amazed when I see a car with a spotlight duct-taped to the front fender?


This reeks of engineering designed to force people to throw up their hands in surrender and take their cars to shops for repair. As if they aren’t busy enough, but if the dealer service departments are still wanting, I can tell them extortion engineering isn’t going to bring customers back smiling. $300 to swap a $20 bulb? Seriously?


Changing a headlight bulb shouldn’t require a brain surgeon, nor should it cost ten times the price of a bulb. Modern automotive engineers have done many things right, but this isn’t one of them. I won’t pretend to understand the logic, if any, behind designing such an idiotic way of doing things. I wonder if the same engineer removes the entire door frame, facing, and a few panels of siding just to get a Christmas tree in the house? More to the point, does he pay someone else to do the drastic job for him?



Maybe he should have to once or twice.



One comment

  1. […] Yesterday was another chapter in frustration with my car as I tore in once again to install the next set of headlight housings. I thought I was finished only to be dismayed when the passenger light stopped working. I discovered a faulty plug on the new unit and I had to pull the front end apart once again. At this point I was livid enough to pummel someone senseless, but what made it worse was feeling angry toward a car I dearly love. See “Engineering for Insanity” […]

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