Changing a car headlamp bulb, or why sometimes reading the manual still beats the Web

Driving on Saturday afternoon I suddenly became aware of a dashboard alarm that I’d never seen before. Apparently the right-hand side “dipped beam” bulb had blown (and I verified this by getting out and inspecting the car in a car park). I’d never had to change a car light bulb before, so some research was required and I instinctively reached for the smart phone… and ended up teaching myself a valuable lesson.

After about 15 mins or so surfing I couldn’t find any clear instructions on how to change the bulb. Worryingly I had come across a number of forum posts suggesting that the Mercedes W169 is not the easiest car when it comes to changing headlamp bulbs and that some disassembly of the various bits and pieces such as the windscreen wiper reservoir and front/wing bumper, would be required. Ostensibly savvy owners had apparently found themselves with no alternative than paying £100 or so for a bulb change at a dealer or independent garage!

I was horrified. To me, it is completely inexplicable why a car should not have easily replaceable light bulbs. I found another forum posting suggesting that a new EU directive is on it’s way to ensure all new cars have user-serviceable light bulbs but that would be too late for me. I would expect that a premium German manufacturer would not need an EU directive to force it to not have an idiotic. I must confess that I began to feel some sympathy for those drivers I occasionally see driving around at night with only one functioning headlamp: not condoning this of course, but understanding that if it’s such a pain to change a light bulb then not everyone’s going to be able to do it promptly.

Having (very) briefly considered whether to drive into a fast fit garage and empty I my wallet I ruled this out on the grounds that this would be personally humiliating, let alone the potentially extortionate costs. More practically it was too late in the day to find an open garage. So I spent more time surfing, this time on YouTube, where I had more joy. I found some videos showing me the disassembly steps required and it appeared that I only needed to pull out 3 bolts. Opening up the bonnet I found the bolts but I didn’t have the right size tool in the boot to open them so went home to find something. On the way I found the correct replacement bulb at a petrol station shop. Sadly whilst petrol stations stock consumables they

Having found a suitable spanner, I proceeded to remove the retaining bolts around the headlamp assembly. So far so good. However, whilst the assembly was now loose I couldn’t figure out how to remove it – and I could no longer find the video on my smart phone (perhaps, in hindsight, I’d actually looked up the video on my tablet which was no longer with me). After half an hour so I finally gave up and dug out the car owner’s manual. It took me a few minutes to decipher the spartan instructions but, as it turned out, there they were. No tool(s) were required (other than gloves for handling the bulb, which were part of the stock car toolkit in the boot). Replacing the bulb took under a minute as an easy user-serviceable activity.

So what did I learn from this episode?

  1. The Internet may be the greatest repository of human knowledge but it’s also full of rubbish and shouldn’t always be the first port of call.
  2. Look in the German car owner’s manual first.
  3. Ostensibly savvy people on internet forums may be anything but – even (or, perhaps especially  when they’re all spouting the same expert insight).
  4. Whatever temporary sympathy I had for drivers going around with a blown light bulb has now turned into even more uncompromising lack of sympathy than I had before.

Perhaps less importantly, I found that the replacement light bulb (a Halogen H7 type, if you care) was 30% cheaper at a 24-hour Shell petrol station shop than at Halfords online. Not what I would have expected, but a pleasant surprise when caught out in this way after shopping hours.

How dangerous really is cycling?

Here are some interesting statistics that came through my email today.

Risk relative to cycling: fatality rates per participant
Relative risk per participant
Less safe Airsports 450
  Climbing 137
  Motor sports 81
  Fishing 41
  Horse riding 29
  Swimming 7.0
  Athletics 5.7
  Football 4.9
  Tennis 4.2
  Cycling 1.0
Safer Golf 0.83
  Rambling 0.06 

Source: Lunch hour lecture on risks and benefits of active transport by Dr Jenny Mindell of UCL.

So there you go: cycling may not be as safe as playing golf, but it’s 41x safer than going fishing.

This is not to say that cycling safety is a non-issue. The (lack of) attractiveness and (perceived) danger associated with cycling is a major deterrent to more widespread cycle use in London. And far too many cyclists are unnecessarily getting hurt, but we must maintain some perspective.

Alert: Time to remind the Assembly Transport Committee of the Mayor of London’s promises on cycling

The Transport committee of the London Assembly will be quizzing the Deputy Mayor for Transport and the Transport Commissioner on how they will be meeting the Mayor’s transport promises at it’s meeting tomorrow (Thu 24 May).

The Mayor’s commitments, of course, include meeting the three key tests of the London Cycling Campaign’s “Love London, Go Dutch” campaign:
Three flagship walking and cycling schemes in accordance with ‘Go Dutch’ principles
‘Go Dutch’ principles applied to all roadworks and development schemes under the Mayor’s control
Superhighways completed to ‘Go Dutch’ principles.

Boris Johnson made additional commitments to cycling during the course of the election campaign:

  • Appointing a Cycling Commissioner (in response to a question at the Times/Sustrans hustings about putting a ‘cycling representative’ on the Board of Transport for London)
  • Being more assertive with Borough ‘recusants’ that get in the way of Superhighways (to the London Jewish Forum in regards to Barnet Council).
  • Appointing a cycling representative on the Mayor’s Roads Task Force (to British Cycling).
  • Expanding cycle hire as per Boris’ manifesto.
  • Lobbying central government to press for stronger sentencing in relation to road incidents involving cyclists (in response to a question at the Times/Sustrans hustings from someone whose brother was killed by motorist convicted of dangerous driving but only spent a couple of months in prison).

Readers of this email may wish to lobby their Assembly Members – particularly those who sit on the Transport Committee, on reminding them of the Mayor’s commitments to cycling.

A reminder, below of the relevant Assembly Members, and their constituencies.

Caroline Pidgeon (Chair) – Londonwide
Valerie Shawcross CBE (Deputy Chair) – Lambeth & Southwark
Jennette Arnold OBE – North East (Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest)
Victoria Borwick – Londonwide
Tom Copley – Londonwide
Andrew Dismore – Barnet & Camden
Roger Evans – Havering & Redbridge
Darren Johnson – Londonwide
Joanne McCartney – Enfield & Haringey
Steve O’Connell – Croydon & Sutton
Murad Qureshi – Londonwide
Richard Tracey – Merton & Wandsworth

‘Jewish Manifesto’ calls for ‘faster and safer cycle network’

Just spotted this in the Transport section of the London Jewish Forum‘s Manifesto for the 2012 London Mayoral election:

10. Year of the Bike

11. Big Green Jewish – a coalition of organisations in the Jewish Community concerned about environmental issues have declared 2012 the ‘Year of the Bike’. Tackling the impact of transport on the environment more generally, they are campaigning within the community to take pledges on decreasing their carbon footprints by making greener transport decisions, including taking up cycling as a viable and safe alternative when commuting.

12. The proposed Cycle Superhighway 11, running from Marylebone will stop at border of Camden and Barnet, avoiding the Brent Cross Cricklewood development, and not crossing the North Circular, the biggest physical barrier to cycling in North West London. TfL should seriously consider extending the route of CS11 to ensure that residents in Barnet can benefit from better access to a safe and faster cycle network.

I notice that they have Breakfast meetings organised with each of the main Mayoral candidates for Jewish Londoners to come and express their concerns directly. Perhaps one or two of my Jewish readers might wish to attend and and press the case for cycling?

The first of LJF’s candidates breakfasts is on 17 April with Boris Johnson in Golders Green. You can register for the breakfast with Boris and find the dates for the other candidates on the LJF web site.

You may also be interested in the Rabbi Relay Ride.

Finally a belated ‘Chag Pesach Sameach’ to my Jewish readers!