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.

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