Saturday, January 7, 2012

One Headlight

Our Civic has been a padiddle for several weeks, and since we enjoyed a beautiful 60-degree day today (a thing to be cherished in January, even if we do live south of the Mason-Dixon line...) I finally got around to replacing the low-beam light bulb on the driver's side. As my father's daughter, I take pride in any little mechanical fixes that I can do myself. As my mother's daughter, I am remarkably stubborn and unlikely to admit defeat very early in a challenge. So, the story goes a little something like this:

As a prelude, I initially attempted the repair several days ago, on a less pleasant day (read 40 degrees and rapidly approaching dusk). I left my husband inside, warm, cozy, watching the girls (one of whom was napping). The hood release didn't let go entirely and I spent about five minutes getting increasingly frustrated and cold, going back into the house for gloves and a coat, and finally asking my man for help. Hardly a valiant send-off for an independent woman of the world.... He got the hood open, though to be fair, it took him a little while and some finagling. After identifying which bulb needed to come out (of course it was the one wedged against the far exterior wall of the hood space, tucked neatly behind the wiper-fluid bottle), I spent several minutes trying to wedge my fingers into the crevice well enough to rotate the bulb housing in order to remove it. Already in a fairly bad mood from my unsuccessful attempts to open the hood all by myself, the cold, the swapping of gloves from hand to hand, the onset of night, I gave up and stomped back into the house, feeling like a total doob and half-inclined to take the car and the light bulb to Midas and ask a nice mechanic to do the job for me. *eyelashes batting wildly*

Today, I went shoe shopping with my Mother In Law (and to all of you women out there who just shuddered and clutched at your hearts in sympathy, you can keep your pity---I have the best MIL in the world and I love her dearly). Leaving my husband and children in the doting care of Gran and Pop, I decided today was the day and took the replacement bulb, still in its protective retail packaging, outside to do The Deed.

Hood opened on the first try: already a better day! After wedging my hands into the narrow space behind the grill of the car from a variety of angles, I went back inside to swap out my long sleeves for a T-shirt (yes, it was that warm) and get a hat to keep my hair from dangling on the engine block. While I was in there, I gathered up two screwdrivers and some WD-40, knowing from watching my dad that those three tools are the base code of the universe, took off my engagement and wedding rings, and changed my shirt.

Back outside, I approached the car with purposeful stride, wind whipping my hair behind me as I had forgotten a hat. I bent down, spritzed a little lube on the screws that hold the bulb housing in place and nearly dropped a screwdriver into the fan belt**. I found a better spot to set the tools and let the WD-40 do its job. At the sound of a horn blast in my very near vicinity, I jump, startled, and come close to singing my arm on the hot lump of metal that has something to do with making the car go. Irritated, I poke my head out from under the hood to find my weird-old-guy neighbor in his car behind my car.

"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yep," I answered, "just fixing a headlight."
"Well, as long as you know what your doing," he said, driving off with a shrug and a roll of his eyes.

So I had a good long chuckle to myself as I considered what kind of a chauvinist jackass would think a female incapable of changing a light bulb. Granted, it's a very inconveniently located light bulb that you have to rotate, remove from its lantern, disconnect from a wire connector, and try to avoid touching the glass of the replacement as you get it in place, but still...just a light bulb. As I mentally mocked this man for his well-intentioned neighborly concern, I got the old bulb out. The new bulb didn't go the little port at the end of the wire as easily as I was expecting. My hair kept blowing in my face. I was actually sweating. I was beginning to want some lunch.

Then, with a horrible sinking sensation, I realized that I had spent the entire time WD-40ing, wiggling, working loose, and removing the wrong bulb.

Crap, I thought. This was the EASY one to get to? Double crap.

I set the new bulb to the side and put the old high beam bulb back in place. The final step, rotating the housing so that it was locked into the lantern twisted my arm in such a way that I dropped the new bulb into the cavernous recesses of the hood.

Triple crap.

I could see it there, on the ledge, within an inch of having fallen straight through to the ground. I was torn between glad it wasn't smashed on the asphalt and concern that I wasn't going to be able to get my hand into the frame to retrieve it. Well-founded concerns, as it turns out, because I had to push it from above with a collapsible tent pole, relying on a wool hat from the girls' car seat stash to cushion the fall.

Once I had the bulb back safe and sound, I turned my full attention to getting it into the appropriate lamp. Even though the posture required to get into the low-beam lantern on a Civic is reminiscent of certain pages of the Kama Sutra, and resulted in more scraped knuckles, I managed to do it much faster than the high beam. A practice run is always useful! I also figured out that disconnecting the wire from the bulb while it was locked in place in the lamp was easier than trying to fit both hands into the tiny space and wrangle it blindly apart with no leverage or maneuverability.

All in all, I was outside in the sun, enjoying the wind in my hair and the smell of engine grease, which always reminds me of my dad. That particular half hour of my life, while not my most graceful or well-organized, was full of laughter, sardonic and self-depreciating as it may have been. And since the kids were in the house having fun with Gran, Pop, and Dad, I was able to curse without feeling guilty in the slightest. I can think of worse ways to spend a sunny day in January.

**Please note, any and all terms more technical than "hood" or "bulb" are rough guesses based on knowing that there are parts in there somewhere with that name. Please don't comment saying "A Honda Civic doesn't HAVE a fan belt, you idiot!" because that would waste your time and mine.

***Mind you, this is the man asked my husband and my husband's best friend, who at the time was recovering from a surgically repaired broken arm, to help him move a gigantic, old-fashioned console TV down three flights of steps on a dolly with two flat tires. They told him no, the delivery guys who are bringing your new TV can remove the old one, and we haven't heard much from him since.


  1. I admire your tenacity. I have absolutely no car knowledge beyond checking the oil and putting air in the tires. :)

  2. Tenacity....such a nice way of saying I'm too stubborn to let someone who knows what they're doing take care of it!