A Very Brian J. Car Repair

So I noticed one night that one of the tail lights on our Toyota Highlander was out, and it’s due for licensing this month, so I figured I’d better replace it pronto. One of the license plate lights was out, too, and the auto service center offered to fix it for me for elebenty billion dollars.

I stopped at the local Pep Boys and picked up replacement bulbs, no problem, although they’re sold in two packs. So I quipped to the clerk that I wouldn’t own the vehicle long enough to need the second bulb. Hah. Events would prove otherwise.

You see, aside from the recent experience I had wherein I managed to shear off a bolt while changing a tire, turning a simple procedure into a tow-and-repair situation, I figured it would be no problem in replacing the bulbs. Why, the vehicle has a little hatch in the cargo area that gives the user easy access to the lights. Listen, son, I’ve replaced a bunch of parts on cars with few problems, including batteries, head lights, tail lights, a radiator, a starter, brake pads…. Although I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing, sometimes I’ve fumbled the pieces into place right and only a few times have made ghastly but fortunately not deadly errors.

So, in the comfort of my garage, I popped open the little hatch, and:

That’s almost what it looks like except the hatch that gives you access to the light bulbs is far smaller, so you have to work with fingertips at awkward angles and no strength. The individual lights are in little sockets that screw into the assembly. To replace it, you unscrew the socket, pop the old bulb out, pop the new bulb in, and screw the socket back into the assembly. Done!

Well, it’s a lot easier to explain it after you’ve done it successfully or even watched a YouTube video on it. I’m sure I looked like a thoughtful monkey as I stroked my chin and tried to suss it out without breaking anything.

Eventually, after the monolith appeared and Strauss echoed in the garage, I got the new bulb in, put the socket in, gave it a little turn, and put the head lights on, and…. Nothing. Well, not nothing, but no tail light.

So I gave it a little turn and started to pull it out, when….

The light bulb, which I hadn’t completely popped into the socket, dropped into the tail light assembly, between the lens and the thing you see above with only a small hole a little bigger than the light bulb at its narrowest. I thought about I could try to get it out: I used to have a computer part tweezer that had long pinchers; I could put some tape or adhesive on a stick; I could try to vacuum it out with a shop vac. Or, heaven forbid, I could take the whole tail light assembly off and take the lens off to get it out.

Or I could do the Brian J. thing.

So I put the second, what I thought was superfluous, light bulb in the socket very tightly (hey, it snaps when it’s all the way in! how clever!) and then recognize that the socket is keyed with two smaller notches to ensure you can only fit it in the right way to make the electrical connection when you screw it in, screwed the socket in correctly, and tried the head lights. The new tail light worked.

I figure the small bulb is not large enough to damage the inserted bulb, the assembly, or the lens itself. The real question is whether the rattle will drive me nuts, proclaiming my vehicular maintenance ability deficiency for everyone to hear (or at least for me alone to hear like the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart").

My beautiful wife was the first to drive it, and she said she didn’t hear anything.

But the next morning, I heard it. The rattling of the Tell-Tale bulb!

So far, though, it’s not enough to make me want to tear apart the tail light assembly completely.

Instead, I’ll just turn the music up.