Arlo Mudgett: Legislate common sense? But the money ...

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The answer to the question posed in the headline is a simple "no." You can't legislate common sense along with a million other things that have proven to be "unlegislatable" if such a word existed. I have this one pet peeve that never seems to get addressed, and that is automotive lighting. You can't just slap any old sort of lights on a car or truck and expect to sell it to the masses without some regulation. The Department of Transportation (DOT) frowns on that sort of thing. Lighting is an especially touchy subject. The amount of light emitted from your headlights on high beam and low beam is regulated, as is the way your headlights are aimed. You can't simply go out on the road at night with a million candlepower headlights aimed willy-nilly ahead of you. It will blind oncoming traffic and cause accidents.

Therefore, relatively complex rules are in place for the kinds of lighting that are built into your car at the factory, and what sort of auxiliary lighting you are allowed to affix to your vehicle in addition to the factory lights. For me, the problems started when the DOT allowed manufacturers to use plastic headlight housings. Just look at them five or six years down the line! The plastic gets faded by UV light. It turns a hazy yellow color and reduces the amount of light that comes through the lens by a significant factor. This renders your headlights useless and dangerous. It is a gradual degradation that sneaks up on you. Sometimes an accident will occur before you realize just how little you can see at night with those clouded plastic lenses.

Why did the auto manufacturers do this in the first place? Money and weight. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations require all manufacturers to improve the gas mileage that their products get over time. One of the ways to do that is to reduce weight. Glass is heavy, so if headlight housings are replaced with lighter plastics, the problem is solved. It also saves the manufacturer a lot of money. Who cares if the consumer is left with a product that clouds over in just a few years, rendering itself useless. They just created another profit center by selling replacement housings. Ever priced them? The housings from the original manufacturers are not cheap. Therefore it gave birth to a whole new industry of aftermarket plastic headlight housing manufacturers with factories in China and Korea. It's maddening.

There are restoration kits on the market. The better ones require wet sanding your headlight housings with a progression of finer grits of sandpaper until you are practically polishing the surface with jewelers rouge. It is a pain in the butt. I know because I've done it a bunch of times. Simple chemical wipes are a joke. You've got to do it the hard way or don't bother doing it at all ... or simply replace the housings.

I am replacing the housings on a used Dodge truck that I have right now. I have managed to extend this 20-minute job out to several days while I allow penetrating oil to loosen up the attachment bolts enough to unscrew the housings. It was at that point that I sputtered that there ought to be a law You know, like legislation to make the manufacturers design lens plastic that can easily be replaced without removing the entire housing. Not only for the safety of the public but for the sanity of DIY guys like me. It would reduce waste and cost, too. Do you think the manufacturers' lobby would go along with it? Hell no! They'd rather have the customer bring the car in to the dealership where their expertly trained technicians can carefully remove the entire housing assemblies, carefully inspect them, toss them in the trash, and replace them with new units direct from the factory. All for the low low price of, say, $1,200. Sound about right? Brand new aftermarket housings are about $105 plus shipping. Imagine how much replacement lenses would be. Forty bucks maybe?

But alas, that's not how replacement headlight plastic is marketed. You must buy the entire housing. Maybe it's because the unit must be air and watertight? So design it with a replaceable gasket and a few screws. In the end, it is a real safety issue. But the money...

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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