Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Need New Headlights? That'll Be $700....

For those of you over 40 – remember when putting a new headlight in your car meant a quick trip to the auto parts store and about 5 minutes worth of work removing the old one and installing the new one?  That was if you had to replace the entire headlight – round or rectangular (pre-1980s).  If it was simply a bulb it took even less time.  And the cost was usually around $6 per light.  Well, my friends…  those days are gone.

It came to pass that I needed two complete new headlight assemblies on my car.  Whoever owned it before me had put xenon high-intensity bulbs in it and the headlight assembly wasn’t designed to accommodate the extra heat.  The plastic that held the bulb melted, as did the reflectors around it, making the headlights mostly useless as the light didn’t project outward anymore and the bulb flopped around loose in the housing.  Probably not the best way to drive – particularly at night.

I made a few calls to see what it would cost me to replace them.  I figured I could buy the headlight assemblies and do the work myself.  How hard could it be?  They’re just headlights.  Hmmmm.

I called my local dealer first.  They quoted me $204 apiece for the headlight assemblies and at least $300 labor to replace both.  $700 just to replace headlights?  That’s ridiculous!  But it got me to wondering – just how intensive was the labor to replace these lights?  I went out to the car and opened the hood to see for myself.  I took out the three bolts that held the top part of the headlight in place and tried to move it.  It didn’t budge.  So I went to Pep Boys and bought a repair book for that car and began to read.  There are bolts underneath the car that have to be removed and one part of the frame assembly that has to be loosened to gain access to the headlamp assembly.  I decided it was more work than I wanted to do and to let a professional handle it. 

Then I began researching aftermarket headlamp assemblies and found that the price for them varies from $70 to $315 apiece for the same assembly.  (In all fairness, I think the most expensive ones are made of a metal compound that will stand up to the heat of the xenon bulb.)  Since I didn’t want to chance the same thing happening again (and didn’t want to pay over $1000 just to replace my headlights) I chose the $70 one with the regular halogen bulb.  I ordered them both from J.C. Whitney and they were delivered in two days.

I decided to take the car to the dealer to have them put in because I figured they would do it correctly.  A body shop could have done the work but they’re often backed up and can’t get to it right away.  Yesterday morning I packed up the headlamps and headed out to the service garage.  They checked me in and I took my laptop to the waiting area (free WiFi – gotta love it) and sat patiently waiting for the repair, which I knew would probably take a couple of hours. 

About 10 minutes later the Service Advisor came in and said that the replacement headlamp assembly for the driver’s side (the one I needed most because it was melted) had a broken mounting bracket and couldn’t be installed.  I would have to return it and get another one or pay $200 to the dealer for one of theirs.  I told them I would return the broken one and get another and told them to go ahead and install the passenger side, which they did.  The Service Advisor told me of an aftermarket parts store in Arlington, Texas, about 25 miles from my house, where I could get the assembly and it would be about half of what I had paid for it.  He reminded me that I would have to pay $200 for the same part if I bought it from him and didn’t want me to have to do that.  I appreciated it.

So about an hour later he came and got me and said my car was ready.  We went to the cashier where I had to pay $150 for installation of the passenger side.  Mind you – that’s $150 on top of the $70 I paid for the light.  So far I’m out $220 for one headlight.  Then I headed out to Arlington to get the other one. 

The parts place was called “Certifit.”  I had never heard of it but apparently it’s a chain with stores all over the country.  All I know is there were about four people ahead of me buying everything from bumpers to fenders to headlamps to body molding.  I gave the man my name, he verified my part and sent me next door to the warehouse.  They brought it out, called my name and I checked and verified the part before paying.  And the headlamp, exactly like the one I have to return (except the mounting bracket was intact), was only $45.

I went home then and called J.C. Whitney.  They were very apologetic but it took about 20 minutes on the phone to arrange the return and I never did get to talk to the return specialist.  They woman I talked to took all my information and said I’d receive an e-mail with the Return Authorization number within 24 hours.
This morning I checked my e-mail and there was nothing there.  I went back to the dealer and had the other light installed, for another $150.  When I got home I finally had an e-mail from J.C. Whitney that said my return had been approved but there was no Return Authorization number.  So I had to call them again.

Waited on hold for 20 minutes and didn’t get to talk to anyone.  So I called them again about an hour later and finally got through to a live person.  They told me I did not have to return the other light (since they can’t sell it) and I would receive a full refund for it.  They’re refunding me $83 including the tax so I can’t really complain.  Add the $45 onto the $150 I paid in labor today and it only cost me a total of $423 and 5 hours of my time to replace two headlights.  But at least it wasn’t $700.  Maybe next time I buy a vehicle I’ll look around for one from the early 70s.  At least I can do most of the repairs myself – if I can find the parts I need to do them.  Probably cost me just as much in the long run….


  1. I do repairs and restorations on my car, and it’s true that it saves me a lot of money. It’s good to know though that you were able to get refund for the full amount and not spend $700. What I usually do is buy affordable but quality parts, then do the repairs on my workshop. After every repair, I feel a sense of satisfaction because I can see and use what I worked hard for.

    Enoch Ross

  2. There are few things I feel qualified to repair anymore on a car. I had an F150 a couple of years ago that needed a heater core. I have replaced three heater cores in past vehicles. For this one you had to remove the entire dash board just to get to it. I can't do that. They make it so you can't work on your own car these days. You can't even be sure what half of the stuff under the hood is....

  3. I told him to have his office contact me with a date and time giving me at least 2 days notice to have the truck here for him. motor fiend