Another Frugal Fix: Honda Headlight Bulb and Other Car Issues

by Kevin on November 7, 2008

(Photo by Marcin Wichary)

Yesterday I encouraged you to learn the frugal skill of fixing stuff yourself. I used the example of replacing my laptop hard drive, and building a desktop computer from parts. The same skill can apply to working on your car.

Let me put this disclaimer out there: I am not recommending you ignore serious maintenence issues or try to fix stuff on your own if you are completely ignorant on how automobiles work. That’s dangerous and dumb.

For example, I try to avoid working on my brakes simply because I don’t have the expertise to safely do it. I don’t change my own oil because A.) theoretically the car could fall on me, and B.) the local shop we use charges a price that pretty much matches what it would cost me in motor oil. I use professionals when it makes sense. However, there are instances that I can do the work and save money on the way.

Why Can’t I See the Road?

A few weeks ago we went to the Tennessee vs. Alabama football game in Knoxville. The Friday night before we left we went to a restaurant to have dinner and to get a gift card for the generous friends that dog sat for us. On the way back home, I “flashed” my brights to let someone over into the fast lane. As we pulled onto the road home, I noticed everything seemed a bit darker on the driver’s side of the road. Hmmm. We pulled into the garage with the confirmation: my driver’s side low-beam was out. The high-beam and turn signal still worked, but obviously we couldn’t drive to Tennessee with the low-beam out.

We had three options: I could try to fix it, we could take it to a shop and let them fix it, or we could take my wife’s car to Knoxville.

We wanted to take my car because it has a nicer ride for the long trip to Knoxville. However, it was past 7pm and all of the shops would be closed. We were leaving early in the morning. Time for me to step up to the plate to fix it myself.

I bought a new bulb from the local parts store and came home. I tried to find a tutorial online, but came up with nothing.

The thing about Honda engine compartments is they assume you have a little gnome to keep in your shirt pocket that is a certified mechanic. The little gnome must also have a full little gnome tool set available to do the work. Seriously, the engine compartment leaves very little room to work with your hands. I had to remove the battery to even get to the area where the bulb was. (I silently cheer every time I successfully remove and re-install a car battery without electrocuting myself.)

After 30 minutes of cursing and twisting my arm into maneuvers I didn’t think were humanly possible, I had the old bulb out and the new one in. Re-installed the battery and ta-da! There was light!

It’s hard to tell how much money I saved, but I would put it in the $20-30 range. I always wonder if I had taken it to a shady shop if they would have tried to tell me I needed to replace the entire unit ($$$$) rather than a $10 bulb.

Other Car Tasks You Can Do To Save Money

That is just one example of how I’ve saved money by working on my car on my own. Some other things I’ve done:

  • Replaced windshield wipers – save a few bucks over having the oil change shop do it
  • Removed front window tint – I’m guessing I saved at least $100 by doing it myself rather than a tinting shop
  • Washing, waxing, and cleaning our cars – All you need is a bucket, a brush, perhaps a hand mit, and some car wash soap for the exterior. We use our normal vacuum on the interior. I am baffled that people will pay $3, 5, or 7 to run their cars through the gas station car washes. There are some nice shops around us that all they do is detail cars — a very expensive way to get a clean car. The same goes for waxing the car. Do it once every three to six months with quality wax and you’re good to go. It takes maybe 30 to 60 minutes per car.

Frugality Doesn’t Mean You Have To Deprive Yourself

Living a frugal life isn’t about driving around with one headlight out to save money. That’s stupid and could cause a wreck that would cost you a lot of money. Taking matters into your own hand can also backfire if you make an important repair and do it wrong. Things like light bulbs, windshield wipers, and simply cleaning you car are easy ways to save some money with your car maintenance.

What do you think? Do you do your own car maintenance, or does someone do all of it for you?

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We Bought A “New” Car This Weekend | Bible Money Matters
November 10, 2008 at 11:55 am


Ricky November 7, 2008 at 4:14 pm

3 cheers for the DIY! I am a huge advocate of doing anything and everything myself. It is something I picked up from my dad and it has saved me thousands of dollars in my adult life. I am very fortunate that I have a father who is so handy to help me out. His DIY skills have earned him savings and returns on investments well into the 6 figure range. With the help of his father in 1985 he hand built the house that my parents live in to this day. Initial investment in materials? About $20000. Current apparaised home value? About $140,000! I hope to do this myself someday!

Manshu November 7, 2008 at 9:31 pm

I got myself a 45$ rear view mirror for my honda accord and fixed it pretty easily. That saved me around $100. I have realized that companies like Carx don’t sell the cheapest accessories when you go to them. I wonder why that is. I always thought they make their money on the labor costs and not the parts.

Matt @ Steadfast Finances November 8, 2008 at 12:36 am

I’m for anything DIY that you can do while saving a few bucks, and your work won’t screw anything up.

Car maintenance wise, anything from light changes, oil changes, filter changes, etc are fair game for me. I’ve replaced a few alternators, stereos and even a few spark plugs in my day, but I always had someone with a high “car IQ” to look over my shoulder.

Denise November 8, 2008 at 6:08 am

Good for you! I am newly single and now live in an apartment complex. My exhusband used to do all the DIY projects or know reliable people who could cheap fix. I find that i am more succeptable to shady mechanics and such or pay more money for basic fixes. I finally found someone, where I live, who is a DIY and he will fix things cheaply and is happy for the extra bit of cash. Are any other newly single women in the same boat? I can barely screw in a lightbulb. Any good basic DIY books out there that you can recommend? Thanks to all.

Kevin November 9, 2008 at 11:34 pm

@Ricky: Man that’s crazy about the house. I wish I had the skills to do that!

@Manshu: Every $100 saved is worth it, right?

@Matt: I’m the same way. I’ve called friends in the past to make sure I’m not about to electrocute myself or make matters worse. When you get the thumbs up, I’m all for it.

@Denise: My father-in-law gave me this book recently. It really has a lot of good tips in it, and if I remember correctly also has some good photos/illustrations so you aren’t relying solely on text. Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual: Completely Revised and Updated

Brandy November 25, 2008 at 4:44 pm

I just wanted to comment on your remarks about washing cars. Some people such as myself do not have the option of washing their cars at home. I live in an apartment and without a garden hose, I don’t know how I’d go about washing my car. I suppose that I could haul water all the way from my apartment to the car in a bucket, but honestly, my apartment is rather far from the parking lot, I have stairs to traverse, and it takes more water than I’m willing to lug to wash and rinse a car. I’d rather spend the $5 to have it done at the car wash where it takes about two minutes and spend the extra time with my kid. Plus, the place I go to offers free vacuuming (there’s no electrical outlet near my car at home so I can’t use my normal vacuum) so it seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Kevin November 28, 2008 at 4:15 pm

@Brandy: I remember living in the same situation when we had an apartment. I’m not suggesting you carry buckets of water down to your car… but think of an alternative. Do you have any friends or co-workers that own a home or live in an apartment complex that does have access to a hose?

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