My wife Marian drives a 2004 Acura TSX, a sporty little car destined to become a classic. She takes very good care of it. But recently, she broke a tail light while backing into a tight spot. Clearly it needed to be replaced— a small problem, thought I.
Although only a small piece was missing, (see the photo) these days one must buy a “tail light assembly” rather than a lens, but I found one on the internet for “only” eighty dollars (It would have cost twice as much at a dealer) I ordered it, waited two weeks for my notice that it was not in stock, and ordered one from another company, which arrived in a couple of days.
Upon examining the wounded tail light, I found no screw heads that would allow me to simply remove the old one and install the new. When I opened the trunk, I found a cover behind the tail light, and upon removing it found three nuts. I removed them, which was not easy because the opening was neither large enough or aligned enough to go straight in with a socket wrench, the projecting screws required an extra long socket, and of course they had been tightened to heroic car-assembly-plant torque. But to my surprise, after much tugging and swearing, the assembly would not come loose from the car.
Internet time. I found a large number of unhappy posts by people that shared my problem, and unbelievably, it was necessary to remove the back bumper cover, which covers not only the bumper, but a large part of the back of the automobile, and among other things covers two more bolts that needed removing to get the tail light loose. This took much wallowing in the dirt and number of different tools, but I finally loosened it enough to change the assembly, (see photo here) cut my hand replacing the bulbs I had removed to get the old assembly free, and put the car back together. The happy result is at the left. But unfortunately, the process of replacing the tail light slightly lowered my very high opinion of Japanese automobiles. Tail light lenses break. Why should one have to re-move large body panels to replace them—or even taillight “assemblies”
What has happened to the once happy sport of maintaining an automobile? I changed this light because I do love to maintain cars, and I don’t want to think of what a dealer would have charged for the part plus shop time at $125 an hour. But observe the two photos below, one of the tail light from a 1966 Chevrolet pickup, and one of a tail light and a back up light from a 1975 Jaguar XKE (pardon the dirt, they both belong to me and are working classics.) Note the screws that can be easily removed to replace the lenses (originally available for a few dollars at most). Isn’t there a certain functional elegance there? What’s going on? incidentallly, notice that the Jag rear fender does not need a plastic cover over it.
One of the many apocryphal stories one hears about Steve Jobs is that he once summarily fired an employee who showed him a prototype in which a screw was visible. Apple products such as the iPhone are clearly designed to be taken apart (at some expense) in an Apple store when, for instance, a new battery is needed. In fact the internal screws are specially designed so that ordinary screw drivers do not work (a screwdriver that does plus new battery are available on the net, as well as instructions for separating the pieces of the shell.) Hiding fasteners seems to be part of the new sleek visual look. I agree it can be beautiful, but the beauty pales if something quits working and one wants to take it apart.
The final photograph shows the back of my old favorite Samsung phone. A quarter turn of the screw (done with almost any thing including a coin), reveals the battery and the SIM card, just lying there waiting to be removed and replaced if desired. It also doesn’t mind being dropped once in a while and being stuffed into my pocket.
PRODUCTS SHOULD BE DESIGNED TO BE DISASSEMBLED, AS WELL AS ASSEMBLED.