Am I being overcharged for a headlight replacement?




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John Paul, AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader questioning the cost of a needed headlight assembly repair.

The Car Doctor answers a question from a reader questioning the cost of a needed headlight assembly repair. Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Q. I drive a 2003 Pontiac Bonneville SSEi with just 49,000 miles. The headlight assemblies are cracked and need replacement. My mechanic allows me to buy the parts and charges me for labor to install. He wants $220 for the labor to replace the two assemblies, saying it will take at least two hours. Is this reasonable? It seems to me that a few bolts are all that hold the assemblies in place, and the wiring harness looks to be easy to disconnect and connect to the new assemblies. Should it really take two hours-plus for a mechanic to make the swap? 

A. It will take about 1.2 hours to remove the old lamp assemblies and about another 30 minutes to properly align the new headlights. I would say that two hours of labor is not excessive, and even though the car has extremely low miles, it is 21 years old and there may be some stubborn or rusted fasteners to deal with. 

Q. I have a 1971 Ford Mustang and I am thinking of switching all the exterior lights to LEDs. I have read that you have warned owners of newer cars not to do this, because it could damage the computer system. Since my Mustang does not have a computer can I change out these bulbs? 

A. I certainly have seen many owners of older cars change all the bulbs to LEDs, but I have also seen some cases of overheating sockets and melted housings. The headlight bulbs that I have seen use a one-piece design with multiple bulbs in the lamp. Prior to installing any bulbs, read the packaging and make sure it is legal for on-road use. Personally, I would just replace the stock bulbs with new bulbs (the new ones will be brighter) and replace the headlights with a quality halogen bulb. 

Q. The trim molding that is right up against the rear side window of my car has peeled and rusted. I scraped off the rest of the peeling black paint and used sandpaper to remove most of the rust. It now has an even surface. My intention is to spray it with Rust-Oleum flat black combination paint and primer. Should this give me lasting results?

A. Just like all painting, as long as the surface it prepped properly it should be fine. The more time you spend on prep the better chance of a good outcome. I did something similar on the wiper arms of my car where the paint just sand blasted off over time. The wiper arms were flat black, so I looked around the house and found I had some black stove paint. I lightly sanded the wiper arms, used a primer, and then the stove paint. The end result was quite good, and as a conversation starter, heat resistant to over 1,000 degrees. The Rust-Oleum flat black should be fine and give you long-lasting results. 

Q. I’m only driving one of my family’s cars about 1,000 miles per year, and my brakes have suffered. The rotors rust very quickly, and I’ve had to replace the rotors and pads three times in the past seven years and about 10,000 miles. The last time the calipers needed to be replaced because it was claimed they were “frozen” and not working at all, although the car seemed to stop fine, even when making simulated emergency stops. Is there anything that can be done about this ongoing and expensive issue? 

A. Brakes get rusty, and the best thing you can do is drive the car a little each week. Even just a few miles will exercise the brakes and wear off any rust. Yes, it is possible the caliper slides were frozen, but they may have been able to have been cleaned and lubricated. Although depending on the age of the car, replacing the caliper may have been money well spent. As a side note, we have a 2009 VW Beetle convertible that has sat on Cape Cod (salty air). My wife just went home for a week and she said the rotors were very rusty, but the brakes worked fine. After about 50 miles of driving to visit family and then to a local AAA-approved auto repair shop for a state vehicle inspection, the brakes cleaned up nicely and were free of rust. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your Car Doctor question to [email protected]. Listen to the Car Doctor podcast at johnfpaul.podbean.com.





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