To change the bulb, just remove the bumper. Wait, what? - UPDATED.
I was warned. I had been a loyal Honda owner for my entire driving life. But, after realizing that my Honda Civic Coupe was just too awkward for my growing family, I started looking around. I saw the VW Passat, I loved it; but a friend told me “hey, just so you know, she’s nice but she’s ‘high maintenance.’" Boy, was he right.
The ’06 Passat I purchased was low mileage and well taken care of. Black, pristine, a work of art from German engineers. Aside from a few small problems that were fixed within weeks of purchasing it, everything was going great. Then the passenger-side headlight went out (prompting a handy warning light on the dash to start annoying me). (For an update on the Daytime Running Light issue, scroll down.)
I popped over to Checkers and asked the helpful man behind the counter to look up what type of bulb the Passat takes. He pointed me in the right direction, I got to the checkout and then the guy asked me why I was buying it. Strange question, right?
“My headlight’s gone, passenger side, so I’m swapping it out,” I said with a smile.
The guy looked at me quizzically; I must have just oozed naivety from every pore.
“You know these things are really tricky right, and you’ll need a special tool to get it done.”
This was all news to me. When the headlight bulbs went on my old Honda Accord, I swapped them out in five minutes. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
So, I didn’t buy the bulb, I called my VW dealership. As it turns out, bulbs are covered under the warranty so I just sat around for an hour (yes, an hour) while they swapped the bulb out. Fast-forward one month and the driver’s side bulb decided to go out on me. I guess these VW bulbs only last a couple of years. That would have been good to know. Anyway, I made an appointment and this morning, I dropped it off. That’s when the service manager asked me a strange question (these strange questions keep popping up with this vehicle).
“What time will you be picking the car up?” he said.
"Oh, I’ll just wait” I replied, and went to sit down at the customer service lounge.
That’s when the service manager dropped the bombshell.
“You’re going to wait 2-3 hours?” he said, shocked.
As it turns out, the driver’s side headlight in the VW Passat is nowhere near as easy to get to as the passenger-side bulb. No, this one requires them to remove the front bumper and a few other parts to get to it. Seriously. So, I took the complimentary shuttle service to work and decided to write this post, as a warning.
Do your homework. It’s not just about comparing cars, and up-front prices. Check out the Cost To Own, which can add thousands to the cost of the car. Edmunds.com has a very handy calculator that you can use that helps establish the True Cost To Own, or TCO.
Also, if you know someone with the make and model of the car you’re thinking of buying, ask about maintenance, parts that fail and general ownership experience. I had failed to do this thoroughly on the VW Passat (brushing off that brief warning from my friend and thinking no more about it); if I'd looked into it more carefully, it may well have changed my purchasing decision. When my car is out of warranty, a new bulb is going to cost $55 (or more for the newer, brighter bulbs) plus labor (2-3 hours for the driver’s side, with labor typically being $70/hour). That’s over $200 for something that would have cost just $15 on my old Honda.
If you’re skilled enough to do that kind of job yourself, then maybe this doesn’t apply to you. But for the rest of us, it’s a kick in the wallet. And it all leaves me pondering some simple questions – “Why did the VW engineers make the bulbs so inaccessible? Could it be anything to do with giving more work to the service centers? Or is this just what to expect from German engineering?” All questions I may never know the answers to.
UPDATE: The Daytime Running Light (DRL) issue.
So, as I have mentioned in the comments box, I am no fan of DRL. In fact, there's even an organization out there against it, here . They were introduced for satey reasons but to be honest, the closer you get to the equator, the less likely you are to need them. If you're in Alaska, they may be a good idea. Here in Colorado, I have no need for them most of the time.
I did a little digging around after my VW dealer told me they could be disabled, but they wouldn't do it. Well, this being the information age, I went to the web and found the following video . Please note, you do this at your own risk. I'm sure VW frowns on this and it may invalidate the warranty. If you want to try it, it may be better to wrap the pin in electrical tape rather than bending it. That seems like a more reversible method.
If it works, you're looking at extending the life of your bulbs considerably.