The Truth About Cars » HID The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » HID Piston Slap: Affalterbach’s A-faltering Headlight! (Part II) Fri, 25 Oct 2013 12:00:44 +0000

Martin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I just wanted to follow up the post with the resolution.  I’m not sure if this is important to you all, but I see that it’s an issue with Bimmers sometimes as well.  I switched the bulbs from right to left.  My passenger side light had been flickering off.  When I switched the bulbs, the issue went to the driver’s side, which seemed to narrow down the issue to a bulb problem.  

Both lights would sometimes flicker as a pre courser to the bulb shutting down.  I replaced the Xenon bulbs with new ones, and so far, the problem is gone. I’m not sure why both bulbs flickered simultaneously as a pre courser to the bulb going out, but it did.  This issue is also gone. I hope it helps someone because initially when I took the problem to mechanics I received estimates including the replacement of the entire light, which is around 1200-1300 bucks, or replacing the ballast which is a 400-600 dollar part, and one indy mechanic even told me they had to drop the bumper cover JUST to get to the light, which is really untrue.

Instead the resolution cost me 150 bucks.


Sajeev answers:

Good to hear Martin, sometimes the easiest answer is the right one! And sadly, if one lacks the time and knowledge to seek that easy automotive solution, they’re gonna get hosed.  Hosed for a normal wear item?  How sad.  So let’s consider more wear items that people tend to neglect:

  1. Fuses: they go bad over time, even when they look good at a casual glance.  Even when tested with a voltmeter/continuity tester! Here’s one from my (LH high beam circuit) Sierra that looked okay at first…but when I shined light behind it…a new fuse and freshly cleaned ground wiring fixed a multitude of problems.
  2. Headlights: they are wear items.  They can flicker (as you know well!) and dim over time. The dimming is so gradual that you’d never know, until you replace them.  I’ve seen 2 year old vehicles need new headlights!
  3. Vacuum lines in particular, rubber parts in general:  Anything that uses engine vacuum (less of a concern today) relies on tubing that gets cracked, brittle, gooey, leaky…so replace it.  Lines connected to PCV systems can get gooey/leaky in just a few years…not decades.
  4. Tires: if they are dry rotted, their performance (especially in the wet) is kinda horrible.  Depending on where you live/park, your tires could be history after 5 years, even with fantastic tread depth.
  5. Brake lines: after a decade, especially if you live in the rust belt, look at your brake lines to ensure they won’t go explodey from rusting.
  6. Wiring: lines get brittle-cracked-shorted, connectors get broken/loose and “Ghosts in the Machine” that are seemingly impossible to trace have a very simple solution: replacement.
  7. Weatherstripping (again rubber): however your car’s doors seal to the body, that stuff will shrink, split, etc. no longer making an air (or water!) tight seal.  And don’t forget leaky sunroofs/moonroofs!
  8. Hinges and Latches:  bushings (often brass?) inside door hinges can wear to the point that doors sag, especially on convertibles.  Similarly, door latches wear, become misaligned, and make horrible squeaking sounds sometimes.
  9. Springs and Shocks: sounds logical, but how many people pony up the cash for these new parts after years of metal fatigue on coils and leaky/coagulated cartridges? Not nearly enough.
  10. Copper connections: similar to #6, if there’s an exposed connection on a printed circuit (probably less of a concern today) that can become oxidized…well, it will. I’ve repaired many a flaky module with a pink eraser (not white, they lack the “tooth” to make a clean cut) from the top of a pencil.  It’s funny the things you learn from people on the Internet.
  11. Batteries, Alternators, Terminals+Cables : as cars get more complex, their thirst for fresh batteries shortens the lifespan of these wear items.  Alternators age, even more so when trying to support a weak battery.  And everything can go bad because your battery’s termainals+cables are crusty and corroded.  The moment you hear your car “chugs” and labors at start up compared to a car with a new battery OR the moment the dashboard electrics goes bonkers for no apparent reason…well, that’s the moment you are officially warned of a simple but important charging problem.

Best and Brightest: fill in the gaps I left.  And have a great weekend.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: Affalterbach’s A-faltering Headlight! Thu, 01 Aug 2013 12:00:40 +0000 SLK32AMG_front1

Martin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I’m writing you because I’ve searched and asked model-specific forums, and mechanics, to no avail. I have the last of the 1st Gen SLK AMGs. I love this car, and I’ve loved it since the first non-AMG launched in the late 90s. Overall, it’s well maintained – a trend which I continue – and I’ve had it for a few years. I have one major issue.

The Xenon headlights will blink out randomly – the issue is solved by flicking the lights completely off, and then back on…it almost always happens on my passenger side headlight, but I’ve seen it happen on the driver’s side as well though this is rare. It usually happens on a bump, or on impact of some kind, like a speed bump, braking, or closing the hood, and can occur every few minutes (usually in wet weather – thought doesn’t ALWAYS happen in wet weather) or not at all for several months (usually dry weather).

Mechanics have diagnosed it as anything ranging from a bad ballast (doesn’t make sense to me as ballasts either work or the don’t) to a faulty bulb. One mechanic put some kind of lubrication on the contacts with the bulb and the problem went away for several months – even in wet weather, but I’m not sure if this was a solution or coincidence. Due to two factors – higher incidence of occurrence in wet weather – and the presence of condensation in the passenger’s side bulb (the worst offender) – I think there’s a short somewhere. I’ve checked the wiring and it seems ok. No one can give me a convincing reason as to why I should just replace the whole headlight assembly (an expensive proposal) – and although I realize AMG cars are pricier to maintain and I don’t mind spending, I also don’t want to do it unnecessarily just to discover that it’s a short in some kind of control module or peripheral piece.

Have you ever heard of this? Looking forward to your input.

Sajeev answers:

Not an easy question, but luckily you want what’s best for the car. Which isn’t cheap for a German car of this era. I still have nightmares about attempting to fix anything on my Father’s former 1996 BMW 750iL…beautiful, glorious nightmares I tell you!

Proper Mercedes-Benz shop manuals for this car are a must…but first…give this a shot:

A problem this intermittent, normally happening on one side means there’s an easy diagnostic route: switch headlights (first) and ballasts (second, assuming there are two, so RTFM) between left and right headlights and see if the flickering pattern changes.  If so great…you probably found your offender.

If not…well…

I am somewhat confident that voltage irregularities in failing ballasts can cause this, but the bulbs themselves aren’t free from guilt.  I worry because you flick’d them off/on: hot re-strikes on many older HID bulbs is a big no-no.  BIIIIIG no-no, as I learned when converting the horrible headlights on my 1995 Mark VIII to the HIDs of the 1996 model: this shortens HID lifespan significantly.

If the HID bulbs are original, perhaps they need replacement after the hot re-striking and from age. Or maybe the ballasts are no longer up to par internally, perhaps a lighting specialist can load test them to verify. I doubt you have wiring problems, but who knows…I haven’t checked myself!

Who really knows how to arm-chair this query? What say you, Best and Brightest?


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.


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Avoidable Contact: LED, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way. Tue, 29 Jan 2013 14:24:02 +0000

According to the nice entertainers at Top Gear the “Sub-Zero Fridge Coolest Car” at the moment is an Aston DB9. That makes perfect sense because the display on my Sub-Zero at home keeps going out and I anticipate the same fate is likely to strike every display screen on the DB9 much more quickly than the nine years it took my Sub-Z to start showing the freezer temperature as “88″ all the time. When the speedometer on the DB9 gets to 88, you’re going to see some serious shit, man. Like a $3000 repair bill.

I’m willing to accept TG‘s verdict on car coolness because I have no idea what makes a car truly “cool”. I do, however, have some opinions about what the most uncool car on the market might be. I’m thinking the Toyota Venza is certainly among the podium finishers there and possibly worthy of the top (bottom?) spot. Why is it uncool? Well, it’s a Toyota, and Toyotas are the vehicles of choice for uncool people around the world. Along with the Avalon, it’s one of the Toyotas most obviously aimed at old people, and old people are rarely cool unless they are murderers turned blues musicians. It’s a jacked-up fake-SUV station wagon that replaced the very cool Camry real station wagon. It’s the most forgettable-looking vehicle on the road, which makes it less cool than the rolling freakshow competitor known as the Honda Crosstour. It has a standard four-cylinder engine and front-wheel-drive. I can’t think of any way in which the Venza could suck it harder than it does right now. It’s the most cynical, depressing, worthless entry on the market.

Uncool, brother. But the DB9 and the Venza, eternal opposites on the cool scale, have one fairly uncool thing in common, don’t they?

That’s right: the Venza and DB9 were both recently “refreshed” with some completely meaningless and awkward-looking LED marker-light strips located within their existing headlamp cutouts. The LED running light is the Macarena of automotive details: briefly interesting, almost immediately omnipresent, hugely stupid to be the last person seen doing it. I mean, just four years ago I stuffed a VAG-COM into the OBD port of my Audi S5 and programmed the car to turn off the DRLs and run the LEDs full strength night or day; they were bright enough that I could drive at night without the Xenon main beams. If you saw a car coming your way with a similar look, it was an Audi. The diode boomerangs were initially exclusive to the R8 and S5 before wandering across the rest of the modern line over the course of a year or two.

The LED running/market lights were initially cool because they were unique features associated with cool cars. Once the Audi Q7 had them, the writing was on the wall. The Cool Wall. Perhaps once upon a time, Audi would have been able to retain the LED-light look as a brand signature, the way they used to have sudden acceleration and longitudinally-mounted coilpack failures. The automotive landscape used to be full of brand-specific features, from the quad-round lights of a Corvette to the driver-canted dashboard of a Seventies BMW. The LED boomerang might have remained the unique signature of an oncoming Audi, an open declaration of the company’s remarkably successful drive to challenge BMW and Mercedes-Benz on equal ground.

Of course, nobody who saw the Aston Martin Imitation Fender Vent Explosion Of The Mid-Two-Thousands would have been naive enough to think Audi was going to get to keep their shiny lights to themselves. Rapid prototyping and short model cycles have combined to make unique styling a very underpopulated village. If a new feature is a hit anywhere it will be quickly copied, and if the job of copying it can be foisted onto a supplier, it will happen even more quickly than otherwise.

Pride, too, used to keep car companies from brazenly copying each other to some degree. I’m reminded of Ampeg’s Everest Hull, who refused to make Fender-style tube amps even though his company’s arguably superior attention to detail and workmanship might have made a lot of musicians happy. Hull pointed out that he was in business to compete with Fender, not copy them. Think of that the next time you see that craven chrome wart of a fender vent on an Escalade. Modern auto companies are mostly run by interchangeable marketing people, not by engineers or any men with any sort of pride whatsoever.

Even Honda, which used to go its own way with a stubbornness once reserved for Stevie Nicks in the Rumours songwriting sessions, has fallen in line. The company that used CVCC instead of the catalytic converter just slapped a set of completely generic LEDs on the Accord. They’re possibly the worst ones out there; they don’t even pretend to be a shape. They’re just a line. Pep Boys will sell you the same thing for your ’07 Maxima.

Not that the “designed” running lights are any better. The Panamera has LEDs that look remarkably like what you’d see in a $2.99 flashlight sitting next to the impulse candy at a Wal-Mart checkout line. The Sonata Hybrid has the Korean Hangul character for “douchebag” scripted with glowing plastic in both light buckets. (Save your letters; I know Hangul is the equivalent of Kanji and not kana, or something like that.) The new Lexus IS has the Nike swoosh under the headlights in its own little area of urethane bumper, making the car look like it suffers from a radioactive species of ringworm. Each new car on the market has a worse implementation of Audi’s original idea than the one before it. The day is surely coming soon when GM will put the entire name of one of their Korean quick-bake compact cars in diodes on the front bumper. SONIC RUNS DEEP!

Where there isn’t time or budget to do something unique, Something Must Still Be Done. And thus we return to the DB9 and the Venza, both forced to wear LEDs now the way Van Halen was apparently forced to use synthesizers for the most forgettable parts of the “1984″ album. The DB9′s “update” can be forgiven under the general heading of Possibly Too Authentic Re-Creation Of British Make-Do Engineering By A Kuwait Company, but the Venza… that steps right over the line and this aggression will not stand, man, it will not stand! Grandpa doesn’t want those wacky lights on his Venza any more than the guy with the Audi R8 wants to see a Venza ahead of him in the left lane — with a “Life Is Good” sticker, unconsciously matching velocity next to a tractor-trailer in such a fashion as to create the maximum chance that Grandma is going to receive a free tracheotomy from the next retread that pops off. I think the Venza even has LED tails now, which confuse heat-seeking missiles and therefore lessen the chance of getting Grandpa out of your way before the next rest stop.

Wait until they start failing. The Nineties Seville became infamous for its monstrous LED CHMSL and the way just one or two crappy Chinese diodes could fail, turning the whole Darth Vader lightsaber across the trunk into the Morse code for “S O S”. (To be fair, my Porsche 993 appears to have suffered a similar fate. Luckily I never brake.) The headlights will fail the same way eventually. You’ll be confronted with a road full of broken boomerangs and sliced-up swooshes.

The Kia Optima, I think, will be one of the first casualties of such a process. I fundamentally distrust that car; it looks more like an Audi than Audis do, because Kia cribbed Audi’s designer, and it’s chock-full of bad-ass styling cues mixed with iffy materials at a budget price. It’s the Pontiac Firebird Esprit of mid-size sedans. I kind of want to get one but they aren’t particularly cheap. Instead I’m going to take great pleasure in their tragic on-road collapses. If said collapses don’t happen I’ll be very disappointed. I want the LED running light to be as firmly associated in the American mind with a broken-down Optima epilepsy-blinking by the side of the road as the toilet-seat grille is with failed Ford brands.

Tonight, as I prowled the mean streets of Nashville, TN looking for some Drama and/or trouble, I saw an unmarked Impala pulling someone over with what appeared to be a complete 360-degree array of LED flashers that probably are invisible on the doors unless they’re being used. Then I was aggressively tailgated by a steel-wheel V-6 Camaro with faux-angel eyes and an LED diode string all the way across the grille. They’d been applied crookedly. It was meant to be intimidating but it was just depressing, really.

The day is no doubt coming soon when proper full-strength LED headlamps won’t be just the province of Lexus hybrids and the first-to-offend Cadillac Escalade. With a lighting package as small as an iPod Nano it will be possible to completely light the road ahead. Had it happened twenty years ago, it probably would have ushered in a completely new era of automotive styling, but today’s pedestrian-impact regulations and SUV-butch styling will probably prevent anything genuinely unique from being done. If, however, somebody manages to do something genuinely cool — like, I don’t know, maybe a full-width Seventies Ford grille without headlamp doors — rest assured it won’t be special for long. Maybe we don’t need a new generation of lighting in the car trade; we need a new generation of thinking. Isn’t that a problem that someone could shine a little light on, besides your humble heading-towards-Venza-age bright bulb of an author?

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Piston Slap: Going Ballast-ic on Bi-Xenons? Wed, 21 Mar 2012 11:35:35 +0000


Confused in South Bend writes:

Hi, Sajeev….

I am the owner of 2003 M-B C240 base, with the Bi-Xenon headlights. Recently, one of the headlights has developed an issue….in cold weather, it does not work.

Went to my German car specialist, who wasn’t so special on this issue.  No problem, he said, replace the bulb.  $160 later, still had the problem.  OK, negotiated for him to give me a credit on the next fix.

Researched on the web, purchased a used Ballast.  Mr. German car specialist looked at the part, scratched his head and said, “I don’t know what this part is.” Mercedes dealer says, spend about $900 for an entirely new headlight assembly.

I know that Mercedes engineers think money grows on trees….but $900 to fix a balky headlight?  Come on…

I want to get this fixed….my question, is replacing the ballast the way to go?  Or must I render to Stuttgart…..?

Sajeev answers:

When one HID headlight goes out, the ballast and/or the bulb is usually the problem.  And I would never just buy a new HID bulb just to take a stab at the problem, especially when we know the quality of electronic components in German vehicles of this vintage. Who knows, maybe there’s a lighting control module mounted elsewhere that we non-German-techie people don’t know about!  This is what specialty shops are supposed to do for us!

But, unfortunate diagnosis aside, I still think the smart money is on a bad ballast.

A visual inspection of the bulb is necessary, and the ballast is first tested by checking for power to the ballast itself.  If you got nothing there, bigger problems away from the headlight assembly are in your future. If not, get the ballast tested and repaired/replaced. I am by no means a lighting guru, but from what I see via Googling, you can’t test a ballast with your garden variety multimeter. A specific tool is needed.

You made the classic mistake: buying a part and hoping for the best.  Find someone who knows what they are doing to test and verify the actual problem. From the sound of it, you need a new German Specialist.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.



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Piston Slap: Of HID-retrofit Hatred, Panther Love…PART II Wed, 11 Jan 2012 22:02:31 +0000

A TTAC lurker writes:

Sajeev, I’m local to Houston and greatly look forward to my daily lurk on TTAC. I just had to respond affirmatively to the latest piston slap about HID’s and Panthers.
I own 2 CV’s, an unmolested 2003 Sport:
…and a 2002 HPP with various mods/tune: you will note the projector headlights in the ’02. I couldn’t agree more with the comments about the cheap HID kits and resulting glare/distraction to other drivers. In my case I went the route of a complete E55 projector retrofit and new wiring harness for a proper and adjustable installation. I’ve included a complete DIY I had posted on under my now-sold PI moniker Blue95 for your reading pleasure! IMO the only way to install HID lighting. Has been installed for about 2 years, no operating issues at all and no problems with state inspection.

Sajeev answers:

First off: you are a hero for preserving a Panther (or any mildly historically relevant car, for that matter) and for doing a really impressive job in your HID conversion on Panther #2.  That said, it may not be to the letter of the law as your new headlight bucket hasn’t been approved by the DOT, but whatever. Best and Brightest, that’s for you to decide.

Second off: I think I saw your 2003 Sport at IKEA about 3 weeks ago, maybe on a Saturday.  You had me drooling as I walked in.  Thanks for that, it sure made the notion of buying press-board minimalist furniture far more enticing.

Third off: upgrading to projector style headlight assemblies makes the HID-hatred far less terrible.  Combine that with an OEM-style bulb rating (no blue/yellow/radioactive rated bulbs) and you are within spitting distance of what Dearborn put in that non-Panther thing they call a Taurus.  It was mentioned in the previous comments by “turbosaab” to the same effect: you will get away with a good projector assembly, conservative HIDs, and quality wiring and relays/ballasts.  I encourage everyone to read the PDF in your letter to see the extent of work necessary to do a “proper” HID retrofit on a car without projectors from the factory.

And lastly, have a look at another excellent post from the last Piston Slap that deserves the oxygen of publicity:

In our first installment, TTAC Commentator jco wrote:

There’s just no way you’ll get acceptable beam pattern and anything less than atrocious amounts of glare if you wire up an HID kit in halogen-designed open reflector housings….so the housing was designed to shape that type of light. And yes, I see junky HID kits in reflector housings all the time. it just looks cheap and wrong. there are usually huge hot spots at the top of the housing, specifically throwing glare at others. i don’t think there are any OEMs using HID in a non-projector housing.

I installed a well-made (it came with a wire harness with in-line fuses and directly plugged into my headlight harness. it takes the stress of the increased startup power away from the factory wiring) HID retro kit in my truck. But my truck already has projector housings for the low beams. though the lenses are not optimized for that type of bulb, they work about 90% as well a true OEM setup. and i spent time adjusting the level on the beams. i have driven another car in front of my truck at night and it’s not glare-y at all.

some people will take an open reflector housing, pull it apart, and install OEM projector components. if you’re skilled with a dremel tool you can probably do that in just about anything. it’s still gonna look weird in there, but you’ll have a better performing light setup. that’s beyond the level of most people who just buy a kit from ebay and plug it in.

In summation: you want aftermarket HIDs?  Get projector housings, make them if necessary. Order HID bulbs that are on par with the brightness of OEM applications.   Put it together with quality wiring and electrics. Aim them correctly.

Easy, right? 

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Piston Slap: Of HID-retrofit Hatred, Panther Love Wed, 11 Jan 2012 12:26:16 +0000


Robin writes:

So when I get my next big check I’m getting me a Panther. On this you can depend. You’ve talked me into it! But that’s not the point of my email. Rather, I’ve seen these HID light kits and wonder if it’s a lot of hype or if there is some veracity to the upgrade?

Sajeev answers:

Oh yes!  How lovely to hear you will be joining us enlightened American auto-connoisseurs in the Land of the Last Land Yacht: Panther Love…Son!

Like I mentioned in the last Piston Slap, HID retrofits are usually a terrible idea.  Aside from their durability and inherent poor value, they are not a “bright idea” (sorry) when performing a headlight retrofit/upgrade to your non-HID car. A few notable exceptions include me, when I upgraded my 1995 Lincoln Mark VIII’s headlights with the factory HID system used on certain 1996 models.  It was all factory parts, and worked great…until time and orphan parts reared their ugly heads.

Long story short, there is no real scientific benefit to HIDs if you don’t have a headlight assembly designed for the HID bulb.  And sometimes, depending on headlight lense design and bulb choice, it’s more of a detriment. And the only Panther that can safely run HIDs are 2003-2011 Town Cars with the (optional) factory-installed HID lenses. Everything else throws out a ton of glare and is dangerous for fellow motorists. And yourself, if you encounter a lot of reflective signs on the road or drive in thunderstorms at night in urban lighting conditions.

Plus, most of these aftermarket kits are quite unreliable: from the quality of wiring, durability of relays, and design of bulbs, calling these HID retrofit vendors “hit or miss” would be an understatement.

Plus again, many of these kits are downright illegal.  Even if they are DOT approved, are they legal for use in your state?  Better find out before you buy.

One last remark: the non-HID’s on my father’s 2006 Town Car are disturbingly close to the general lighting quality of the HID’s in my 1995 Mark VIII. Who says these Panthers are old school? Their lighting pods are pretty darn high-tech!

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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