Piston Slap: Occam's Razor Cuts Hardbody Headlight Headaches?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap occams razor cuts hardbody headlight headaches

Robin writes:

Hi Sajeev,

It’s me again, steady reader, random poster/questioner, with another D21 question. My good old ’94 Nissan D21 is soldiering on, 213,000 and steady on. Of course I don’t ever thrash it which I’m sure makes a difference.

But to get to the point: the other day I went out to go to work and presto! No low beams. High beams, check. All signals, markers and brake lights, check. Just no low beams.

Forum surfing ensued, all seemed to point to the switch stalk. I checked fuses. No headlamp fuse? WTF!

What the… (photo courtesy: OP)

I’m hoping against hope that it’s something simple and stupid that I’ve overlooked in my attempts to shoot the trouble. And that another Piston Slap reader has a tip.

Because Piston Slap is only run twice a week, Robin beats us to the punch:

Hi Sajeev,

I emailed you not too long ago about my D21’s low beams going out all at one time. Replaced the switch stalk (a common culprit per several forum threads I browsed), scratched my head furiously over the fuse panel, girded my loins for the big $ hit of having someone with a clue troubleshoot the electrics. In the meanwhile, I drove around with my high beams on, undoubtedly pissing off my fellow North Texans.

So this morning I decided to just replace both sealed beams. At worst I’d still be in the same boat but new bulbs. Voila! It was the ultra-rare concurrent low beams burnout phenomenon.

Old Bill from Occam really knew his stuff.

Sajeev answers:

I’m glad to hear you fixed it. Perhaps you also needed that new headlight switch, as it sounds like a multifunctioning switch which are known to misbehave in the oddest ways after 10+ years. Anyone with even a passing interest in Nissan Hardbodies should download this PDF. Yes, it’s for a 1990, but it’s a start.

I looked at page EL-41 and saw nothing fishy about Hardbody headlights: fuses, connectors, grounds, etc as expected. I am stumped as to why your 1994 fuse box doesn’t list a fuse a la the 1990 shop manual. While I think Occam’s Razor applies to the 15A fuses (if you have them!), having both headlights blow out simultaneously is odd but the obvious problem after that. Why?

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Because headlights are a wear item. I’ve said this multiple times before, if your halogen bulbs are 5+ years old and the filament’s shiny finish isn’t chrome-like (it’s tungsten, but you catch my drift) in perfection, they probably need replacement. Hell, I’ve seen a certified pre-owned, two-year-old used car (presumably with thousands of night miles under its belt) need new bulbs so the new owner can see safely at night.

[Main image: Shutterstock user OpturaDesign]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Join the conversation
2 of 19 comments
  • Revjasper Revjasper on May 19, 2015

    I watched my mechanic trying to figure out a double low beam failure on his brother's two year old Prius. It was a two, so it had traditional bulbs not the fancy HID. He was going over and over the problem in his head, searching for a root cause. Yep, both bulbs went at the same time. In my various classic Saab 900/9000/9-5 vehicles, it was more often the solid state relay in the orange box that would rattle one of the solder traces apart. The headlights would stop working, or brights would stop, or some combination of the two. I think that about 5% of the time it was the bulb. I carried at least one spare relay in lieu of carrying a soldering iron...

  • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on May 22, 2015

    Seems that more than most subsystems, electrical subsystems often fail in specific ways depending on the underlying vehicle. And one you figure out what that is, and begin carrying a spare, the electrics on the vehicle become manageable. Fail to find that weak spot, or to plan for it, and you will find yourself complaining about the lousy electrical system on your car. Old Norton motorcycles used a Zener diode under the rider's seat as a rectifier to get DC current. First time a rider would hit a bump fast enough and/or hard enough to bottom out the seat, the Zener diode would get hit hard enough to crack it, rendering the Norton inoperable. After an initial occurrence, a more experience rider would tip off a new Norton owner to carry a spare Zener diode (about a $5 part), and how to replace it. I personally went through about a half dozen, but after the first, was never down for more than five or ten minutes, nost of that to rest a bit while making the repair. But even years later I would read or hear about Norton owners complaining about the unreliable Lucas "Prince of Darkness" electrics on the bike. Yet except for a burned out bulb once or twice, I never experienced any other electrical problems with the bike. And I too have verified that manufacturer and/or country of origin often seem to have a strong correlation with longevity. On an Isuzu Trooper, repeated electrical fuel pump failures at short intervals, days, weeks, at most a couple of months, ceased when a wise mechanic suggested replacing both the pump and its housing, through which the pump was grounded. A definite ground connection through a ground wire to a ground post on the frame would have been a much better idea, but since Isuzu didn't do that, at least making sure its housing grounded properly changed the Trooper from a maintenance nightmare back to a workhorse again. Find the weak link, and the rest of the chain is often reliable. I'm sure that there must be counter-examples, but mostly I have just seen the pattern "weak link in overall OK subsystem."

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).