|1978 El Camino
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The Case Of The Friggen'
Sometimes, what should be a very simple repair turns into a nightmare. Getting a
working headlight switch (which, by the way, was used on pretty much every GM car and
truck from the mid 60's through the late 80's) in my El Camino has been one of these
One of the first non-drivability related problems I noticed on the car was that when
you hit a bump, the dash lights would either flicker or they would go off completely until
you tapped on the knob for the headlight switch. There were also a few dead spots in the
dimmer part of the switch so I knew it was time for a new headlight switch..
During one of my many trips to the local AutoZone
for parts, I picked up a new switch. Since the car was running badly when I got it, and
the dash lights were the only lights affected, I had the switch for a few months prior to
installing it. As with most parts of this nature, the warranty period is pretty short
(compared to most of the parts AutoZone sells) at 90 days. This, of course, means that the
switch was doomed to fail since I was installing it way outside of the warranty period.
Once installed, this switch proved to be worse than the one that was in the car (you
actually had to keep pressure on the knob for the dash lights to work). Figuring I had
just gotten the statistically bad switch, I went back and picked up another (which I of
course had to buy since the first was well out of warranty). This switch was equally bad
so I returned within 5 minutes of purchase (I drove the car since it was daylight and
tested it in the parking lot).
This switch was made by Wells. I'm not sure when AutoZone switched from Standard brand
(which is what I have in both Ramblers and both have performed flawlessly since day one)
to Wells, but Wells obviously has some serious quality control problems. Don't take this
as bad-mouthing AutoZone because it really isn't, but I was very surprised that I got two
very bad switches from the same place.
So with my dash still torn apart, I headed for the local Smyth (they're part a Parts
Plus store) which is the store I go to when the part absolutly has to be perfect the first
time. Smyth sells Echlin brand headlight switches (same brand as Napa) and I've had very
good luck with Echlin products in the past. I again did the test in the parking lot and
everything seemed to be working well so I headed home and put the dash back together (this
was sometime in the late August/early September timeframe) and all was well with it until
a few days after Christmas when I decided to drive the car to dinner since it was still
warm from the driving I'd done earlier that day.
When I pulled on the lights, the headlights didn't come one at all. Staring in
disbelief, I tried them again and still nothing. The next day, I tried them again and they
came on. Since it was to cold to mess with them (and the switch was again out of
warranty), I just let them be. A few days later I ended up almost having to leave the car
at my grandpa's house because the lights wouldn't come on (I really intended to leave
before it got dark but you know how that goes). I opened the car door to shut it off (I
was going under the theory that this was tempurature related and I had the car running to
warm up the interior) and the lights came on. I took that as a good sign and drove home
before they decided to quit working. Since then, I've checked them several times and
somethimes they work, sometimes they don't.
So this Monday (Feburary 4, 2002), I took the dash apart. I found a few wires that were
not pushed into the connector all the way. I pushed them in and tested the lights and they
of course came on. Tuesday, I was planning on driving the car to work. It was dark when I
was leaving so of course, the headlights didn't work. That night, I came home, got out the
service manual and my multi-meter and started checking the switch. I found that by moving
it into certain positions, I could get the lights to blink on and off. Thinking I had more
loose wires somewhere, I spent the next hour fiddling with it with no improvement. I
finally gave up and pulled the switch from the car.
After dinner, I took it apart to see what was going on inside. The problem with the
switch was the circuit breaker wasn't properly assembled. I messed with it trying to get
it to work properly but gave up on that after I broke the body putting the cover back on.
Today (Thursday), I left work a little early and picked up a switch from another auto
parts store. This one is made by Borg Warner. It weighs more than either of the other ones
I've bought so it has to be better, right? I installed this switch soon after I got it and
so far, so good. Hopefully, this will be the last time I replace it. I guess I'll find out
in another 91 days.
01/03/04 11:25:16 AM