Dear Tom and Ray: I have a 2000 Subaru Outback wagon. Recently, the passenger-side daytime running light and low-beam headlight stopped working. When I got out of my car to check that the headlight was out, I happened to bump the front of the headlight casing and – lo and behold! – the headlight came back on. I opened the hood and tried to see if any wires were loose, but it did not appear so, and tugging on the wires does not cause the light to go on or off. So now, whenever I start the car and the headlight isn’t working, I simply get out and give the front of the headlight casing a bump – Fonzie-style – and that usually does the trick (sometimes it takes two or three whacks for it to stay on). What could be causing this, and how can I fix it? – Steve

Tom: You can fix it with a new headlight bulb, Steve.

Ray: I’m guessing the filament is cracked and is separating slightly when the bulb cools off. And somehow, when you pound on the headlight casing with your fist, you’re getting the two parts of the filament to make contact again.

Tom: But eventually – probably by the time you read this, Steve – the bulb will fail permanently, and the Fonzie trick will only result in a large black-and-blue mark on your hand. Hint: The time to stop banging on it and give up is when you’re putting dents in the hood.

Ray: Here’s the good news, Steve: A bulb for this car costs less than 10 bucks. And you easily can change it yourself.

Tom: So, pound away as long as you want. But sometime before you actually break your hand, I’d recommend just replacing the bulb instead.


Dear Tom and Ray: I am a prosecutor in Florida, and I’ve been stumped by a very interesting issue that’s arisen in a case of mine. A team of burglars broke into an elderly woman’s house using a distraction scheme. The accomplice rang the woman’s doorbell and told her that the dome light in her 2002 Buick LeSabre was on. She went out to her car and saw that, in fact, the dome light was on. She unlocked her car door (the car does not have keyless entry, and she says she always keeps the car doors locked) and was unable to shut off the light. The accomplice offered to help and did manage to turn off the light. While this was going on, the burglar was inside ransacking the home. The victim insists that she did not leave her dome lights on accidentally. Assuming that the victim is correct that her car was locked and that she did not accidentally leave the lights on, how did the burglar and his accomplice manage to turn on the lights? If this case goes to trial, I would really love to explain this to the jury. Any help would be appreciated, thanks! – Kat

Tom: Well, I don’t know exactly what they did, but we have to assume that if they’re willing to fool an old lady and ransack her home, they’re probably not opposed to using a $10 Slim Jim to jimmy open a locked car door.

Ray: It’s quite easy to do, especially on older cars.

Tom: Then, once they’re in, they can turn on the dome light using the headlight switch, relock the door and close it again. And voila, they have their pretext.

Ray: What I don’t know is how they made it difficult for her to turn off the dome light. There’s no very quick, easy way to do that. It’s possible that the lady simply wasn’t familiar with the dome light switch and knew only that the dome light comes on when the doors are opened. Perhaps they just took advantage of her lack of knowledge.

Tom: Or perhaps they tinkered with, or removed, one of the switches in the doorjamb that tell the dome light that the door is closed. That’s the kind of thing that can be done and undone in a matter of minutes if they were willing to risk a procedure that took that long.

Ray: You’ll have to get more information from the victim and find out how she tried to turn off the dome light, and what finally worked. If you write back to us with more info, we’ll try to help you piece it together.

Tom: Then my brother will come down and testify against them.

Ray: Yeah. In exchange for half of the loot. Good luck, Kat. Hope you put ’em away.

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