Headlight burns out, $900 repair bill

In the old days, if a light bulb went out on your car, you went to an auto parts store.

And for a couple of dollars you were on your way again, with a new light bulb.

But in many of today's high-tech cars, a headlight problem can cost hundreds of dollars to fix, as one woman learned.

Small Car, Expensive Problem

Valerie Boehne loves her 2007 Dodge Caliber. It's small, sporty and cute. But there's one little problem. Actually, it's a big problem: her headlights keep failing.

"I went to buy a bulb, hoping that was the problem," Boehne said. "And it wasn't!"

Frustrated, Boehne and her husband went online to several car forums, including Edmunds.com, and couldn't believe what they found:  dozens of complaints about headlight failures in Dodge Calibers, in particular the 2007 models.

Boehne said "we found in different blogs and websites a lot of people complaining that the left headlight being a common issue, and its ultimately because of their TIPM box.  It has faults in it and it makes your left headlight not work."

According to mechanics, the caliber --and many other Dodges -- use a power module called a TIPM instead of a traditional fuse box to control the headlights.

TIPM problems appear to trigger Caliber headlight failure, several mechanics tell us. And replacement of the unit is not cheap.

Boehne says one dealer wanted more than $900 to replace her car's TIPM. Luckily, she found another dealer who was able to find a workaround for much less.

"The dealership was able to reset the computer in the car to remove the fault and the headlight did come on," Boehne said. "But they said if it goes out again they will have to replace the module."

No Free Repair

We contacted Chrysler, but the automaker says at this point there is no recall or free repair if your car is off warranty.

So if this happens to you, get a second opinion before spending big bucks.

Boehne would like to see a recall on 2007 Caliber's, saying no one should have to spend almost a grand just to fix a bad headlight.

"It's the thousand dollar headlight," she said.

No Recall Required

Chrysler is not obligated to recall these headlights, as recalls are issued only for safety problems.

At this point the government's NHTSA does not consider this to be enough of a safety problem to warrant one.

My advice:  Get a second opinion if you are hit with a big repair estimate. There may be a simpler, cheaper fix, so you don't waste your money.

Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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