No easy fix

FLINT – In the winter of 2009, General Motors received billions in federal bailout money.

In the summer of 2009, I bought a Chevy Malibu.

I did so mostly because I needed a new car, and the Malibu was highly-rated.

But I also bought it because if GM and Chrysler folded, so would Michigan, and I’ve lived here my whole life. I wanted to do my part.

The Malibu turned out to be a pretty good decision. GM survived – I’m pretty sure that one extra sale was responsible – and the Malibu has been a good car. It’s reliable, sporty, gets decent mileage, has lots of room, and the trunk is large enough to hold a small village.

I like it.

I like it a little less, however, since last week. Last week I had it into a dealership repair shop for some brake work.

“Hey,” said the check-in tech as he gave the car the once over. “Your headlight’s out. You want that fixed.”

“No,” I said.

Replacing a headlight is no big deal, even for a car know-nothing like me. All you do is pop the hood, open the headlight assembly, put in a new lamp and you’re done. Why pay the repairman 50 bucks to do something that easy?

“Nah, I’ll do it myself,” I said, trying to sound as if I was a car repair ace. “Piece of cake.”

“Uh, not really,” said the tech. “To get at the headlights in a Malibu you have to take the bumper off.”

I thought he was kidding me, which is why I cleverly said, “You’re kidding?”

Apparently he wasn’t. The bill for removing the bumper and installing two headlights (mama didn’t raise no dummy – I had them do both at the same time) came to about a hundred and ninety. As in dollars.

That’s not a misprint.

“This is ridiculous,” I said to a manager.

“Here,” he said, handing me a business card with a phone number written on it. “Call them and tell them. We think it’s ridiculous, too.”

The number was apparently for a GM complaint line. I didn’t call. I’d have only ended up yelling at some poor schlub who had nothing to do with designing and selling a car with headlights that cost $190 to replace.

And in the end I’d still be out $190 and I’d still be angry and disappointed at GM for doing something so incredibly thoughtless to the 161,568 Americans who bought 2009 Malibus. Think of the cost of replacing all those headlights. (Here’s the math: 161,568 x $190 = $30,697,920.)

I still love my Malibu. And honestly, I’d buy one again.

But if I did, knowing what I know now, I’d ask the sales guy a few questions, including: “So if the wiper blades need replacing, does the transmission have to come out first?”

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.