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Fall's column: Lights, camera, action!

2014-07-01 10:00

LIGHT ON EACH CORNER: Two working headlights and a pair of taillights are the minimum requirement by law for a street legal vehicle.Image: DAVE FALL


FALSE BAY, Cape Town – I’ve recently relocated to a corner of the Western Cape that’s as picturesque as anything found alongside the Mediterranean, Florida Keys or the Great Barrier Reef - the ultra-scenic Baden-Powell Drive a case in point.

Yet at night it’s a very dangerous road to travel along because it’s badly lit, with many drivers doing themselves no favours with faulty head- and tail lights.

There’s little doubt the modern car is an amazing piece of machinery. We are brought up to accept the fact that we can’t manage without them and that’s largely true.


As with all things mechanical (and electrical) they do occasionally pack up and can leave the do-it-yourself enthusiast quite frustrated when the apparent task of changing a globe becomes a three-hour nightmare.

In 2014, is it perhaps a task best left to the staff at your local garage? You decide.

Before cars came along we had horse-drawn carriages. On the posher models one would have found gas lamps powered up by Colza oil – or something similar – for those occasional night time excursions.

About 100 years ago acetylene lamps were considered “state of the art.” Powering them up was quite simple: dripping water was directed on to a lump of calcium carbide and a simple gas occasioned that when lit produced a good, steady white light. Perfect for the speeds that those early cars could manage, methinks.

Wars usually have a habit of motivating people’s minds to achieve great things in their hour of need, with military/commercial lighting kits soon being made available (once hostilities had finished) for civilians via a four-volt, 50-amp accumulator (battery) direct-lighting system.

Factor in the revolutionary dynamo that was now a regular feature of an automobile engine for charging the battery, and the motorist could now safely – but surely – travel at night – if he so wished.


Between the Kaiser War and the Hitler debacle a headlight dipping system had been thought up to prevent dazzling on-coming drivers – usually found in the form of a push-pull vacuum pump or a solenoid that would activate the split reflector inside the nearside headlamp shell.

Around the same time the 175mm headlight fitted to most cars and motorcycles became rather fashionable (and still is) . . . and then our troubles started. Car wiring harnesses soon became more complex and complicated and would often feed an optional pair of spotlights up front, or maybe a large, central driving lamp.

To change a broken globe all one had to do was remove the outer rim, carefully part the rubber seal and the numerous spring clips and then you could detach the offending, burnt-out globe.

The point I’m trying to make here is it could be done by just about anyone, with the minimum amount of cursing and broken fingernails. Today, sadly, one needs to think twice before attempting the simple task.


A motoring colleague recently remarked: “You need the grip of a vice, the patience of a saint and abilities of a gynaecologist” – as he attempted to change the insignificant flasher globe attached to the wing of his ultra-modern, imported, French automobile.

He, like me, is totally convinced car plants across the globe (excuse the pun) either employ people on the production line with very small hands with a much depleted total of digits, or maybe they are simply double-jointed. More likely they are ex-Cirque du Solaire circus performers who are adept at fitting themselves inside suitcases or small boxes and then closing the lid.

Seriously, the next time you see a car coming towards you with a faulty headlight, or following one with it’s tail light extinguished, have a certain amount of sympathy for the owner instead. Apart from the exorbitant labour cost that garages seem capable of charging these days to fix the problem, that replacement globe cost could well be the bigger part of the final bill.

Amazing, but it’s true!

Read more on:    dave fall  |  cape town  |  columnist  |  technology

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