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2021-10-27 07:00 by Karl Denninger
in Consumer , 633 references
[Comments enabled]  

Ok folks, this one is for, well, everyone who often parks outside.

Basically all newer vehicles have plastic lenses on their headlights.  There is good and bad to that; the old "sealed beams" were glass, which meant a thrown rock could break them (and often did.)  Plastic is a lot more resistant to that, and offers (for those without LED lamps) replaceable bulbs.

But -- plastic is subject to severe UV damage.  So is your paint, but that's a different story.

So you see all manner of cars running around with headlights that look more like reverse lamps; you can't see the bulb when they're off, and when they're on they don't throw light worth crap since they have a nasty diffuser in front of them.  In states with mechanical inspections these will fail you, and in ones without they might cause you to get into an accident at night because you can't see a damned thing.

There are myriad products out there sold to remedy this.  Some even claim to be able to prevent (or slow) it happening again.  On that latter claim: Bull****.  It will happen again for the same reason it happened the first time -- it's that big orange ball and the UV it emits and manages to get down here to the surface.

So why not just go to the auto parts store (or aisle at Wally or wherever) and buy one of those, and use it, or pay some place to do it for you?

Because they're ripping you off, that's why.

Let me introduce you to a set of products that I have kept around as a pinball collector for a long time to take care of scratches and discoloration of the plastic parts on pinball machines -- Novus.  Their "7100" plastic polish kit is what you want and it costs about $20 for the 8oz (per bottle) size.  Ignore the cloths that are in the package and go buy a pack of heavy terry-cloth shop rags; $10 or less pretty-much anywhere, typically for 10 or 20 washcloth-sized cotton ones with a nice, heavy and coarse weave.  If you have an old washcloth you don't care about that'll work too.  Don't get fancy with the cloths; "microfiber" and similar will actually do a worse job.

The Novus package has #1-3 in it.  #1 is a cleaner and comes in a spray bottle.  Ignore it for this purpose.  It has a purpose, incidentally -- the interior clear plastic over your instrument cluster, and there you DO use a microfiber cloth and a very, very light touch.  That acrylic scratches very easily and when the sun hits it at the right angle after that happens you'll see it and its very, very hard to completely get rid of that too.  But I digress.....

If your headlights can easily be removed do so; this stuff will destroy paint (the clearcoat) very rapidly if you accidentally polish the paint with it.  On many GM trucks its either two bolts or, in the case of many Suburbans, two "pins" that require no tools.  Unplug the actual light bulb wires and remove the housing.  Now you can't screw your paint job.  If it's hard to get the housings out (in many cases you have to remove a bumper cover or similar to get to the bolts) then use blue painter's masking tape to make sure you don't screw up.

Put a dollop of #3 ("heavy scratch remover") on a corner of the towel.  You want a small area here, not a large one.  Using finger pressure concentrated in that small area where you applied the compound firmly polish in a circle.  Not lightly -- firmly.  Add more compound as necessary and do the entire headlamp.  Then wipe it off with a clean section of the towel.  You'll have wildly-noticeable improvement.

Now use #2 and do the same thing.

Even badly sun-damaged headlights will be restored to nearly new visibility this way and it only takes about 10-15 minutes a headlamp.  The best part of it is that there's enough in those bottles to do a crap-ton of cars -- or yours, a bunch more times.  $20 is roughly one or two of the kits from various vendors depending on who you buy them from and trust me when I tell you that in nearly all cases they don't do nearly this good of a job.  Beware the kits that include ultra-fine-grit sponges in them; while you can use those for wet sanding as the first step it's pretty-easy to screw things up if you're not used to that sort of process.

Warning: Do not use a power buffer or any sort of buffing tool in a drill for this unless you have a lot of practice with using one on plastics.  It is very, very easy to overheat the plastic with the use of power tools and if you do you'll severely damage or destroy the front lens, forcing the purchase of a replacement.  Yes, it's faster but has a LOT of risk unless you do this sort of thing all the time, and if the headlamps are in the car it's a lot easier to wind up damaging your paint by skipping off the lens of the headlamp too.   It's nearly impossible to overdo it and trash the lens with your fingers.  Use your fingers and remember -- firm pressure and small circular motion -- it does not take long at all when done by hand.

Now you can see at night and, if in an inspection state, you'll pass -- and when the lenses inevitably get a bit cloudy again you can repeat the process and, since its easy and you already have the polish you'll be motivated to do it at the first visible sign of deterioration.  The cloth you used can be laundered if you'd like; the polish will come out in the washer and thus you can re-use it.

Give the bird to the rip-off artists who love to sell "our special snake oil."

You're welcome.

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Here comes (much) higher auto insurance rates... and this should result in heavy consumer-protection related prosecuting aimed at carmakers -- but it won't.

If you own a new car, there's a good chance that it features some form of keyless security. Whether it helps unlock your car or lets you start it with the push of a button, it makes driving all that bit easier. That's unless it's the reason your car gets stolen. Police forces all over the UK are reporting a rise in keyless car thefts, but a new report released by the Metropolitan Police today suggests that it now accounts for over a quarter of all vehicle thefts across London.

How are they getting in the door?

The claim is that they're breaking in physically and then accessing the ECU via the OBD port, allowing cloning of the key.  I'm not sure I'm buying that, although with some vehicles it is probably possible.

Specifically, it is known that certain older VWAG vehicles can have their cluster broken into via a piece of software that is available from various places in China.  This results in returning the "secret key" necessary to program new keys into the cluster, and then Bob's Your Uncle.

I think it's reasonable to assume that our "friends" with "most-favored nation" status over in China have this software for other makes as well.  In fact, I'd bet on it.

But the simplest way to steal a car with so-called "advanced keys", that is those that you don't have to press a button on a fob to unlock the doors and which has keyless start, is as trivial a paired set of radios and a confederate that gets close enough to you (5' or so) to be able to excite your key in your pocket while his "buddy" stands outside your car's door and pulls the handle.  The car thinks the key is next to it and the key thinks the car is next to it; they transmit their coded handshake and voila!

Next said thief sits in the car and hits START.  Same thing -- the key talks to the car, the car starts.  So long as you don't turn it off you can drive it.

The ugly part of this is that the frequencies aren't secret -- nor can they be, since the fobs and the cars are both intentional transmitters and thus have to operate on specific authorized frequencies.  The coding can be secret but that doesn't matter since you don't need to break the code -- just make the key think it's next to the car and vice-versa.

I'll lay odds this is how they're being stolen and it's why when I bought mine I was ok with keyless start but not with a fob that didn't require a press of the button to unlock the doors.

If you have to bust the glass to get in, or use an airbag or other conspicuous tool, it gets a lot harder and greatly increases the amount of time that the confederate has to be near me while the other guy works my car over before he can start it and drive off.

This is what your "convenience" has gotten you folks -- a car that is trivial to rip off for anyone with a modicum of technical ability.

Oops.

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