Jesus Didn’t Take The Wheel

So one of the last remaining problems that Gypsy’d been having was with the electrical systems regarding her lights. If I turned on the headlights, the brake lights came on and the cruise control kicked off (because the brake lights came on). If I stepped on the brake, even if the ignition was off and the key removed, the parking lights came on, the instrument cluster lit up, and the door agar warning sounded if the door was open.

The first thing recommended whenever there are issues with lights like that is to replace the brake light switch down by the brake pedal. It’s a $15/15 minute repair, and the brake light switch on that model of Passat is notorious for going bad and causing all sorts of issues with the lighting systems. So I did that, and it was something I could (uncomfortably) do myself. It solved exactly zero issues.

That model of Passat also has most of that wiring run through the headlight switch. $25 part, 30 second repair. I ordered the part from Amazon and had it meet me at Beverly’s last week. That also solved nothing, but the headlight switch lights up now, which it didn’t before (I didn’t even know it was supposed to), and honestly, it was feeling a little “grindy” inside whenever I turned the lights on or off anyway. Also on the upside, during my investigations of the switch, I discovered Gypsy actually has fog lights, which I didn’t know before. (They use the regular headlights, so it wasn’t obvious, and there wasn’t any indication on the switch of such a thing – I have to pull the switch for them to come on.)

My son James is a mechanic, and he was scratching his head as well when he checked her out for me again after I left Beverly’s. We were determined to figure this out, but it was beginning to look very not good.

The next thing to try was the turn signal/high beam/cruise control lever, because most of that wiring goes through that switch, too. Now, that was a $40 part from Amazon, but in order to get it before I was due to return to DC, I’d either have to pay $180 to a dealer, or maybe find a used one in a junkyard or something. It turned out even the dealer couldn’t get it for several days. We tried a VW junkyard/repair place in Jacksonville, and the fellas there got the part and got it overnighted. $96.25, including shipping. Fine. I just needed my lights straightened out. 

James’ stepdad, Mike, is also a mechanic, and he offered to show James how to do it. In some cars, it’s pretty easy; remove the steering column trim, unbolt and unplug the old lever, put the new one on. But in some cars, like Gypsy, the steering wheel itself has to be removed, and the airbag has to be removed to remove the steering wheel. If you set one of those off, besides a face full of pain, a new airbag can run like $600. So we needed his expertise, and he was immensely kind to give it. Mike’s pretty awesome, as it happens. 

It took about 45 minutes and a special tool that Mike had in his box, but it was fairly straightforward, from what I could tell. With the brand-new turn signal lever installed (the old one was feeling kind of “grindy” inside as well, anyway, and was also likely to fail at some point), we were hopeful.

We were also disappointed.

The switch solved none of the problems Gypsy was having.

No one, not even a car mechanic, enjoys tracing down an electrical fault in a car. It’s a pain in the ass in every possible way. But without anymore switches to replace, it had to happen. Mike pulled out the electrical schematic and the two of them worked together to trace the problem one leg of the wiring at a time. 

Want to know what it was? You’re going to spit nails, if you’ve been following this saga. I did. I think James still is. 

One of the brake lights had the wrong bulb in it.


That’s it. 

All this pain and suffering and money and agony was over the left rear brake light bulb. Gypsy’s right as rain.

I think it’s pretty funny, now.