A little bit of moisture can lead to a big price tag

Dear Car Talk:

Is there a simple, easy way to remove considerable moisture from the headlight assembly of my 2014 Nissan Titan?

— Jim

Yes. Replace the headlight assembly.

There are two things that happen that allow moisture into the “sealed” headlight unit.

One is that the seal between the clear lens and the body of the headlight starts to break down. The second way moisture gets in is that tiny cracks develop in the plastic lens itself over time. And in either case, when you’re driving at 70 mph in the rain, a small amount of water gets forced inside the headlight unit.

Imagine your house when it’s hit by a hurricane with 70 mph winds and rain. If there’s a leak anywhere in your house, that water’s going to find its way in, right?

So, water’s getting into your headlight assembly. It’s probably not much water. But it doesn’t take much. Because the headlight assembly is sealed, when the bulb heats it up, the moisture turns into water vapor. Then, when the headlight cools back down, the vapor condenses on the inside of the lens. That’s what you’re seeing, Jim. Or, why you’re not seeing as well at night anymore.

So, you need a new headlight fixture. And you’re not going to like the price. Modern headlight fixtures — even if they’re just halogen bulb fixtures like yours is — can cost $600 or $700 and up. We always have the smelling salts ready when we break this news to our customers.

The more popular cars have aftermarket options, which are hundreds of dollars less. So definitely ask your mechanic to check for aftermarket headlights for your Titan. I’ll bet there are some.

If you get really desperate, you can also buy a used one. Maybe it’ll have a little less moisture in it than yours.

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2015 Mazda 3 sedan with 43,400 miles. I took the car to the dealer for a routine oil change and tire rotation and was told I needed three things:

“Steering and steering linkage —lower control arm bushings deteriorated.

“Rear shocks leaking — recommend shocks.

“Alignment recommended — recommend with lower control arms.”

The quote for this extra work was about $2,300. So, I want to know, Ray, does this sound legit or am I getting upsold?

— Linda

It’s important to have a mechanic you trust, Linda. And you don’t appear to trust these guys.

If you truly need all that stuff done, the price is in the right ballpark. But I don’t know if you need it. And more importantly, you don’t feel confident that you need it.

So, my suggestion is to use this as an opportunity to find a mechanic you can really put your trust in. Start by asking friends and family or use your social networks to ask if anyone has a mechanic in your area that they really love. Some people do.

If you don’t turn up a good lead that way, go to www.mechanicsfiles.com and search for mechanics with multiple, good recommendations. Then take your car to the new shop and ask them to check it out stem to stern for you. Tell them you’d like to know about anything that needs to be done right away, as well as things that may need attention at a later date.

See if they say you need lower control arm bushings and shocks. Honestly, to me, it sounds pretty early to need those things. But without seeing the car, I can’t say for sure.

But another mechanic can. If your second-opinion mechanic says the same thing as the dealer, then you know you can trust your dealer. That’s valuable information, right?

And if the second mechanic says the shocks should be good for another 40,000 miles and the control arm bushings look fine, that’d be important information to have, too.

Either way, you’ll feel more confident and trusting going forward. And at least you won’t have to write to some knucklehead newspaper columnist every time you get a repair estimate.