Q: I own a 2009 VW Rabbit with 116,000 miles. The headliner started to detach. The cost of the repair at the dealership was astronomical. They recommended I take it to a specialty shop. They did an excellent job for a very reasonable price.
Here's my issue: They told me this is a common problem in some cars, including expensive ones such as Toyota and Acura, and that the time for the headliner detachment was variable. I have owned several Hondas in the past that never had the problem. Is the reason poor design? Poor quality of the materials? The hot/cold extremes in the weather?
A: Just to bring everyone up to speed, you're talking about the fabric that lines the roof of your car. That fabric is glued onto a foam substrate, and sometimes, that glue fails. I think the specialty shop is right. It can happen on pretty much any car. The common denominator is that the car — and therefore the glue — is getting old. Really hot and/or cold weather doesn't directly cause the problem, but it's not doing the glue any favors.
The reason the quote you got at the dealership was so high is because they won't just reglue the existing fabric. They'll replace the whole headliner, including the foam backing and frame. Not only are the parts expensive, but in order to get the old one out and the new one in, they often have to remove the front or rear windshield.
My guess is that the specialty shop just sprayed some new glue on the back of the headliner and reattached it to the foam backing. We'll hope the repair lasts. But if the headliner starts to sag again, I'd suggest you take a ride to the Abe Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill. Go to the museum store, buy four stovepipe hats and have everyone wear one when they're riding with you. That won't stop the headliner from sagging, but at least it will hold it up out of the way.
Front brake lights?
Q: Why don't cars come with brake lights on the front as well as the back? It seems like that could prevent a lot of accidents at four-way stops and crosswalks.
A: That's an interesting idea. Just not a practical one.
Yes, it would let cars that are approaching you and pedestrians in crosswalks know that you have stopped for them. But it likely would cause other confusion. For one thing, if cars had brake lights in the front, at night you wouldn't know if a car was coming or going. But that leads to the second potential drawback: information overload.
Drivers already are processing a lot of information when they drive — assuming they're paying attention. But at least the light signals from other cars are pretty straightforward. You've got headlights, which means the car is coming at you, taillights, which means the car is traveling in the same direction you are, brake lights for stopping, backup lights for when a car is in reverse, and turn signals. Getting everyone acclimated to reading another signal could take years.
Besides, technology is on the brink of solving this problem. There are now safety systems that detect pedestrians and stop the car if the driver doesn't. And systems that stop the car if you pull out from a four-way stop and are heading toward another vehicle. In the not-too-distant future, cars will communicate directly with each other, letting a nearby car know its proximity, direction and speed.
Now, if they'd just design a system that would transmit an obscene gesture from your computer to other drivers' computers after they cut you off, life would be grand.
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