I Kept My Car Nice And Legal With A Super Crappy Fix Involving Tupperware

Illustration for article titled I Kept My Car Nice And Legal With A Super Crappy Fix Involving Tupperware
Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

Some of you may remember the 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan with the known Achilles’ Heel that I bought for my wife that then dramatically and forcefully bit me on the ass. Well, that car got its ass a little bitten itself recently, and I made such a janky-ass, ridiculous repair on it I figured I should probably share it with all of you, my internet-friends who will make fun of me. Because I probably deserve it.

The car is actually running great, and my wife has been driving it all over, which puts it in the real world, so full of entropy and peril. A bit of that entropy and peril manifested itself in the form of what I believe was a tow-ball hitch, which was pushed into the back of the car by some unknown truck.

I’m pretty certain it was a tow ball that made the impact because the dent in the lower lip of the tailgate was, well, ball-shaped, and was about the height that a modern, big-ass pickup truck would have a tow hitch mounted.

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Tow balls, being small, steel balls, can impart a lot of force in a pretty small area, so while this impact was likely extremely low-speed, just someone backing out of a parking spot or something, it still makes a pretty good dent.

I just wanted to show that I took the Changli to the auto parts store for the one purchase I made for this, buying the bulb.
I just wanted to show that I took the Changli to the auto parts store for the one purchase I made for this, buying the bulb.
Photo: Jason Torchinsky

Maybe at some point, I’ll really get it fixed, but at the moment we noticed it, I just wanted to make it somewhat less bad for cheap. It’ll likely be under the deductible cost on our insurance, so maybe I’ll just wait for the next truck to back into it to make it worth it.

Anyway, the tow ball made a nice big dent in the lower lip of the tailgate, which also happens to house a good bit of hardware, specifically the license plate lights, electric latch button, and rear-view camera.

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Luckily, the ball missed the camera and latch, the more complex components jammed up in there, and just broke the plastic bezel-unit that all that stuff mounts to, and one of the license plate lights was just gone.

Since you need license plate lights to be legal, I figured I better get that fixed.

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Now, a new license plate lamp unit for this car isn’t really expensive — about $12 — but I couldn’t find a local place that had any, and I just wanted to take care of it right now, because I’m an impatient fool, and that’s where the Tupperware comes in.

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I started the repair by rubber-malleting/bending the sheet metal as close to the original shape as I could. I couldn’t get much access behind the dented panel, but I got it roughly back in shape. There’s still a dent there, but it’s not nearly as deformed as it was.

Then, after bending back the mounting sheet metal under the tailgate, I was able to get the license plate light mounting hole back in the right place and was able to see roughly what size the replacement light needed to be.

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I found a lidless, unwanted clear Tupperware bowl, and cut out a new lens for my ersatz license plate light, leaving a pair of long “mounting ears” on either side.

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Photo: Jason Torchinsky
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Then, because I’m terribly clever, I made a super-shitty border/housing of dense rubber matting to absorb vibrations and provide some degree of moisture control. I made a pair of lamp terminals out of some metal straps I had laying around, complete with holes for each end of the festoon-type bulb’s twin little conical terminals.


Let’s take a little break here and explore why those fuse-like bulbs are called festoon bulbs! It’s a weird name for a bulb, isn’t it? I was wondering about that, too, and here’s what I think the origin of the name is:

The word ‘festoon’ comes from the Latin festo, and that from festum, the Latin word for ‘feast.’ It refers to a garland, a festive (that word is probably from the same root, too) chain of plants and flowers and other stuff woven into a rope-like ornament that is artfully draped on something, usually in a lazy parabola.

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Stringing bulbs on wires and hanging them in a similar fashion can also be called “festoon lighting” and the design of festoon bulbs, with a terminal at each end, make them ideally suited for applications like that, as they could be joined, chain-like, end-to-end:

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Illustration: Jason Torchinsky/Free PNG/Microscope.com
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So, it seems that’s why they’re called “festoon” bulbs.


Then, I soldered on some wires to shove into the old connector (which I already determined still gave 12V with a voltmeter) and boom, I had a gloriously quarter-ass version of a license plate light unit, all made for zero dollars, plus the cost of the bulb.

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Photo: Jason Torchinsky

After connecting the loose wires into the connector, I installed the unit into the housing using an advanced material that’s housed on a roll of adhesive-impregnated material I call “gaffer tape” that’s really only reserved for the finest repairs like this, and should have a lifetime measurable in months, at least.

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Photo: Jason Torchinsky

As you can see up there, I managed to get the tailgate roughly back in the right shape, and the handcrafted, bespoke license plate light mounted in there. Now I just needed to stress-test it by driving it around over a bunch of speed bumps and slamming and opening the tailgate a lot. And look!

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Photo: Jason Torchinsky

Victory! The light still works! Look how lavishly illuminated that license plate is! It’s like a convenience store glowing off the side of a dark state road. Majestic!

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All of this half-assed repair absurdity makes me realize something: English is lacking a good word for the feeling one gets when one does such a repair. It’s a strange feeling, an unusual mash-up of pride and shame, something you want to tell people about but then, as you start, you realize how ridiculous it all is. But you don’t exactly regret it, either.

The repair that inspires this feeling needs to have some key elements: it should cost almost nothing, re-purpose other materials, ideally unrelated to whatever it is your fixing, have an element of cleverness in it, but ultimately be sort of janky and absurd, but still works, at least for a while.

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I feel like these sorts of fixes have names — the Indian concept of jugaad comes to mind — but I want a word for the feeling that comes from a successful application of something like this, the feeling that both made me want to write this stupid fix up in the first place and then second-guess myself as I wrote it.

Maybe shroud, a portmanteau of shame/proud? Or how about hemiglute, a fancy way of saying “half-assed?” Let’s test:

“I fixed my Tiguan’s license plate light, and I’m pretty shroud of it.”

“I fixed my Tiguan’s license plate light, and I’m pretty hemiglute of it.”

Hm. I’m not sure. Maybe one of you clever people can come up with something better? If so, I’m sure it’ll make your momma shroud.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

but I want a word for the feeling that comes from a successful application of something like this

Moddenfreude - happiness derived from a successful modification or repair, especially if janky and/or hemiglute