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Still Afraid of the Dark
Cameron Lovre

Since we get a pretty good number of questions about improving old Volvos without spending a lot of money, VClassics World Headquarters has elected to run an on again/off again series on small, cheap tasks that will enhance these aging lovelies.

This, we think, should work well with our (my) tradition of on again/off again articles and series in general. The spirit seems fitting if nothing else.

Summer and our (very short) fall have come and gone here in the Pacific Northwest and what we call "winter" is now in full swing. This means two things; first, it's cold. Not like Polar North cold; but for those of us acclimatized to moss growing inside our homes (this is true) and rain more than 300 days a year (also true), temp ranges in the mid-30s are enough to make everyone stay indoors. Besides, it's hard to have fun outside when it's dark from 4 p.m. 'til 8 a.m.

One project I try to do once a year has nothing to do with making the Volvo actually run any better, but does help in the safety department, is to clean and rejuvenate the front turn signals. You will need:

  • soapy water
  • a cloth
  • masking tape
  • a Scotch-brite pad or some fine fine fine sandpaper
  • a soft, long bristled brush (like a paintbrush, but a clean one)
  • a Phillips head screwdriver
  • a couple hours
  • hot cocoa
You might also want a can of "chrome" or "bright aluminum" spray paint.

The front marker lights and turn signals are encased in a fairly soft rubber tub that's supposed to keep water and dirt outside and thus protect the bulbs and contacts inside. It's old. It's probably not doing all of what it's designed to do. And since it's right in front of the front wheel, it gets power-washed with debris and crud that gets inside and doesn't help signals be seen.

Let's get started:

First, remove the chrome frames and lenses with the screwdriver, and drop all of these pieces into the soapy water. Remove the bulbs and clean off the glass (I like water, then drying, then alcohol, then air drying). Once the bulbs are dry, lightly scuff the electrical contacts on their bases.

Inside the rubber tubs are the odd bracket/socket assemblies. These sockets have chrome reflectors and they ought to clean up pretty well. But if your chrome is pitted or rusted away, mark the locations of the 3 attached wires and remove the bulb holder from the car. Scoop out any dirt or debris that's inside the rubber tub and wipe it out with some soapy water.

Mask off the electrical contacts on the bulb holders, scuff the exposed areas (the parts that are supposed to be shiny) and spray the chrome paint onto them. This will help to make the signals brighter. Not blinding, but every little bit helps.

While the paint is drying (this takes longer than we think it ought to), finish washing up the lenses and chrome frames. Treat them like they're fragile (they are) and can't be replaced (they can, but not cheaply). Set them aside to dry and return to the reflectors. If they aren't dry either, have some cocoa.

Once the paint is dry, remove the masking tape, rewire and reinstall the bulb holders. They're kind of a trick to get in place, but should fit nicely between the rubber tabs on the tubs. Reinstall the bulbs and finally the lenses and frames. Be careful when tightening the frames and lenses: they're easily cracked. I prefer to go to the point of "that seems almost tight enough" instead of "dammit I broke another one." Easy line to cross.

In times past that this autumn ritual has gone neglected, I've actually managed to get sprouts of some kind (alfafa? grass?) growing inside my front turn signals. While this is kind of cool, it really doesn't help anyone outside the car see what my intentions might be. Anything we can do to improve our odds is worth doing -- especially when it's cheap. Given that our turn signals and brake lights are notably smaller than those on newer cars, it's in our best interest to not cut corners when it comes to doing things that can help other drivers avoid running into our beloved Swedes.

Drive smart.

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