At night, the thin band of bright red LEDs on the rear of the 2015 Dodge Durango stares back at the drivers behind like an evil-looking menace in a space helmet.
It’s one of the most unique lighting signatures on the road today.
Just don’t hit it.
There is a downside to rapidly advancing automotive technology: Break something, and you’ll pay an eye-popping amount to get it fixed.
We all know about showroom sticker shock. Average transaction prices for light vehicles in the United States hit a record in January, according to Kelly Blue Book, before falling slightly to $33,299 last month, up from about $28,000 in 2010. And nearly a third of new loans are now 74 months or longer, NPR reported last week.
But there is another side of the affordability problem you don’t hear much about: hefty repair costs for even minor accidents.
At least two factors are driving up the cost to fix vehicles: electronics, and the way cars are built today.
Automakers save money on engineering, purchasing and manufacturing by replacing individual parts with complete, nonserviceable assemblies. This also helps raise vehicle quality because there are fewer parts that can be installed wrong on the assembly line.
Because of these two factors, the cost to repair what used to be inexpensive common items -- headlights, taillights, bumpers/fascias -- has ballooned into the stratosphere.
If you back into a fencepost with a 2000 Cadillac Escalade and break the taillight lens, you can visit the Cadillac dealer and replace it for $56.08. If the whole taillight assembly is broken, GM will sell you a new, original-equipment replacement part for $220.49.
But what a difference 15 years and those flashy LED lights make. On the 2015 Escalade, you can’t replace just the taillight lens. It is no longer available as a separate part. Now, you’ll need a whole new taillight unit. Cost: $795.