Why Fee For Service Hurts Us: The Plain Language Version

I’ve had a few conversations recently with elected state officials, and I’m reminded that speaking plain language always helps.  Here goes:

We all agree that fire stations are a good thing, right?

And we agree that we don’t want them to be busy … 

So if the firefighters are always watching Three’s Company reruns, that would be good.  We still pay for the fire station.  We still pay the salaries.  Happily.

Therefore – paying firefighters more for fighting more fires would be silly:  their financial success would align with hardship in the community. 

But this is how we pay medical providers:  more sick people = more $$.

We have a social compact: everyone agrees that we should pay for fire stations (infrastructure) and firefighters (humans) to be ready for fires.  We all pay for this with our taxes.  It’s the most efficient way for us do this.

Shouldn’t we have a social compact that would cause everyone to agree to pay for hospitals and medical offices (infrastructure) and medical providers (humans) This would be efficient and effective.  Then if the medical providers were idle most of the time – it would be because the community is healthy.  Nobody would complain of reduced revenue due to low volumes of emergency department visits.  Kinda like what Maryland did.  Seems simple.  Why not?

Toyota Mirror Replacement

.. and now for something completely different.  For me, writing a blog isn’t about getting clicks, earning ad revenue (no ads here) or getting tweeted.  I write here to share insight that may be helpful to others.  I started writing this in 1999.  Topics vary, but I don’t think I’ve blogged yet about car repair.  My last big home improvement project (replacing the tank water heater with an on-demand tankless one when the former died suddenly) was well covered on Facebook.  I think my rationale there was: “hey friends, look what I did!”  Facebook is good for that.  Many people have made the tank-to-tankless conversation. The Internet didn’t need to learn that someone else did it.

But I don’t know that anyone’s done what I did yesterday and I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who has experienced the predicament.  So a blog is the best way to share a new solution to a common problem.  Others will search for the topic and some day, someone will use the information I post here and their life will be better. That is (ideally) what blogs are for.

The problem.  We have two cars and a two-car garage.  As anyone with a two-car garage knows, (especially with 20 years of accumulation) this is by definition a tight fit. A few weeks ago, the passenger mirror housing of our 2017 Toyota Highlander was damaged (the identity of the driver is not relevant to our story).  The mirror itself was ok, but the plastic parts and the turn signal light were broken.  This mirror has a “puddle light” (shines down on the ground when entering/leaving @ night) and is heated and has a blind-spot monitor and has a camera for the parking assist camera system.  There’s a lot in this thing.  


A new mirror assembly, part# 87910-0E292 is $1290 from Toyota or $863 from Toyotapartsdeal.com.  I found some used for ~ $500.  Why so much?  Because of all the “stuff” this mirror has in it – especially the camera, which can be purchased separately for many $$.

There are aftermarket mirrors for as little as $65, but they just have the mirror.  No camera, no wiring for the camera, no blind spot monitor.  Some have heat, which is valuable here in Upstate NY, and others even support motorized folding, which could have prevented this, but I’m not sure how we’d integrate that feature and control it from inside and these mirrors were missing features we have. The car’s computer complains when stuff it expects (camera especially) are not there.

As I looked carefully at the Toyota parts manual and studied the Toyota service manual (I purchased online access to it for 2 days to do my homework) it became clear to me that the parts I needed (the plastic backing, the plastic “visor” and the (mostly plastic) turn signal light) were all identical to those in the “basic” model of this mirror, part #897810-E143.  $244 from the dealer and $173 from Toyotapartsdeal.  What’s the difference (other than $690) The less expensive mirror has few of the extras: no puddle light, no camera, no blind-spot monitor (really just a light that connects to the computer). The plastic housing is the same with two exceptions: a) At the base of the housing, there is a hole into which the assembly for the puddle light and camera fit. b) In the back of the housing, there is a hole for where the camera wiring harness plugs into the wires that come from the door.    

IMG_20200202_111738 Here’s a photo of the hole in the bottom.  The lower right corner is gone (due to the collision with the garage door frame) and in the upper right you can see some of my practice cuts.  More on that shortly. This hole needs to be precise, so the camera housing fits in properly.  Misalignment of the camera is bad:  it will mess up the collision avoidance system and the images that the parking assist monitor won’t work.  The other hole isn’t as important:  just need to have a hole there so the cable can be attached/detached. 

So the absence of a ~ 3″ x 2″ hole in the bottom of a plastic part is the difference between spending $173 or $863.  

I ordered the $173 part.  The first thing that happened was that the (very good) support team at Toyotapartsdeal.com noticed that this wasn’t the right part for my car and sent me a message:

The proper RH mirror is 87910-0E292 @ $863.21 and the cap is 87915-0E040-A0 @ $52.90.

Would you like to change your order?

My reply:

I don’t need the cap – I have one and it’s not damaged – all I really need is the black plastic housing and the part Toyota calls the visor – neither of which it seems I can buy separately.  All of the electronics work – so I’ll swap out the innards from the mirror I have and will need to cut a hole in the bottom for puddle light and camera.  Oh well.  Not perfect but better than spending an extra $700!

They checked again (I got the same email the next day) and called them to make sure we were on the same page.  

The package arrived on Saturday morning. 

Step 1: disassemble the new mirror to get the parts I want.  The key to this step is to remove the mirror itself from the housing.  This is easy but must be done right or you’ll break the mirror.  Youtube helped some here, but if you try this, do it like this and not like this. The second way – you’ll break the mirror.  I broke the mirror when I removed it from the new assembly, but fortunately, when I removed the old mirror from the old assembly, I didn’t break it (used method #1) so all was well.  Be careful.  Use your hands, not tools.  Hold firmly.  I also warmed it with a heat gun and sprayed some WD-40 in there too – thinking that softer plastic (subfreezing in the garage) and some lubrication might help.  Too many variables to know what caused the better outcome.  It worked.  

Step 2: remove four torx screws.  I’m guessing that these were torx #8.  Pretty tight but came out after some coaxing.  This holds the back housing to the visor – trapping internal parts:  the mirror arm, turn signal light and the mounting base with adjustment motor/electronics.  Once these four screws are out, the whole assembly can be (very carefully) separated with some plastic auto clip removal tools like this.   $12 on Amazon if you don’t have the kit sitting somewhere in your garage (which is why it’s so full). 

Step 3: measure, practice, cut.  At this point, I did the same on the existing mirror on the car.  What’s nice is that I didn’t need to remove the mirror assembly from the car, which means I didn’t need to remove the door panel, etc.  I removed the mirror (see above) and the torx screws, and the cap (which wasn’t damaged so I didn’t have to buy a new one for $50. After disconnecting the wires (and taking photos so I could be sure that the wires go back in the same places), the visor, mirror and housing came off easily.  Now I could carefully measure and create a paper template for the hole that needed to be in the base of the housing.  I then practiced cutting holes in the plastic on the old housing – to see what was the best way to cut the hole with maximum precision and minimal local deformation.  I tried a soldering iron with “knife” tip but a dremel tool with a tiny cutting wheel (like this) did the trick. These things break easily as they’re very thin.  I had five of them and used all five.  As you can see from the photo above – the opening has a little step-off shelf that the camera-puddle light assembly fits into.  I did my best to recreate this with a dremel grinding tip.  It almost worked: when installed, there remained a ~ 2mm gap at the leading edge of the camera assembly because the plastic clips that hold it into place didn’t “grab” tightly into the housing base.  I probably could have made the shelf deeper but I didn’t want to make it too deep as this would have weakened the plastic – might have broken it.

Step 4: make things snug.  To help this fit tight, I clamped the parts together and used epoxy to hold this thing in place forever.  Yes.  Forever.  I won’t be replacing the camera assembly.  Once the epoxy cured, I remove the clamp and was pleased to see that – while not perfect – it was pretty close.  An astute observer would see that the little shelf the camera housing fits in is a bit rough – definitely not factory-made. Oh well.  Can’t see it unless you bend down and look under the mirror.

Step 5:  put it all back together. Place turn signal light in its little slot. Go to car. Housing goes in the back, visor goes in the front, sandwiching the arm and electronics.  First, plug in the light .. then the camera – making sure the wiring harness goes through the right little slots so wires don’t get caught when mirror moves. Next, replace the four torx screws – pulling everything together.  I screwed them all in halfway – then made sure all the plastic parts lined up well – then screwed them in the rest of the way.  All good.  Now replace the mirror: attach the wires for blind-spot warning light and heater, then snapping it into place with a gentle but confident push.  Finally, the cap goes on the back and it’s done!

Tested.  Everything works perfectly.  The manual says we should recalibrate the collision avoidance system (camera alignment may not be the same).  I don’t have the software for that – so if we do it- we’ll have to go to the dealer.  Not sure how much that is or if it’s necessary.  More homework.  The images that the parking assist monitor creates are the same – no blurry gaps etc – so I think the camera – if not in the same position – is almost in the same position.

Total time from opening the box to completed project:  7 hours including dinner break, dog walk, thinking/practicing hole-cutting.  If you have to do this, I suggest:  a) practice hole-cutting ahead of time.  If you have a friend with a router (ideally one mounted or mountable in a table) this would help make a perfect hole with the right step-off shelf.  

If you want the parts I didn’t use/need – grab ’em on ebay.  I’d rather not throw them out.

Final note: Toyota – why don’t you sell the plastic parts by themselves?!  This would make such a repair quick, easy and very inexpensive. I’d have gladly paid $100 for these parts (that probably cost $5 to make) that we know you make every day but (for some reason) won’t sell unless they’re part of a $1200 (list price) assembly.  Argh.