May 10, 1991|By LINDA L.S. SCHULTE

Recently, my heater core broke. For those uneducated among youwho never knew you had one, the heater core, it seems, is that item located behind your entire automobile --board that makes the defroster work. I discovered this not because I'm a genius at mechanical diagnosis, but because I couldn't see out my front windshield two minutes after I started to drive the car.

As an alternative to driving with one hand constantly windexing my front windshield and the other on the wheel, I took the car into the shop and was informed that while the part itself costs a reasonable amount, the labor charges were real attention-getters.

Have you ever noticed how when it comes time to have something replaced in your automobile, that it is never -- in fact nothing is ever -- located in a convenient place to fix? ''The part only costs $5 but we have to take out the entire engine and . . .''

There is not a single moving part in today's cars that isn't stashed way back, far under or in a cranny behind something else that makes the labor charge much more expensive as a result.

Now, the obvious question is this: In order for the thing in need of repair to be behind something, there has to be something in front of it, right? How come that part never breaks down or needs repair?

Do they put the sturdier parts in front on purpose?

Indeed, are there any sturdy parts in an automobile of the last decade? If so, why can't some smart engineer put these items in the deep recesses of the automobile's engine, so that the labor costs of repair work are reduced?

Perhaps the car is designed to break from the inside out.

Naw . . . if so, we would all ride on the outside of the automobiles.

*Linda Schulte's marvelous machine is garaged in Laurel.

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