tonight's episode: car battery
the problem: the Jeep i drive for work came up lame a few weeks ago when i accidentally left the lights on for 5+ hours while playing softball. in my defense, you have to turn the lights on the start the car and it used to make a sound when you turned it off and the lights were still on. that noise has since ceased for some reason related to the fact that the car has suffered much wear and tear over the course of 113,000 miles of New York City driving.
manifestation: when i returned to the parking lot, the car would not start. a nice gentleman in a white van gave me a jump, and everything seemed to be OK (there are more details involving the process of getting the hood open due to damage caused by an accident i was in the previous week, but i don't need to incriminate myself in more boneheaded acts right now). but half a block from home, stopped at a red light, the engine just petered out and would not restart. fortunately i was on a slight downslope and was able to (very slowly) coast across the street and park. later that evening a frined came by with a car and we attempted another jumpstart. again, i was able to start things up, but this time the engine cut off seconds after the jumper calbe were disconnected. one last attempt was able to keep it running long enough for me to park it on the other side of the street t avoid alternate side penalties the next day, but that was it. clearly, a new battery was needed.
attempted solution: this was an accidental d.i.y. effort. due to work requirements, i really needed the car to be functioning that week, so i hoped that i could get a mechanic in my neighborhood (there are about 83 of them in a 10 block radius) to come by and replace it. no one was in a terribly helpful mood until i got to Midas, and i was running low on time. they couldn't do anything unless i got the car towed there, but the guy behind the counter said "why don't you just go over to Joe's, get a battery and put it in yourself?" after assuring me that i would only need a wrench to get the job done, i decided to go for it. 5 minutes later i was walking home with a 40 pound battery in tow. of course, 15 minutes of frantic searching turned up no wrench - we are a household where the wife brought more tools into the relationship than i did. a quick trip to a neighbor produced two wrenches and some dollar store work gloves rounded out the equipment list. it was time to get to work.
the setup was surprisingly simple: there was a bar holding the battery in place and two wires connected to the positive and negative terminals. once everything was removed, the old battery popped out with ease and the new one took it's place. terminals were connected, bolts were tightened and amazingly enough, the car started right up. problem solved!
well, not so fast. on the trip into Manhattan, the battery and "check engine" lights both came on after 15 minutes. the same thing happened on the way home that night, but there was no sputtering or any other signs of trouble, so i thought that maybe the car was just "getting used to" the new battery, a suspicion that seemed confirmed the next morning when the trip to work was accomplished sans warning lights. that afternoon, however as i headed home to walk the dog and make a pickup before heading back to work, the speedometer stopped working as i hurtled down the BQE. not a good sign. i made it home fine, but knew deep down that the Jeep would not start again when i got back into it. this time my instincts were correct as the only noise was the "click-click-click" that indicated that no charge was reaching the engine. two guys on the street fished out a portable battery to attempt another jump, but that only succeeded in getting me to the end of the block. after explaining that i had just replaced the battery, they nodded knowingly and said "it must the be the alternator". that didn't sound like something that i could do myself and so i resigned myself to bringing in an expert. luckily, the car was sitting idly right in front of a repair shop.
final resolution: i subsequently found out that the old battery in car was actually less than 2 years old and was likely never the problem. the mechanics needed a full day to get the new alternator in and running correctly, but things have been back to normal since - which is to say that the car still runs, yet always seems to be one pothole away from throwing a tire or having the transmission drop out the bottom. still, the battery that i installed is in there making things happen, so there is some success to celebrate.
total cost: $55 for the battery, $1 for gloves and $175 for the alternator (incl. labor). all costs reimbursed except for gloves.
upcoming episodes: ginger ale, pickles, shelves (not confirmed at air time)