Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks
Monday, August 28, 2006 Assault of Battery
A few months ago, the battery light on my dashboard started coming on. Foolishly thinking that this meant I would need a new battery soon, I went out and bought one. Then my battery light stopped coming on and I forgot all about the new power cell sitting in my garage.
Until the week before last. During our camping trip, M. Small’s driver’s seat antics had drained so much juice out of my car that we had to borrow a pair of jumper cables from the family at the next site. We got home okay, but every time I started the car for the rest of the week, there was a little less cranking and a little more clicking.
Two Mondays ago, when I was about to head off to work, there was nothing but clicks. Trash had already left to drop M. Small off at day care, so I called her on her cell phone. But not for rescue. “Don’t worry about it,” I told her. “I’ll swap in the new one and be out of here in ten minutes.” I tried not to be too offended at her obvious skepticism. After all, I had changed the battery on her previous car only a couple of years before. In the winter, no less. This was going to be so much easier.
It wasn’t easier. First of all, in order to get access to the bracket that holds the battery in place, I had to take apart the air cleaner. Not helpful.
Another issue is that my wrenches and sockets aren’t exactly all that well organized. And I’m not just saying that the 10-mm socket is in the slot where the 5/16 socket is supposed to be. I’m saying that the 10-mm socket is God-only-knows-where. Somewhere in this time zone, I’m sure, but I’d hesitate to get more specific.
Even that wouldn’t have been too much of an obstacle. I happen to own the two must-have accessories for a disorganized workshop: an adjustable crescent wrench and a selection of pliers. Those would have been fine.
Except that the bolt holding the black cable onto the black battery terminal had, over the past seven years, completely fused to the battery. Every time I started the car for however long, a tiny little spot-weld was being added, and no matter how hard I gripped those pliers, all I was doing was gouging hell out of the bolt head.
About forty-five minutes into my ten-minute estimate, I decided that I was just going to have to hop a bus to work, be late, buy a new set of metric sockets while I was downtown, and finish the job that night.
That evening, armed with my new, eight-dollar pocket metric set, I returned to the battle anew. I was also armed, if that’s the word, with M. Small, because Trash had a doctor’s appointment. I now know that I should have waited to attempt car repair until I didn’t have a toddler scampering around the driveway, the garage, and the yard. Hell, I knew that then. But it wasn’t like he was going to drain my battery any further, what with only one cable still being attached.
My brand-new 8-mm socket and ratchet fit neatly over the fused bolt, and then slid right around it. New tool or no, it was going to be really easy for me to strip that bolt head into a smooth, shiny cylinder. Fortunately, I had talked to my dad that day, and he had suggested soaking the bolt in baking soda water. Which I did. I also poured part of a can of Trash’s mom’s Caffeine-Free Diet Coke on it, just because it’s not like that carbonated diarrhea is good for anything else now that mom-in-law has gone back home to Iowa.
While I waited for it to work, M. Small helped. He’d discovered the wrenches and pliers I’d left in the bed of his toy dump truck that morning, and commenced carrying them over to me. “Tools,” he explained, carefully reaching up and dropping each one behind my car’s radiator.
By the time I’d fished everything out, the nasty solution on my battery terminal had done its fizzy thing and the bolt came loose with an audible creak. It was all downhill from there, I figured.
I was correct, but not in the way I thought.
Lifting the old battery out was the work of only a minute or so. Detaching the nylon carrying strap on the new battery only took a minute more. Making the most of my momentum, I set the new battery in place, reconnected the cables (didn't electrocute myself once!), and went to retrieve the nut and bolt that held down the battery bracket, a seemingly unimportant strip of metal that does nothing more vital than preventing the battery from rocking out of its cradle and plummeting to the pavement while the car is in motion . I'd carefully set the nut and bolt aside that very morning, in the back of M. Small's toy dump truck.
They were both gone, of course. A cursory search of the garage floor (leafy!), the driveway (also leafy!) and the back yard (of course this happens the one year my grass actually survived until August!) turned up what I expected, which was exactly nothing. Even the space behind the radiator held no joy. There was nothing for it but to hit the neighborhood hardware store to find a replacement nut and bolt. Of course, I didn't know exactly what size I was looking for, but since I had the crescent wrench that I'd removed them with as a guide, it was only a matter of about fifteen minutes rummaging through those maddening little drawers before I was on my way home.
Where it was only a matter of about two seconds to realize I'd gotten the wrong size. I'd forgotten that the bolt heads for the battery terminals and the pieces I'd lost were of different sizes.
Trash suggested I wait to go back until M. Small had gone to bed, whereupon the local shop would be closed, but I could still hit Home Depot. Ah, Home Depot after dark. Before this trip, I had taken more precise measurements of the nut and blot I was looking to match. By which I mean that I had stabbed a fragment of corrugated cardboard over the protruding bolt with its missing nut, and then stuck the cardboard in my pocket to measure against the Home Depot stock. I was fully aware that this method left much to be desired in the area of precision. That's why, when I got there, I bought nuts and bolts in a selection of sizes, both larger and smaller than what I needed. Except, of course, for six-millimeter, of which they were temporarily out.
Several minutes after I got home and had spent some time fruitlessly fiddling around under my hood with a camping lantern balanced on the radiator, I forced myself to look on the bright side. Which was that at least now I knew I was looking for six-millimeter hardware.
The next day -- when, fortunately, Trash and I carpooled to work -- I made a few phone calls. I learned that that evening, I could either drive thirty minutes to the nearest Saturn dealership that had the exact proper nut and bolt, complete with part number; or I could do what I should have done in the first place, which was to drive ten minutes to the Napa store in Uptown and have them match it right there. And the only reason it took me ten minutes instead of eight was because I didn't want my battery to plummet to the pavement while I was getting there.
Finally, I caught a break. Not only did I not have to wait in line, but a guy came out to the parking lot and screwed a brand-new nut right into place. There was still the matter of the bolt, but I'd reassembled the air cleaner before leaving home and he couldn't get to it. "I can take care of that when I get home," I offered. Sold! Except that he declined to charge me a cent. I got home, left all the car doors open, took apart the air cleaner, put the new bolt in, put the air cleaner back together, closed the hood, and unstrapped M. Small from his car seat in a matter of a couple of minutes. In that order.
Original estimate: ten minutes, zero dollars. Final tally: two days, sixteen dollars. Twenty if you count bus fare.
Maybe I should have been a mechanic after all. posted by M. Giant 7:29 PM 0 comments