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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Motor Miracles

Dear Dad,

               When it comes to automobiles I have never been real mechanically proficient. I know the basics. I can respond to the lights on the dashboard. The check oil light comes on, I check the oil and maybe add a quart or two. The temperature light comes on, I add some engine coolant. The check engine light comes on, I pull over, pop the hood and make sure the engine is still there. I have friends that watch NASCAR and rebuild transmissions, so I don’t need to know much. What I do know I have put to excellent use in a pinch. I have most of the tools, and I do enjoy taking things apart. That and a little ingenuity is all you need right?

              I was in my recliner the other day, minding my own business and generally enjoying pretending to nap. My wife stormed into the house seconds after leaving to run an errand. She said her car wouldn’t start and gave me ‘The Look.’ You know the look I’m talking about. It’s the one that suggests everything is your fault and if you don’t get up and do something about it your demise will be described in morning headlines across the nation. I believe John Wayne Bobbitt ignored ‘the look’ once. I craned my neck to the right so as to look out the front window and noticed that her car was pulled out in to the street blocking traffic. This, in conjunction with ’the look’ meant that I had to go to work on the problem immediately instead of putting it off until one of my buddy’s could come over. It was a Sunday so I couldn’t even call a professional. I resigned myself to the inevitable and stood up. My Wife explained to me what happened. The car started and she pulled out about halfway into the street. She realized she forgot something, so she parked right there and got out, when she got back in, the car wouldn’t start.

               OK, before I even began I knew it was either the battery or the alternator. I bundled up for the sub freezing temperatures and walked out to my truck. After I got my truck turned around I ran jumper cables between the two vehicles. Her car started right up. I walked around to the hood and grabbed the jumper cables. Now this is the real moment of truth. There is only a fifty dollar difference in the cost of a battery verses the cost of an alternator. A battery is much easier to replace though and most times only needs to be recharged. I prayed that she had just let the battery run all night and my work would be done. You see, a battery just starts a car. An alternator creates the electricity that runs the car. That means that if the alternator is bad, then when you remove the cables the car will die. The battery of course will already be dead from trying to run the car. I eased the cables away from the battery posts and gritted my teeth.

               The car died and just like that, my whole day was ruined.

               Never baulking at a challenge, I went to the tool shed and filled a bucket with the necessary tools. I removed the serpentine belt, metal support straps and a coolant reservoir. Then I went to work on the rusted bolts holding the alternator in place. There was one bolt left that wouldn’t budge no matter how much I sprayed it with WD-40 and strained against it. I called a buddy up and asked him for a breaker bar. He brought me a torque ratchet with a heavy handle, and that did the trick. He could have done it himself much faster, but he is a police officer and he was on duty. He was in full uniform and never came within two feet of the greasy mess I was trying to make sense of. I removed the alternator and drove it (in my truck of course) down to the auto parts store. This whole process took only about an hour so far. I was immensely proud when I plopped the alternator down on the counter. I knew I would be done in an hour and I had some serious napping to do. That’s when it happened. The shop attendant had disappeared around the corner with my accomplishment in hand. He returned in a minute and told me he tested it and it tested good. There was nothing wrong with it. I told him how, ‘I knew’ that it was the alternator causing the problem. He just shrugged at me.

               My victory high gone and my temper flaring, I hurried home to figure this out before it got dark. On the way home I decided that the problem must be in the wiring from the alternator to the various devices that need power. I got home and immediately removed more car parts until the wiring was exposed. Then I took a twenty minute break to retrieve my wrench. It is physically impossible to work on a car without losing a tool in the no-mans land between the radiator and the front bumper. This is where tools go to die. They never hit the ground and you can never reach the perch they landed on. That’s what that rattling noise is when you get your car back from the mechanic. It’s his favorite tool entombed forever under the hood of your car. That’s also why mechanics charge so much, they have to replace their tools. Well I left most of the skin from my hand on the radiator, but I got my wrench back. I toned out all the wires leading away from the alternator, I tested all the breakers under the hood and all the fuses in the cab. I brushed down all the connections and cleaned all the wiring harnesses out. I never found a definitive problem. It was getting dark so I put everything back together, breaking my friends expensive looking torque ratchet in the process.

                The total elapsed time involved was approaching five hours. I jumped my wife’s car one more time and went to remove the jumper cables, preparing myself to push the car back into the driveway. I don’t even know why I jumped the car again. I was tired, and wasn’t thinking logically. I removed the cables and THE CAR KEPT RUNNING. It was a miracle. It was illogical. It was absurd. There was no great explanation. Maybe it was a faulty connection and I caught it in my desperate every wire check. Maybe the alternator just needed to be knocked about a bit. Maybe the auto gods felt sorry for me because I didn’t know what I was doing. Maybe the wrench I dropped jarred something in there, maybe the car was never broke, maybe it was just tired, or maybe, just maybe… I AM THE MAN. Well my wife thought so anyway, as she finally left on her errand. I had her pick up a soda and a snack for her man while she was out. She found me back in my recliner when she got home. I was all cleaned up and sleeping with a small contented smile on my face.

                          your greasy, wrench laden, rev'ed up son.


ThisHorseThing said...

I always wondered what that rattle was in my truck - now I know.

Wesley 'Whitey Lawful' Mcgranor said...