December 5, 2005

Dead Battery

This morning, the new (to us) car -- B.B. -- would not start. The Wife was going to take it into work, and called up to me that the car wasn't turning over. So I came down into the garage and tried it myself. One turn of the ignition key and I was rewarded with a rapid RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT-A from under the hood. Seeing that the headlights could turn on, I ruled out a dead battery and began fretting about the alternator.

So The Wife took the Hunk-O-Junk in to work instead, and I called AAA to come out and take a look at the Blue Bullet. The guy eventually showed up -- The Estate At Louisville is way out in the sticks -- and hooked up a jumper cable to the car, and it started right up. I let the car idle for about ten minutes and I went to work, confident that the battery would re-charge along the way with nearly an hour's use.

But, after a long day at work, I went back to B.B. to go shopping before going home -- and once again I was rewarded with the same RAT-A-TAT-A-RAT-A-TAT and it occurred to me that if I needed a jump start again, maybe the problem wasn't a battery that somehow got run down overnight -- Gods help me, it might really be the alternator. So again, I called AAA for a jump, and I asked The Wife to come downtown in case we had to tow B.B. to an auto electric shop for alternator service.

Although the second guy from AAA couldn't find me in a wide-open parking lot without calling for directions, once he got there he was actually quite thorough. He jump-started the car, and again it fired right up. But he then took the time to take out an electric reader and said, "No, look, the alternator is generating good charge for you here." He thought about it for a second, and then said, "Hey, try turning on the lights." So I turned on the headlights, and his little needle took a nose-dive. "Yep, it's running the headlights off the battery, and not charging the battery back up." So it was a dead battery.

We got B.B. in to Wal-Mart not long before its auto shop was starting to think about closing down, and the guys there were very nice and agreed to put in the battery, even though they usually confined themselves to oil and tire changes. We got a good battery, good service, and the rest of our grocery shopping done. So it ended well -- although it kept us away from home for a couple hours longer than we would have preferred and cost us money we would rather not have spent. But owning a car involves maintaining it, and in the grand scheme of things, replacing a dead battery is not such a heavy burden.

(Muchos props to an anonymous student from Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles, California, for the photograph above, entitled "Dead Battery.")

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