Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Girl (and boy) vs. the car battery

There are pros and cons to owning two vehicles. The biggest pro is that if there is something wrong with one, you have a spare. Sometimes it makes more sense to take one vehicle over the other. For example, I would rather take the dogs to the vet in the car with cloth seats than the one with leather. My post-surgery friends prefer I chauffeur them around in the car that doesn't hurt as much when I hit the bumps. And one has seat warmers which is really nice to have when it is cold out.

The cons are mostly financially. Upkeep on two cars can be expensive and my insurance would be about half of what it is now if I was only insuring one car (on the other hand, I do get a multi-car discount). It also is a major con to have two cars that need repairs at the same time resulting in two cars that may or may not be drivable. This is also not a good way to start a Monday. (Having a pokey wire cutting up the inside of your lip isn't a good way to start a Monday either, especially when the wire broke on Saturday night and you can't see the orthodontist until Wednesday).

Last week, after having a moment in which I had cross words for James thanks to having to deal with a family matter he should be here to deal with, a little yellow warning light came on when I tried to start the BMW. It was a steering wheel with a lock next to it. I thought it meant the steering wheel was locked (logical assumption), turned the steering wheel and got the car to start. It did it a couple of times the next day as well so I looked it up in the owner's manual and learned it means the electric steering wheel lock is jammed. To fix it, just turn the wheel. After those incidents, it didn't do it again for a couple of days and then started again. Sunday, it briefly turned red-twice. Red warning lights in the car are bad. In this case, it means you can no longer start the car. So yesterday, I made an appointment to take it in before it permanently turned red leaving me stranded somewhere. The service manager told me he had never heard of someone getting stranded because of this. I came really close to telling him there is a first time for everything.

The service manager wasn't sure he could rustle up a loaner car for me with such short notice but I wasn't too concerned. After all, I have a spare car. I knew the car needed a battery, so I decided I would take care of that after work in case I didn't get a loaner when I dropped off the BMW this morning (I did. It's a 2008 530i. Yep, I'm driving a $50k (minimum) car. It's a VERY nice car. James would really like it). I decided to take the BMW home, get the Lancer and take it to the auto part store (which ranked right up there with the hardware store as the most boring place on the planet when I was a child) and see if they would change the battery for me. My co-worker looked the battery up for me so I knew which one I needed and he called ahead so I knew they had one in stock (I have great co-workers).

When I got home however, the Lancer wouldn't start. She tried, but just couldn't do it. Luckily, the BMW was being cooperative yesterday so I took it to go get the battery. After buying it, I called in an order for some Chinese food. While I was waiting for my food, I texted my brother that I was thinking about swapping out the battery in the Lancer. A minute later he called. It's good to know if I ever really need to talk to my brother all I have to do is threaten to work on the car. I didn't check the caller ID before answering and answered with a questioning "hello?"

"Step away from the toolbox."

"I'm not near the toolbox. I'm at the Chinese restaurant getting dinner." My brother was audibly relieved to hear this.

He wanted to know when I was planning to change the battery. I told him I didn't know, but I bought one and I was at least going to eat dinner first. He said to send him a picture of the battery when I was going to do it and to call him and he would talk me through it. I told him it was a group 35 battery, proud of myself for knowing this. Apparently that doesn't really mean anything because there can be multiple ways to hook up the terminals, blah blah (I hope she gave me more than one fortune cookie), blah.

After eating my dinner and watching "Desperate Housewives," I decided to tackle the car. I sent pictures to my brother and got him on the phone.

It is actually really easy to change a car battery, however, the most mechanical thing I had ever done in my life was check the oil and tire pressure. My brother talked me through taking off the hooky thingy that holds the battery in place, which of the screws to loosen to remove the postive terminal and came up with suggestions when I couldn't get the negative side loose. He listened patiently to my litany of "colorful 4-letter mechanic terms" as he called them on my Facebook page. He was also very patient as I tried to describe my tools to him ("The wrench doesn't have a number on it. It has a letter." "I don't know what size it is-it's the size that doesn't fit." "I have plenty of sockets but can't find the thingy they go on." There was a point in my life when I knew that was a ratchet. "Can't I just spray it with WD-40?").

I had to hang up and call him back a few times as I needed two hands at times. The nut holding the negative terminal wire in place just wouldn't budge, but finally gave when I got to the point of wanting to give up and sell the car for parts so I wouldn't have to ask my co-worker to come fix it for me when I had gotten so close on my own.

I got the new battery in place (I cannot believe how heavy those suckers are) and screwed everything back in place. I was encouraged when I plugged in the positive terminal and the lights came on (ooh-lights. Lights! That means power!). Then I thought I should probably turn the lights off until I finished tightening everything. I was a little spooked by the sparks and was afraid something bad would happen if I left the lights on.

After installing the new battery, I was very hesitant to start the car. What if it exploded? Even worse, what if it didn't start? I turned the key and she fired right up. There was fist pumping. Then there was happy dancing in the driveway as I called my brother back (again), who didn't answer. I left him a message asking if he could hear the car-that I had done it and the car didn't explode. And then I started to cry.

Suddenly, I was so overwhelmed. It may not be a big deal and the simplest car repair to do (other than changing the windshield wipers, which I have done several times) but I have always been afraid to do anything with the car or anything electrical. I have never trusted myself that I could do it.

I was composed when my brother called me back, but barely. He told me he was proud of me and that I surprised him, first with doing the Polar Bear Plunge, with doing my own home repairs and now tackling the car. I thanked him for having faith in me that I could do it and he told me he's always had faith in me. And the tears came again. I told him I was just really overwhelmed because I had never even tried to do anything mechanical in my life. I was so proud of myself but so overwhelmed. He asked if they were tears of joy. I said mostly.

But after I got off the phone and was walking upstairs to go to bed, I glanced at James' picture on the mantle and all I could think was "Oh Honey. If only you could see me now."


Tracy said...

I'm proud of you! And I think James would be too.

Anonymous said...

Ditto for me too Heather.
You are making leaps in all your accomplishments!!