Friday, December 02, 2005

The Car, Again

This has been a good week for getting things done and tying up loose ends. So I began yesterday with a solid plan and great expectations. For starters, I would replace our seven-year-old car battery and go to the grocery store.

I got in the car and began driving down the street. Immediately, I knew something was wrong and pulled over. Sure enough, one of our brand new tires was flat! I backed the car in front of our house and set about doing exactly what replacing the tires was supposed to spare me from doing -- digging the space-saver spare tire out of the the trunk and installing it. Of course, with the dry rotted tires this could have happened at 75 mph on the Tri-State Tollway, so this was a little better.

I cannot imagine how pissed I would have been on the shoulder of the Tri-State when I discovered that my wife had several bags worth of crap piled up in the trunk, everything from three-year-old greeting cards to Baskin-Robbins cups. Since I was home, I stormed into the house, cursed a blue streak about the flat tire, and asked her to empty all the crap out of her trunk.

After I changed the tire, I called the tire place. They said they were swamped and asked if I could bring it in later. Fine, I guess I'll change the battery first. It shouldn't be too hard. Dave's First Law of Automotive Repair: It is never as easy as you think it will be.

I went to AutoZone and bought an inexpensive (~$45) battery. Unlike the last time I replaced the battery, this time I had a car to drive to get the new one. And although I lamented that I didn't do it on Monday when it was warmer, it was still 20-30 degrees warmer than it was the last time I did it. Besides, I was already off to a good start since I found my battery brush in the first place I looked.

Disconnect the negative, disconnect the positive, detach the plastic shroud, loosen the nut holding the metal bracket that secures the battery... A slight tip, a yank, and out came the old battery, a battered Die-Hard that I had waited in a line of 20 people to buy on the coldest night of 1999.

Just slide in the new battery... Sh!t. Dave's Second Law of Automotive Repair: The slightest difference between the old and new parts will cause a world of hurt. In this case, the plastic moldings that held the new battery in place were thicker than those on the old battery. I tried again to loosen the nut on the bracket at the front. After struggling to move it about half a turn, I decided that wasn't going to work. Maybe if I could file down the plastic at the back that was to hold in the new battery, I could slip it in without removing the front. Besides, this gave me an excuse to use one of my brother's favorite tools -- the bastard file (his other favorite is the bunghole mixer). I filed away until my arms got tired. I was making progress, as evidenced by the shreds of black plastic below, but it wasn't nearly enough. I considered filing the plastic on the battery, which would have been much easier, but I was afraid it might void the warranty.

Let's try the bolt again. This time I sprayed it liberally with WD-40. By the way, both the bastard file and the WD-40, although I haven't used either in years, were in the first places I looked for them, so at least something was going right. I brushed the corrosion and dirt off the battery cables to pass the time while the WD-40 soaked in and worked its magic.

When I tried the nut again, I managed to turn it almost a full revolution... Then suddenly sheared the bolt clean off. Damn! Dave's Third Law of Automotive Repair: No job is done until you break something. Well, at least the battery would fit in easily without the bracket in the way... Except that the purpose of the bracket was to hold the battery in place. Oh well, nothing I could do about it now. I slid the new battery in and put on the plastic shroud, hoping it would prove to be stronger than it looks. I put the fuzzy washers and gel that came with the battery (to prevent corrosion) on the terminals, connected the positive and negative cables, and tried to start the car.

It worked! For an hour of work (though it should have been a 20-minute job) and a couple of bloody knuckles, I saved nearly $80 versus having the tire shop replace the battery (that's more than two months worth of electricity!). Back in the house, I warned my wife that she might lose her battery if she slams on the brakes too hard. Of course, the nice thing about having a cramped engine compartment is that there really isn't room for anything to move very far anyway.

I traded in the old battery for a refund of $8.72 and headed for the tire place. They managed to squeeze me in, but naturally there was more bad news. The tire hadn't failed (I figured as much since I didn't see anything in the tread), the wheel had. The rim was corroded so the tire bead didn't seal properly. The mechanic was going to clean the rim, apply a sealant, and remount the tire. If that doesn't work, I'll have to buy a new wheel, which they estimated at $90-120. I can't believe a plain old black wheel costs that much.

I never made it to the grocery store since I barely got home in time for my wife to drive to work. This morning I nervously walked toward the front window to see if the tire had gone flat overnight. It didn't! Let's hope the sealant did the trick. After a trip to Dominick's (always an adventure since I shop at Jewel 98% of the time), we are fully stocked with Charmin Ultra ("like wiping your a$$ with a cloud," as I always say) and Entenmann's apple strudel.

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