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A car engine is an intimidating sight for me…

And today was quite the experience for me.  It started out the same as most any other day, but ended up having an event that sort of made me feel a bit helpless.  And through this experience I gave myself at least 4 lessons I’ve learned to take forward into the future.

You see, this morning I woke up bright and shiny at 5am and drove to work at 6am.

After finishing, I drove back home to have my usual cup of coffee that I must have at some point in the day before heading to the gym.

An hour later, I jump into the car and drive out to the gym where I had an easy (but still effective) shoulder workout.

I finish up the extra pieces to my workout and stroll out to the car like usual.  Open the door, get in, turn the key and ….nothing.

The car feels deader than a doornail and my heart sinks to the floor.  I thought having a car that cranks but can’t turn over was a hard sound to listen to, hearing nothing coming from the engine is even scarier.  And remember that I had just gotten my car last week.  So I immediately wanted to go into panic mode, but I didn’t.

First thing I did was try to figure out what it was i did that could have made the battery run down.  I didn’t remember having the lights on driving to the gym, and I knew specifically that I had checked to make sure my lights were off before I exited the car earlier.

I’ve had to become more thoughtful about the lights because I could keep the lights on in the Subaru I was driving previously and when I’d take the key out it would always shut down the lights, and then turn them back on when I’d turn it back on. Not so with this guy, you leave with the lights on, they stay on.    I used to keep them on in the Subaru just for better safety on the road, but I’ve had to alter since switching.  So I know it wasn’t the lights.

There’s this holder for my Iphone I have situated in the center of my front window, and as I was getting out for the gym this morning I accidentally hit the hazard light button and they began blinking.  I promptly hit the button again, and they went off.  But since that was the only non-routine thing that happened in the course of the day, I thought I may have done that wrong in some fashion.  It’s a hazard light button, it’s on or off, no gray area.  So that must not have been it.  I was puzzled and a bit deflated.

So I go inside the gym and i was able to round up someone to jump-off my car.

Lesson #1 I Learned
– I must get a pair of jumper cables.  I have a spare tire, lug wrench, jack, tools, various engine legs, and NO jumper cables.  This experience has shown me a simple thing I was missing in my everyday car needs list.  Definitely a must have item, but had always put it off “till later.”

Thankfully the gentleman who helped me had a pair and he got me jumped off.  So I sat in my car for 10 or so minutes, letting it run a bit to get a charge started because that’s what you do when your battery dies on you, right?

As I’m doing that I’m googling “reasons for a car battery to die.”  And I’m seeing weak battery, electrical issue, parasitic energy use, leaving your lights on, or the alternator isn’t recharging the battery.  Uggh, I was thinking, what could be wrong.

I turn on the lights to start heading out and drive a bit to allow the battery to charge some, and it just dies again.  I try starting it again, and no sound, dead as a doornail.

I decided I wasn’t going to go back in and get another jump for the moment.  I gave a call to the beau and talked with him about what it may be, and we both thought the same options.  He wasn’t able to come and help though because he was out in Texas for work at the moment, and since I’m not really close with anyone out here just yet, I really didn’t have anyone I could call that I could depend on.  So I felt stuck.

Then I remembered Lesson #2 – I had the Roadside Assistance option on my phone service for a long time, just never have had to use it.  Mainly because I’ve always had someone else I could call.  But right now, I was SO glad I kept that option for my phone service.  I called for the help, and they showed up promptly in a couple of minutes to jump me off again, and since they were working under the heading of “battery service”, I promptly told him i didn’t think it was a battery issue necessarily by the way the engine shut off when I turned the lights on.  There was no “slow cranking the rest of the juice out”, it just stopped.  I wanted his thoughts on what it could be.

He checked the battery (which looked to have been changed in Feb 2012), and found everything fine with it and the alternator and he was just as puzzled as me and the beau.

We tried turning the lights on again to experiment, and again the engine shut off.  Started me up again, and then all dramatically the accessories were working fine.  I could turn on the radio, a/c, blinkers, AND the lights and it was running just fine.  And the battery had a nice strong charge.  He was baffled, and just suggested to bring it by a dealership to diagnose a problem and then have someone else more in my price range look at it.

I then thank him promptly, and begin my drive back home.  I was going to vote early today but with the way the car was acting, I just wanted to get home.  I didn’t want to risk shutting off the car again and it not wanting to start and having to go through this all over again somewhere other than home.

Lesson #3 Have a mechanic you can trust. – I called the beau again, and through talking with him I decided to go ahead and drop by our mechanic and have him look at it.  I pull in, explain the situation and he looks into it.  He sees what it’s doing, checks the battery and although it’s registering okay, thought I was probably going to need a new battery.

My heart sank, I had just spent most of my money last week on a down payment and a battery was gonna take a bite out of what I had left until payday next week.  He then had an epiphany and told me to hold on as he grabbed a screwdriver and another worker.  In the end he had found that the cable connection to the battery was just loose and wasn’t getting the power effectively.  With a couple of washers and a wrench to tighten the cord down nice and tight, the car started beautifully.

He could have charged me $120 for a battery, but instead found the real fix which turned out to be simple, and didn’t even charge me for the service.  It’s so good of a connection now that the engine actually jumps when it starts.

What I’ve concluded about it all has led me to Lesson #4 – adding “make sure your connection is tight” to the list of reasons your car may not start.  There was something that happened today that was comparatively odd, and that was the drastic change in the temperature outside.  We’ve been 80 degrees all this last week, yesterday in fact, and then today we hit a drastic change of 52, it was actually colder this afternoon than it was this morning.  Which is probably why the connection was fine this morning, then as it got colder, changed.   Heat expands, cold constricts.   It was already loose, and then the cold took it further.

I am so thankful it wasn’t something more drastic.  I’m also very thankful for the patience I had, and the people that helped me problem solve the way through it.  Looking back at it, it seems so commonplace and routine, but i managed to learn a few things by experience and have added it to what I know and can use in the future.