September 5, 2012

September 5, 2012

More Maintenance Required

You know that I have bad luck with cars. I don’t understand them. I don’t use them much. I’m limited to keeping them full of gas and washer fluid, and taking them to my local garage (pronounced in the British way, GEHR-aj) for everything else. Those of you who are automotively inclined should appreciate just how lucky you are. I spent my youth learning how to play instruments, and that’s gotten me nowhere.

Anyhoo, I recently inherited my mom’s 2010 Hyundai Accent when she moved to [location redacted] for work, and I thought that my days of nursing an ailing vehicle were over. No more failing transmission and bad brake system for me, because this car is basically NEW and nothing shall go wrong!

In short, I had the effing world on a string.

Or so I thought.

What I’d failed to factor in was a little something called “human error.” Specifically, this human. Me.

One night in early August, I left one of the dome lights on. This is my first vehicle with more than one, you see. All the other dome lights I’d dealt with turned off automatically when you shut the vehicle door. But this car has like 84 different lights, not all of which shut off by themselves. Sigh.

I approached my car about a week later, intending to use it for my two most important and frequent errands: getting food and returning library books. I dooted the little dooter thing to unlock the car.


I dooted it again.

Nothing. Figured the dooter was broken.

I manually unlocked the vehicle and turned the key in the ignition.


My first thought is that someone had stolen my battery. While I don’t live in NE (reference for the DC locals), it’s in the realm of possibility.

But the battery was still there.


Finally realizing that the battery was dead, I had to figure out how to jump start it. Since my apartment’s parking lot isn’t conducive to parking vehicles face-to-face, I laboriously researched battery packs. And researched. And researched some more. Found one that was a) sold nearby and b) not ridiculously priced and got it. And while you’ve read this paragraph in under a minute, its events happened over the course of several agonizing days, because THOSE LIBRARY BOOKS WERE ALMOST DUE, DAMMIT!

So on a night that was threatening rain (always a plus when you are about to unsheathe RAW ELECTRICITY), I popped open my hood and braced myself for what I assumed were the last pre-electrocution moments of my too-short life.

Per the instructions of my car owner’s manual, the battery pack manual, and the internet, connect cable from positive terminal of battery pack to positive terminal of dead battery. Check.

Per the instructions of my car owner’s manual, the battery pack manual, and the internet, connect cable from negative terminal of battery pack to an unpainted part of car frame. Check.

Insert key in ignition, and…nothing.


Decided to try following the method recommended by the other half of the internet.

Remove cable from unpainted metal of car frame and attach to negative terminal of dead battery.


The car alarm started going off like crazy. Well, probably like normally, but since loud noises are one of my phobias (vacuums, blenders, etc.), I began to mentally implode. I removed the cable and the alarm stopped. Put it back on and the alarm came back on.


I packed everything up, went back to my apartment, and hit up Google. Again.

It turns out that since my car was locked and the alarm enabled when the battery died, restoring power with the doors unlocked made my car assume it was being burgled. I’m scared of my vehicle’s sentience, yet disappointed in its stupidity. If this is the beginning of the Rise of the Machines, I think we’re safe for a while yet.

I had a quick stress-relieving cry and went back down, resolved to follow TheBoy’s advice: “Just turn the alarm off with your remote. Duh.” (He didn’t add the duh, but if the situation were reversed I totally would have.)

This time, I was prepared for the KLAXXON-LIKE WAILING of the car alarm and silenced it with my remote. Small victory!

I put the key in the ignition and…success! Now all I needed to do was go on a good long drive to get the battery charged.

For those with good or even average car karma, the story would end here. But! This is me! So it continues!

When poking around under the hood, I noticed that the fluid in the container labeled “Engine Coolant” was below the “L” line. That didn’t seem right. After much (much) Googling and consultation with friend-of-blog W, I determined that while I COULD do this myself, I had to do it right or risk turning my car into a really heavy paperweight.

For there are multiple types of engine coolant, you see, and they aren’t identified by a helpful characteristic like color. Put the wrong type in (or mix two types together) and you’re screwed. While my car’s manual told me to use “high quality” coolant, it made no further distinctions. Plus the whole “hook the negative cable to an unpainted part of car frame” debacle told me not to trust the manual. (As a Baptist, that’s a hard thing to do.)

I walked to three different stores but couldn’t find what I was looking for. Finally went TO THE DEALERSHIP to make sure I’d be getting a compatible coolant. Then dealership guy didn’t want to sell it to me because I could get something similar for much cheaper at Walmart and I was like, Dude, I’ve already been to multiple Walmart-like places and have come here specifically to get what I know will work and also, I CAN AFFORD THE EXTRA TEN DOLLARS BECAUSE I AM AN OVERPAID FEDERAL EMPLOYEE, TRA LA FREAKING LA.

But, of course, even once I convinced dealership guy to let me exchange cash for goods, the saga continued. For you cannot just pour coolant into the coolant reservoir. Oh no. You must mix it. With distilled water. To an exact 50-50 solution.

Good thing I kicked ass in chem class.

After a little Walter White-esque action, I managed to:

a) Properly create an acceptable coolant solution,
b) Successfully put that solution in my car, and
c) Drive my car forever long in order to charge the battery.

I ended up driving to and them from a place called Ladysmith, Virginia. Had my car broken down (due to battery issues, coolant issues, or LOCUSTS or whatnot), I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have made it out alive. It turns out that everything outside Northern Virginia looks like the set of Deliverance. I’m assuming “Ladysmith” is code for something, I mean COME ON.

How long until we can travel via wormhole?

1 Fish in a Sea of Diet Coke:

Cars’ engines are very sensitive so they must be maintained regularly by running the engine every day. The reason behind this is to prevent the batteries from draining. Starting the engine will help them recharge, and this could also help regulate your gas and oil properly.

Cody Strub