Baltimore, MD

I Tried to Fix My Car And Made Zero Progress. Now I Realize Why You Pay Mechanics.

Ryan Fan

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On Sunday, my day was pretty awful. I spent the day committed to fixing my car. As much as I’d love to take the bus or walk to work tomorrow, I enjoy a 10-minute commute instead of an hour-long walk to my workplace.

The car troubles started when I was at my girlfriend’s place and tried to go home. My car would not start. I found this strange since I just got a battery a year and a half ago and wouldn’t have expected it to die so early.

Nevertheless, there was no possibility of my car getting jumped. It was flanked by two cars, probably residents in her apartment complex. And it was flanked by those same two cars all weekend, and my jumper cables did not extend two car lengths long to get my car jumped.

I had to persist. I had no other choice. I had a friend who was in Baltimore for a grand proposal of sorts, and we arranged to run and meet up while he was still in the city. My friend apparently had a battery pack jump starter and he offered to meet me where I was, so we could go on a run later. I was ecstatic and waited for him to get there, and I was excited to see my friend anyway.

But when he got there, apparently the battery pack jump starter wasn’t in the car. Someone had taken it out to use it a couple of weeks ago, so the battery pack jump starter was not actually in the car. Well, he’d already come by, so I figured I might as well get a new battery. I felt like it was strange I needed a new battery considering I had to get a new battery a year and a half ago, but it is what is. I did not want to spend any more time or bandwidth committed to the car.

And so I looked at YouTube videos teaching me how to take out a car battery. I got a wrench and got my friend to hold up the hood of the car. For some reason, my car has no hood support strut, and my friend had to hold up the hood the whole time. It took about five minutes to remove the battery and then haul it to the car. If you’ve never lifted a battery before, it’s much heavier than you think. I also realized why my car needed a jump already —I didn’t accidentally leave a light on — it was an 18-month replacement battery.

We went to an auto parts store and got the battery for my car. Again, a car battery is much heavier than it looks. I held it on my lap and kept it upright to stop it from leaking at any point during the car ride, but it was crushing my thighs. Once we got back to my car, I put in the battery, tightened all the screws on the terminals, and thought it was all good. Just to be sure, my friend and I checked two of our best friends as wannabe mechanics doing the most basic of mechanic tasks: YouTube and Google Images. Everything seemed okay, so my friend and I went on our run before I said goodbye.

My car seemed to be running perfectly. My girlfriend and I were going to check an apartment we were interested in. I drove us to that apartment and checked it out, with no problems. We did our tour, and then I went back to my car again — this time it wouldn’t start again. What could possibly be wrong now? How could my car not start with a new battery?

I opened my hood and saw the positive terminal of my battery was loose. I pushed it down, closed the hood, and the car was starting again. Foolishly I thought everything was okay, and I went to drive my girlfriend home. I was about to get on the expressway, and at the intersection right before getting onto the expressway, my car wouldn’t go.

The lights on the dashboard started flickering. I turned on my emergency light. The traffic light was still red, but it suddenly turned green. But there was something wrong with the battery again, and then the emergency lights turned off too. Cars behind me started beeping, and I had to roll down my window to wave for cars to pass by. Keep in mind this was one of the busiest streets in Baltimore, and there was a row of cars annoyed at having to change lanes.

Once I could leave my car and not get hit, I did. I opened my hood again and saw the positive terminal came loose — again. I pressed it down, prayed I wouldn’t get electrocuted or burned, and then my car started again. I decided it would probably be a bad idea to get on the expressway. I drove home, called my girlfriend a Lyft, and thought about what I could possibly do for my car.

I called a friend to help because I knew his brother was an expert with cars. He came over, FaceTimed his brother, and we surmised the problem was in the positive terminal of the battery. There was a heavy amount of corrosion, and I needed a wrench and a corrosion brush. We went back and forth to the hardware store and it wasn’t doing much — the car was still stalling. The whole episode took two entire hours until we said “screw it.”

The car would start, but I still feared it would stall in the worst possible place and leave me a dead man on the expressway. At this point, it was 7 p.m. on a Sunday. I brought the car to the mechanic at a gas station the next morning, called an Uber to work. After work, one of my co-workers generously offered to drive me to the gas station and although I had to pay them $60 to change the terminal, my car was good and has had no problems since.

Takeaways

Again, now I realize why you pay mechanics and professionals. Trying to change the battery myself led me to overlook underlying issues with my car and drained a significant amount of time. I made zero progress trying to fix the terminal, only pushing down the terminal to make the car start temporarily. Also, by the grace of God, my car didn’t stall in the middle of the expressway without any ability on my part to turn on the emergency lights.

Between all the Ubers and Lyfts I had to pay for, the new battery, as well as the new terminal on my car, I had to pay about $300. Obviously, it could have been worse, but the kindness and grace of my girlfriend, as well as a couple of my friends, got me through the episode as well. People took time out of their days to help me with my car when they had plenty of better things to do.

Failing to fix my car hearkened me back to last week when I tried to cut my own hair, and it went disastrously wrong. When you’re not an expert or professional at something, it’s okay to dabble and try to learn a new skill. But paying the professionals and admitting when you’re a straight amateur at something is an underrated virtue in this day and age. I often joke mechanics will charge you a billion dollars for doing something as simple as changing a taillight. But they can charge more than I think they should because they can do it, and I can’t. If I think a service is too expensive, I can go to another mechanic.

Needless to say, I will be paying barbers and mechanics for their services whenever I need to in the future.

Photo by Arseny Togulev on Unsplash

Originally published on The Partnered Pen on April 28, 2021.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Baltimore, MD
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