The Best of Comrus: Everything I Know About Car Repair, I Learned From Sitcoms

This post originally appeared on December 1, 2006 at http://weblog.xanga.com/ComRus/552306331/item.html.

Well hell, I might actually know something about cars after all.  Unfortunately, such a revelation comes at a time when one of our cars developed a problem.  Big surprise, I suppose, since all other times the only thing one needs to know is fill it with gas.  And check the oil.

The Cavalier has developed a problem.  Um, to put it in the most eloquent way:  erg.  We finally got rid of the Escort and now have a new(er) car, and it develops a problem.  My wife drove the vehicle to get her hair done, unfortunately in the middle of an area where the roads are busy and have no shoulders.  As she was driving, the battery light came on, and stayed on.

And what, I ask you, could that possibly mean?  Is it the battery?  Of course not.  See, I actually know the answer to this one.  Oh, I could say it’s because of my vast experience repairing cars, that it’s because of the hours I spent pouring over auto-repair guides, or that it’s because of the time I spent working as a mechanic to put me through law school.  If I said such things, however, I would be lying, and they would take away my attorney license.  Although, it’s not exactly like I’m using it at this point.  

The sad fact is that I learned about the issue via my regular go-to source for man-knowledge: The Wonder Years.  Well, I have garnered much knowledge from The Cosby Show as well (such as the episode where the family tried to teach Theo that real life was harder than he thought by emptying his room and treating it like an apartment.  All the characters acted as normal people in life: the landlord, the diner waitress, the “Furniture City” owner, the bank manager, etc.  Oh, Theo struck back with Cockroach acting as Theo’s boss, but once Rudy turned down Theo’s loan application, even he became deflated.  I cried that day), but sadly, my knowledge of plumbing (as mentioned in a previous post) and cars comes directly from The Wonder Years (or “TWY,” pronounced “Twy,” as the kids refer to it today).  The particular episode I’m talking about was where Kevin had problems with the car he got from his grandfather.  This car apparently routinely broke down, as I gathered since when Kevin went to fix it, Winnie said that it was probably the alternator.

(I am very proud of my knowledge of sitcoms, darn it.)

And, lo and behold (that’s the second time I used that phrase in a month.  Sad), when I was driving my mom’s Taurus in Iowa, the problem was the alternator, and the problem with the Cavalier is also probably the alternator.  Sure, I gained much of my alternator knowledge from the Taurus’ issues, but it’s all based in TWY.

I’m now convinced that the alternator is the worst designed piece of machinery man has ever come up with, next to Dell computers (although, my current computer, an HP, is not much better).  In fact, I’m starting to think that I need to change the alternator every time I change the oil.  That, of course, is once every three years.  You know, you need to change the oil every 3,000 miles or three years, which ever comes latest. 

Anyway, the car was stuck on the top level of a parking ramp, semi-far away from home.  So I drove up and checked the engine, at least everything I know about an engine.  First, it existed.  Okay, good sign.  Secondly, I checked the serpentine belt (which I only know of because of the recent replacement in the Prizm).  In good shape.  This could only mean one thing: I couldn’t fix the car (although, the only thing about a car I can actually fix is changing the tire).  Yup, the alternator.

Once my wife returned, we discussed our options.  The first of which was to get the car towed to our apartment, but we couldn’t reach her parents to see if our policy covered towing.  The other option was to try to drive home, hoping the car wouldn’t break down.  Sure, we could jump the car every time it died, but our route unfortunately required us to drive along roads without shoulders.  We decided to go for it anyway.  Hopefully, I could predict when the car would die when near to a parking lot.

Before we left, however, I called my mechanic (if you don’t know that “my mechanic” is my dad by now, you really need to read my weblog more often.  It’s a good read, I tell you.  Very funny.  You read, you enjoy!) to see if jumping the Cavalier to add juice to the battery would be a good idea.  I also asked him if the method was positive to positive and then negative to ground.  He responded by giving me the history of wet cell batteries and how they operate (to mi papa, I kid.  I do appreciate the advice.  Please still agree to fix the car).  Yes, yes, I’m cold, and I still need to get a troubled car home, I don’t need to know such things like red means positive and black means negative, especially when I proved to you that I basically knew how to jump a car by saying positive to positive and then negative to ground.

The expert told me that the jump, while not necessarily helping us, won’t harm us.  So we sat there for ten minutes in the glorious heat of the running car (a 1993 charging up a 1999 vehicle.  The irony.  Oh, wait, that’s really not “ironic” according to the definition of the term.  It’s more like rain on your wedding day), and then I entered the freezer of the Cavalier to attempt to drive home.  Obviously, turning on the heat would be a bad thing.  I was actually quite concerned about the headlights, but I couldn’t commit that obvious of an infraction.  I did, however, commit many others in my attempt to save energy (going under the speed limit wastes energy, right?).  We did make it home, but by the time we got there I was in need of medical services, as I had hypothermia.

Anyway, it’s a good thing the car is still under warranty.  We got a whopping 30 day warranty, but hey, it’s going to get us the car fixed without a dip into our wallets.  Kind of.  Because the car was purchased at a lot in Fergus Falls, we obviously cannot bring the vehicle all the way up there.  As such, the car needs to be fixed here, which unfortunately means that the dealership will only cover 50% of the cost.

However (which is my favorite word, apparently), we might just get 100% of the cost if I can get my mechanic to fix it, thanks to Jerry.  Yup, my parents-in-law’s car salesman friend is named Jerry.  To most of you, that means little, but it amuses me that he has the same first name (and, incidentally, very similar last name.  I don’t want to say the actual name, but it’s something like Gerhardson) as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo.  Oh jeez.

Anyway, the mechanic will have to make a house call, which he dislikes, but will still probably be willing to do.

And why don’t all mechanics make house calls?  It just makes sense so that their customers can avoid the towing fees.  Oh wait, a lot of mechanics also run towing companies.  Hmm… in the legal field, we would call that conflict of interest.

To wrap up, by Sunday, we should again have two running vehicles.  Until, of course, the Prizm decides that leaving the engine by the roadside would increase its value.

Cheers,
Charlie

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