The Case of the Misdiagnosed Vehicle (Part Two)

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Yesterday, in Part One, I discussed the back story of my car to give you some of the clues, and some red herrings, intended to give you, the reader, a chance to solve a mystery as in some detective novels where the reader who pays attention to the details has a reasonable chance of solving the mystery before the protagonist. If you have not read Part One yet, you should go back and read it, and if you wish to have all your facts straight, maybe read through it a second time. I did my best to make the mystery fair. And the fact that it resembles a bad episode of “House M.D.,” with all the misdiagnosing, is unintentional. This is just how the situation played out.

The morning of the 20th, I was very tired, and was still feeling the effects of a recent cold. I didn’t want to stop anywhere on the way home, and of my work stuff, I was only going to take in what couldn’t be left in the car. No multiple trips from car to house for me that morning. This is probably why I didn’t notice that my headlights were on.

I was surprised that night when I was leaving for work that my battery was dead, but when I hooked up my roommate’s car battery to my car battery, and my headlights came on, I knew what the problem was. Or so I thought I did. The problem is that the car was starting when we jumpstarted it, but it wasn’t staying that way. It would run for less than ten seconds and then die. Then it wouldn’t even do that, so we let the battery charge more. It ran for less than ten seconds, died, and then wouldn’t do even that again.

My boss worked my schedule around, so that I could use my roommate’s car to go to work, and while we were texting he suggested that maybe my alternator was bad. I went to look, and the alternator belt, while not broken, had started fraying. I showed my roommate and told him that it might be a good idea while there was no traffic to push my car to the nearby mechanic so I didn’t have to pay for a tow.

This was a good idea, except that while in ok shape, I’m not in that good of shape. Pushing the car nearly killed me, which is wrong, because in an episode of “House M.D.” it’s supposed to be the patient that nearly dies, and in this case the car is the patient, damn it! The driveway is slanted, so we both had to push the car onto the street, which was not all that easy to be honest. Once we had it out on the street, he helped me start pushing it. I told him to drive his car down there to give me a ride back. Ugh. By the time I was almost there, the slight momentum that the street provided was not really there anymore, and I was gasping for air. Luckily, a couple of guys helped me push it the rest of the way. I was glad for the ability to lie down before work, and that there was an asthma inhaler in the house.

The next morning, my dad came and got me and took me to the mechanic. I explained what happened, and they said that they would start with the belts, and then see what the other problem was. We had to jumpstart the car again, but this time it started and stayed running. I was wondering if maybe the battery on my roommate’s car was just not strong enough, but dismissed it.

They replaced the belts. They drove the car. There was no trouble. I got there. They started the car and moved it from the shop to the parking lot. I paid for it. I started the car and drove it home. I parked it in the driveway. No problems. No problems, that is, until I tried to leave for work that night. It was doing the same thing, except that the battery didn’t seem to be dead.

I called my dad. I figured that we could try jumping it anyway, and if it started up he could take me to get a battery. It didn’t start though. I was completely at a loss. Maybe the alternator was bad, but why would it crank, run for less than ten seconds, die, and then not even do that? As I understand an alternator, it just recharges the battery. It doesn’t keep the car running. Have you figured it out yet, cos I hadn’t?

As my dad was driving me to my post, which was luckily a post where I didn’t need a car to sit in, he said something about how it just seemed like it wasn’t getting any gas, like the fact that my driveway sloped was causing it not to start. I immediately thought of the movie “Sling Blade,” which if you haven’t seen it, go watch it. It’s worth your time. I told my dad to turn around.

You see, I’d vaguely remembered the gas light having come on before renting the car, but it hadn’t been on after I got the car back. I was so tired and sick that morning that I was looking at the gauge thinking that I should stop for gas, but I decided that if the light didn’t come on, I’d do it on the way to work. I guess that after a certain point, the light goes off and stays off.

As I said, much like an episode of “House M.D.,” the original occurrence and symptom masked the actual problem by drawing the attention to the wrong issues, and an offhand comment brought it all into focus. We got a gallon of gas in a gas can, and the car started right up. Mystery solved.

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