Friday, December 2, 2005

Me Vs. The Germans Round 2

My Fair Lady is in the middle of her law school finals for the fall, and as such has spent an unhealthy amount of time cocooned in the library. Apparently, its not conducive to studying with me running around the house making explosion noices and talking to myself depending on whether I'm gaming or writing.

I'll leave you to guess which sounds go with which activity.

So it was on Sunday morning when she went out to her VW Passat to head to the library. My cell phone rings about 20 second after she walks out the front door.

Me: "Hello?"

MFL: "My car won't start."

Me: "What do you mean it won't start? Did it die somewhere?"

MFL: "Nope. It won't start and I'm out in the driveway. Help?"

So we both look at her car, and our official diagnosis of the problem was summed up thusly: "Huh. Want to take my car?"

Later that afternoon, I played with her car and determined the battery was dead. This was the same battery that's been in her car for the last six years, so the fact that it died was not surprising in and of itself. So when she came home about 9:30 p.m. that night, we decided that one day this week we would get up early and take her car in. Come Wednesday night, we still hadn't managed to take it in. But we figured it couldn't be that difficult to swap out the battery.

Apparently, German engineers are hella good at liberally bolting down everything they can find. Bolts must grow on trees over there because I've never seen so many on anything. I now think that there must be a "bolt tax" somewhere in the cost of German-made cars, because it can't be cheap to quickly grow them if they use one bolt tree per vehicle. I'll get to why I think this in a bit.

My Fair Lady throws her car into neutral and I push it out of the garage and line it up next to my Cherokee. I get the jumper cables out and she stops me cold. "Now are you sure you know what you're doing?" I calmly replied that while I may not be able to build a car blindfolded, I have jumped more than my fair share and do know what I'm doing. Then we got our first surprise.

Car batteries are different from regular batteries only in size. There is literally no other difference. So if the black cable goes on the black battery head and the red cable goes on the red battery head, then the connection is cleanly made. We then found that her Passat's battery was not so clearly labeled. The wires plugging into her battery, however, did have the red and black differenciation, but it took some convincing that this was the way to go. Once the cables were set, I turned my car on and waited a minute, then hers turned right on. So we decided to go buy a battery and swap hers out.

We get to Auto Zone and go through the process of buying a battery. Apparently, her father scared the crap out of her and her siblings regarding jumping cars and car batteries in general. In his day, if you jumped it wrong then the battery could explode all over you. The result of which is illustrated below:

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When we got home with the new battery, we pop the VW's hood and look at the battery. It was wedged up near the front of the car almost to the point where the ability to hover in the air would have been helpful. As it was, we simply had to climb all over it to get the right angle because of, wait for it, how the thing was bolted in.

Every car battery has cables coming off of the positive and negative heads, so all you have to do is loosen these, take off whatever else the battery connects to, then pull it out and drop in the new one. But there are two things to consider when working on a foreign car:

1) The bolts and equipment were installed using a different measurement system so your tools won't exactly line up with what's installed. This will lead to an unhealthy amount of improvisation on your part as you struggle to use three tools to unscrew a bolt that one tool installed in the first place.

2) The parts you will unscrew will be small and can be easily lost if misplaced. Pre-determine where you will set the removed parts/bolts, and do not deviate from this.

After about half an hour of using almost every tool we own (which is quite a lot, for the record), My Fair Lady and I managed to unscrew every bolt and plate that held that battery in place. I then yanked it out, took the new one and dropped it in, then started reconnecting everything. When it was all set and ready to go, I casually hid around the corner while My Fair Lady started the car to see if it worked.

The good news is that everything went fine and her car runs better than before. The better news is that once again I have met the German enemy and defeated him thusly. The even better news is that we didn't have to pay some guy $100 in labor costs when I could do the same thing for a celebratory Frosty from Wendy's.

What can I say, I work cheap.

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