Friday, October 8, 2010

The Little Red Car Strikes Again

Connector Fail

I was sitting in my office at my computer one recent morning checking up on the news from both the world, via a few news websites, and my friends, via Facebook, when my cell phone rang. I have my cell phone set so that it has different rings for different people. For close friends, it plays "A Pirates Life for Me," for family it plays "What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor," and for my wife, Carol, it plays the "Theme from the Mickey Mouse Club." When my phone rang this time, it was the "Mickey" theme so I knew it was Carol who I had sent off to work just a few minutes earlier. It's rarely good news when Carol calls me this early in the day, so my heart skipped a beat or two as I grabbed my phone and pressed the little green "answer" button.

"Hello," I said.

"I can't believe I did this, but I've let my car run out of gas. I'm on the freeway just before the Buena Vista exit. The gas gauge wasn't even on reserve so I thought I had enough," wailed Carol. She went on to describe what had happened and then said, ". . . .the second hand on the clock isn't even moving."

"Try to start the car," I told her.

"Nothing happens and the gas gauge needle doesn't even move."

"You're not out of gas," I said. "It's an electrical problem."

"I don't have the number for the Freeway Rescue people, " she said.

"Never mind, I'll come and help you. I have to get dressed and grab some tools and then I'll come and help you."

"It's okay, just do your thing and . . . ."

"I'm not going to "do my thing," I'm going to throw some clothes on and come and get you. I'll see you shortly."

I swiveled my chair around, stood up and went to the bedroom. I quickly pulled on a t-shirt, socks and jeans and then went back to my office to find get my shoes from where I had kicked them off the night before. Then I grabbed a jacket, a hat and my wallet, and left the living part of the house, locking the front door behind me. I walked around to the back of the house where my workshop is, unlocked the door, turned on the light and went looking for tools. I took a couple of crescent wrenches, three open-end wrenches, a multi-bit screwdriver, a electric circuit tester, a roll of electrical tape and a handful of fuses. I locked up the workshop and went back out front to one of our other cars, the Mitsubishi Galant, tossed the tools on the floor of passenger side, started it up and headed out to rescue Carol.

She was right were she said she would be, about a mile or so from her exit. The shoulder was very narrow where she had pulled off the freeway and the traffic was roaring by at 60 mph as I pulled off the road and stopped behind her car. I looked in my left-side mirror and waited for a break in the high-speed traffic before I opened the door and got out of the car. There was very little distance between me and the cars zipping by as I sidled my way to the front of the car. There was a Freeway Rescue tow truck parked in front of Carol's car and she told me that they had just arrived. I nodded and then opened the hood of her VW to see if the problem was with the engine wiring. There it was, all right. The oil filler cap had come loose and somehow bumped the main wire from the battery to the generator, right where that wire had been repaired by someone with a crimp-on connector. It appeared that there had been just enough bare wire exposed to hit the metal cap and short out the whole system. The wire, coming from the battery, was live and when I moved it sparks flew up. I managed to get the wire isolated from the metal of the car and then I had to break it free of the metal cap to which it had become welded. It was then I discovered that the crimp-on connector had failed and the wires had come apart, allowing the loose, live wire to fall onto the metal cap. From there, it was a simple matter of stripping off some of the melted insulation from the ends of the two wires, twisting them back together, and sealing the connection with electrical tape.

I told Carol to go start the car. It started right up. We thanked the guy from Freeway Rescue and he got back in his truck and roared off. Carol and I discussed a strategy for getting back onto the freeway without getting run over by the high-speed traffic.

"See. There's a break in the flow every once in a while and I'll just zip into the stream when one of the breaks comes along," she said confidently.

I walked back, sidled back along my car, got safely into the driver's seat and started it up. I watched in horror as Carol pulled out into the traffic stream in the smallest break in the flow that I have ever seen. A 1965 VW doesn't accelerate at a neck-snapping rate, and as she toddled out into the right lane of the freeway, I watched helplessly as a big, black Ford SUV barreled up towards her rear bumper. Lucky for us, he was paying attention and got himself slowed down enough so that he didn't actually hit the little red car. When I was able to breath again, I waited for a much bigger gap in the traffic, floored the accelerator and squealed out into the right lane without incident. I followed Carol's car to the exit, saw her safely into the parking lot of the office park where she works, went around the block, got back on the freeway and returned home.

That little red 1965 Volkswagen continues to be a problem. It's not the car, of course. The car is fine. It's the previous work that's been done on it that is the problem. Just when I think I've found and repaired all the potential disasters, another one rears its ugly head. Oh well, that's the automobile for you, always something to wear out or malfunction. That's why there's a repair shop on nearly every corner.