I hate fixing cars.

I’m not like other men. Whatever gene it is most guys are born with that allows them to enjoy sports and do mechanical-type things like fix cars and hang what-not shelves is probably missing from my DNA. I can change a flat tire and, if my life depended on it, I could probably change my car’s oil, but beyond that I generally don’t mess around with trying to repair my own vehicle. My father use to chastise my lack of interest in learning how to fix my car when I was a teenager; usually while he was struggling to put new brake shoes on it as I “assisted” him by handing him whatever tool he was asking for.

“If you don’t learn how to fix your own car,” he’d say between grunts, “Then you’ll have to pay other people to fix it for you. Think of how much money I’m saving by putting these brake shoes on instead of paying some mechanic to do it.” A reasonable argument if you’re mechanically inclined, which I’m not. Which isn’t to say that my father was all that inclined himself. The money he saved was easily offset by the sheer numbers of hours he’d end up investing in the task. Usually the better part of a day or two. He didn’t do his own stuff for the sheer joy of it like some car guys I know, but out of a sense of saving money. Still, he was much more of a car guy than I was in that he subscribed to magazines such as Hotrod and Kit-Kar and dreamed of building his own souped up road monster someday. I didn’t have any such dreams. My plan was to have a decent enough job that I could afford to pay someone else to fix my car and that’s what I’d reply with whenever he made statements like the above. For that matter, it’s generally what I’ve done.

Still, there are some problems that seem so exceedingly simple to deal with that it seems somewhat irresponsible to pay someone else to fix them. Stuff like my current problem of a car with a possibly bad battery. I’ve already described the problem in an earlier entry and based on my experience with it I had concluded that it was probably a bad battery rather than, say, a faulty alternator. There’s no way in hell you’d get me to try and replace a faulty alternator even if you were threatening a gory death to my family. I’ve watched both my father and my uncle try and replace an alternator before, once on a Chevette I had as a teenager, and death would be preferable to going through what they went through especially knowing I’d fuck it up in the end. But a bad battery should be no big deal, right? I mean, it’s a battery for chrissakes. It has a positive cable and a negative cable and as long as you don’t mix those up it should work just fine, right? I manage to swap all kinds of other batteries in other devices without too much injury so this shouldn’t be all that different, right? Right?!?

So I squeezed myself into my wife’s Saturn where upon I suddenly remembered why I stopped buying smaller four cylinder cars for myself (I always feel like I’m driving a go-cart) and hustled my ass over to the local Murray’s Discount Auto store to buy a battery. Then the helpful sales lady had to dent my confidence by asking, “Are you sure it’s the battery?”  Well, no, of course I’m not one hundred percent sure it’s the friggin’ battery. I’m a friggin’ computer geek! So she mentions they’ll do a free test of the battery and the alternator and some other random electrical car stuff if I can drag the car up to the store.

So I squeezed back into my wife’s car and came home. Before going upstairs to wake her up so I could jump my vehicle and have her follow me back to the store I decided on a whim to see if my car would start. It did, barely. So I headed back over to the store. One of the nice sales people came out and hooked up a device to my battery and it said it had a bad cell in it someplace. Then he asked me to start the car, which, of course, it wouldn’t. He was pretty sure it was the battery, though, so I went into the store and bought a new battery. After loading it into the backseat I was about to head back into the store to let them know I was ready for them to jump start the car (another free service they offer) when, again on a whim, I tried starting the car once more. With an effort of herculean proportions the car did slowly crank over and start. So I came home.

Then I was hungry so I came inside to get something to eat before trying to install the new battery, which brings me to where I am now. I have the new battery sitting in the car waiting for me to get up the nerve to try and install it. I’ve actually opened the hood and looked at where the battery is supposed to go and it doesn’t look too challenging, but I’m doubting my own abilities. I didn’t think hanging that what-not shelf would be too hard until I managed to put the hammer head through the wall with what I thought was a “light tap.” I’ll probably go out and try it after I finish writing this entry, but I know I’m not going to enjoy it. I hate this kind of stuff. Give me a broken PC and I’ll tear into it with a confidence and enjoyment unrivaled, but car repairs… yuck.

12 thoughts on “I hate fixing cars.

  1. I wouldn’t worry too much. Replacing a car’s battery is pretty simple. All you have to do is place it in the glove compartment and close the lid. After that you’ll be humming down the road like a race car driver. Happy trails, dude.

  2. Oh, and if you ever decide to change your own oil, be certain to use the extra virgin olive oil. None of that 3rd pressing crap. That would be like putting water in there, which you shouldn’t do unless you only want to use the car for city driving.

  3. Ah, come on, you can do it! Just some friendly advice from a “girl” that can do her own car work. Take the time to really clean the ends of your battery cables before putting them on the battery. Toothbrush and some baking soda dissolved in water should do it. And be careful when using metal tools. If your tool touches the battery post and the car frame at the same time you could get a shock. That’s how I accidentally welded my ratchet wrench once.

  4. omg - Les, are you my husband in disguise?  He does that, “But I’m a techie, not a mechanic!” thing to me all the time.  Well, I’m not a chef but I can bloody well cook.  Gah - men!  :^)

  5. In my family, my brother got the mechanical gene and I got the technology gene.
    He couldn’t format a floppy disc to save his life.
    Oil, battery, spark plugs; that’s about the extent of my mechanical aptitude. Though I have changed my brakes once - only because my dad did it, said, “I hope you were paying attention” and then re-disassembled the brakes so I could do it. Took me all freakin’ day.

  6. Well Natalie, it’s not like I asked to be mechanically inept. I took a lot of gruff growing up from the “normal” guys who were into cars and sports. I’ve been a geek for as long as I can remember.

    Greg, the important thing is: Did the car stop when you applied the brakes afterwards? If it did then you’re a better man than I am. If that happened to me my car would still be up on blocks in the garage.

  7. I tend to be minorly mechanically inclined.  Mainly b/c I either didn’t have the money or weren’t willing to spend it.  I learned how to field strip the carb on an old Honda CB125 bike, since it tended to plug up in the middle of a soybean field.  Riding is more fun than pushing.

    Other times, like w/ the wife’s old Pontiac, I took it to the shop to have them change the spark plugs.  Simple rule: if I can’t SEE what I’m going to replace, it’s gonna be a pain, so I pay someone. 

    I put full synthetic oil in my car, so I have to do it myself.  But then, the whole change w/ filter only costs me $25 + time.  Full synth can last up to 25,000 mi.  Paying $15 every 3-4 months AND having to go to the quik lube is too much work.  I rotated my tires last week b/c I never got around to driving over to Discount Tires to have them do it - for free. 

    Nobody’s mentioned changing the air filter.  It’s got to be the easiest part to replace under the hood. 

    Les - have you had to replace the batt in your wife’s Saturn?  I’m on my second Saturn - both original batts were crap - died in less than 2 yrs.  Delco batteries, wife’s old Pontiac had one.  It died quick, too.  All had a bad cell.  At least all three were under warranty.

  8. Nope, the wife’s Saturn is running just fine with the original battery. That car is still under it’s warranty though so it’d be less of an issue if it died.

  9. it’s really not hard… just pay attention to how it looks before you take the old one out… and be sure to hook up the red (possitive) cable first…
    In my last truck mad everything was backwards…
    Had to re-wire/work the whole thing…

  10. If you get consistent ‘bad cells’ you should start taking care to not EVER run ANYTHING on the car while the engine is off. Cell ‘reversal’ is a symptom of overtaxing your battery, which only happens when you use juice while the alternator isn’t running.

    Being conscientious about your battery can save you a bundle!

  11. As I fell asleep last night for some reason I was thinking about this post, and now I remember why.  I need to tell you to count your blessings.  You could have been cursed with mechanical ability!

    Imagine that people were always telling you to pay someone else to fix your computer.  Since you understand computers rather easily, this would drive you nuts.  The needless expense!  The anxiety… are they doing it right?!  Damn it, just step away from the keyboard and let me do it.

    But you are blissfully free of the damned gene that makes mechanical things easy to understand.  I have that gene and it’s no picnic.  Mechanical things are totally transparent to me.  At a glance I know how everything works from the door latch on a dishwasher to the brakes on my car.

    It makes no more sense for me than for anyone else to fix my own car . . . waste of time, etc.  But I’m neurotically compelled to do it anyway.  A voice in my head - which sounds exactly like my father - says “Come on - it’s three bolts and five wires!  You can do it in an hour!”  Yeah, an hour where I could have been doing something useful, like anything else at all.

    There is no known therapy for this condition.  In its advanced stages it even leads to “projects,” like the one where I’m restoring a 37-year-old VW.

    Changing a battery is simple, yes, but it’s still a pain in the ass.  You’d be totally justified in having the place install it for you.  Just shrug and say, “I don’t work on cars.”  And enjoy the entertainment value of watching the mechanically inclined sputter about how “easy” it would be to do it yourself.

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