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“The battery’s the weakest part of a car…”

That’s what the guy at the car repair place told me today.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This morning, I called the insurance company’s motor club to schedule a jumpstart and/or tow appointment once again, and this time I got faster service, in about 45 minutes.  However, one thing the insurance people didn’t tell me is that I’d have to pay cash for the service call.  And I had hardly any cash on hand, and the nearest ATM was several snow- and slush-covered blocks away.

The problem turned out to be a dead battery.  The guy came in a car, not a tow truck, so I guess he was expecting that.  He had a portable gadget about the size of a car battery that he used to jumpstart the car, and he told me I had to keep it running for a while.  After that, he followed me to the nearest parking lot I knew of to the ATM (turned out there were actually two closer ones but I didn’t think of them) and stood watch by my idling car while I slogged through the snow and slush to the cash machine.  Not fun.

He recommended I get the battery checked at a nearby garage, so I went there and they took a look at it for me.  I had a bit of a surprised reaction when the mechanic took my car out into the street, down the block, and around the corner; turns out that’s the only way to get to the area in back where he worked.  Anyway, they diagnosed it as a failed battery and recommended replacing it.  Said it’d be about 45 minutes to get one in (he didn’t have any in stock since they’ve been heavily in demand the last few days).  So I went to do a quick errand at the post office and then walked to the library (a difficult slog since I was on the less snow-cleared side of the street), looked around there for about 20 minutes, then went back to the repair place at the appointed time.  Only to be told the battery people had gone to lunch and I’d have to wait another hour.  My problem is, I expect people to be punctual.  So I walked back to the library, an easier trip on this side of the street but still with some rough patches.

At the library (which has been sadly lacking in new Star Trek novels the past couple of months), I read a collection of Justice League Adventures, a comic series nominally set in the continuity of the animated Justice League TV series, but like most tie-in materials published during a show in progress, they pretty much all contained things that were contradicted by later seasons of the show.  (For instance, they assumed Wonder Woman’s lasso already had the truth-compelling ability Diana didn’t discover until a later season, and their versions of villains such as Chronos, Amazo, and the Royal Flush Gang were very different from what the show later established.)  Still, there were some fairly good stories in it.

And it took just about an hour to read.  When I got back this time, the car was ready.  So I was finally able to go to the grocery store and get some milk and bananas and cheese and yogurt and bread and sandwich turkey and other stuff I was out of or nearly so.  I’m having a light, early dinner now, since I’ve had an exhausting afternoon and haven’t eaten since the early lunch I rushed through before the jumpstart guy got here.

The guy at the repair place told me that batteries are not only less efficient and more strained in the cold, but are having more and more demanded of them as cars become more computerized.  Apparently, even formerly hydraulic systems like brakes and steering are being replaced with computer-controlled, electricity-drawing systems.  More and more, the entire operation of an automobile is depending on the battery, which, according to him, is the weakest part of the car.  Seems like an unwise practice to me.

But I’ve heard there’s some promising research being done into new energy-storage technology.  Apparently there’s a material being developed that so thin it could be used to make the doors and paneling of a car, and would charge faster and function more efficiently than a chemical battery.  The repair guy was skeptical, but with the way materials science is advancing these days, I’m more optimistic about the prospects.

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  1. Rich G
    February 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Congrats, Christopher, on having it be just about the cheapest and easiest thing it could be…besides simply having ‘dirty’ terminal heads on the battery.

    A bad alternator would have been tremendously expensive. It’s like the power supply going bad in a PC…it’s about the easiest/cheapest thing to replace.

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