Domestic Battery

Melissa has been in my life longer than almost anyone I know.

She is a 1989 Honda Civic Wagon of a type no longer made, though the unnecessarily burly and jacked-up CR-V was built on the same platform. Melissa is sturdy, modest, and efficient, old enough to vote and drink in any state in this nation, with barely 70,000 miles on her, given my commute (down the stairs to the massage room).

Her clearcoat is finally beginning to craze after 21 years of weather and bits on her fenders are, I blush to say it, rusted out, but I love her.

I just have this nasty habit of draining her battery. I’m half blind, and clumsy, and I forget and leave the lights on when it’s rainy, or accidentally turn them on with my ass leaving the vehicle. I use a solar trickle charger suction-cupped to the windshield to offset the damage, but this time, the battery was three and a half years old — it had been put in by  my mad Congressional Candidate in 2007, the least he owed me after two rounds as his campaign publicist — and Friday it was deader than my future in political work. I got it to crank once, more or less, with a jumper box but after that nothing was forthcoming but a solenoid click and a whirring sound like a woodchuck with the dry heaves.

My first instinct was to call my mechanic, only to find the shop was closing early for the holiday weekend and the towing service they used wasn’t really available anyway. I braced my young engineer friend, who had never swapped out a car battery despite bouts of other mechanical work on his assorted vehicles (he’s a solar engineer, not automotive), and suggested that if the Craziest Man Ever To Run For Congress ™ could tackle the job, we could. I’m not sure either of us would have proceeded on our own but together, we figured the worst we could do was end up where we started, and he trolleyed me over to the local parts store in his sporty red convertible.

Here is what it takes:

A quarter cup of baking soda
Nitrile gloves
A flatiron style scrub brush
Liquid Wrench ™
Needlenose pliers
A tack hammer
A small plastic handled screwdriver
Two pairs of wrap-around amber sunglasses

You put on the nitrile gloves and the wraparound sunglasses, because the old battery sports a heap of chlorine-colored corrosion around the positive terminal that looks like the glob of wasabi you get at a sushi restaurant, inspiring uncomfortable thoughts of acid and spatter. You pour a slurry of baking soda over the mess, then sluice it off and wait for it to dry, in hopes anything really injurious will be thereby diluted (I learned that from the well loved redneck guy who taught me to drive).  Then you unbolt the negative terminal (easy) with a wrench, take a fly at the corroded clamp on the positive one, swear, apply Liquid Wrench, wait, try budging it with the pliers, swear some more, find a socket wrench set that your retirement account broker sent you for investing, take turns with it till the bolt securing the clamp finally moves, wedge the clamp apart by applying the blade of a small screwdriver smacked with a tack hammer (“adjusting tool” in rural dialect), and huck the old battery out (it weighs around forty pounds, and you can only lift from certain angles because the car is nose in to a mulch pile). The battery tray is full of colorful drips from rinsing out the corrosion so you dry-scrub it on the lawn with the scrub brush. Once you have it seated back in the engine compartment, in goes the new battery and you tighten up the clamps, then turn the key in the ignition and hear the most beautiful goddamn sound in the world.

As the cherry on top, I got to enjoy the sidelong Looks in the parts shop. I don’t think too many old broads come in there with battery carcasses on their shoulders, demanding their recycling rebate.

We were so elated we washed and waxed both cars before we ran out of steam.

I don’t know why I haven’t been doing this for decades.


13 thoughts on “Domestic Battery

  1. You’re a better woman than I, sled. Having gone a bit bleary-eyed during the mechanical instruction, I perked up during the swearing directive. I usually try not to swear, except in cases of emergency, but it truly does seem requisite for this operation. I am better at driving the car to the auto tech and sitting with a latte and watching the widescreen while said work is being performed. Like I said, you’re a better woman than I, and I meant it.

    • Since the car couldn’t be driven whatsoever and the tow truck operator was not interested in the fact that the shop closed early that day, my general lack of serene patience started to kick in. I can do frightening things when I get impatient.

    • If that’s the case, I am the Empress of mechanical objects. I bow only to naval officers and tinkers, and I can’t remember how long it’s been since I encountered a tinker.

  2. coincidentally I had a flat battery on Saturday. Had to call the Roadside Assistance guys to start me up and they recommended I buy a new one asap. Mine was 3 and a half years old too and they’re only made to last about three years so I guess it’s time to pony up for another one 😦

    Unless you do house calls to Oz?

  3. My car is five years old and still has the original battery. Each year I figure it will be the last but it made it through 6 Québec winters (Bought the car 17 December 2009).
    I still hope it will pull through the coming winter, my trusted mechanic will check it next month when I winterize “La Grise”.

    • I admit I have not bought terribly durable batteries the last few times. When your car is approaching the age of college graduation, it seems silly… and yet there she still is.

  4. The last time I was a wingman on such a project, we dropped the socket into the engine compartment and never saw it again. The replacement works fine, but is the odd man out in what was once a huge SAE and metric set.

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