Dead Car Battery on MLK Day

Monday began as a typical day. Review a few emails and posts on Quora before heading off for work. Fortunately, work didn’t start this particular day until 4:30 pm as I was working the evening shift. As it so happens, I like to hang out at a restaurant near my work where I can get a low-cost order of tea or water. That is my way of avoiding traffic, catch up on some reading, and chat with friendly staff. When it is time to clock in, I just make a short, predictable 2 – 5 minute trip over to the workplace. I try to be 15 minutes early.

Signs of Car Trouble

I decided to leave just an extra hour over my typical departure time. I shut down everything, went through my typical mental check list, and headed out to the car. Opened the driver’s side door, leaned over and turned the ignition. Usual engine crank up sound followed by a continuous beep. The continuous beep was not expected. I decided to sit down in the driver seat, and try again. Several clicks. Nothing. I tried again. The clicks were getting weaker.


My first thought settled on the spark plug. I wondered if the spark plug was shot. By this time, I was firmly in the driver’s seat with the door closed. Since my door handle was broken, I have to roll down the window to get out. Power windows. As I rolled down the window, the window descended very slowly. At that moment, I knew it was the battery.

I sat there for a few minutes. I had already been through many difficult situations in life. As a result, my first response was instinctual calculation and assessment. I decided in that moment that my best option was to walk to work. I decided not to be undermined by this situation. It is an event that I will overcome.

Although my rational mind quickly converged on this decision, I was uncertain. I went back into the apartment, sat for a second and thought to myself if I really want to do this. I looked at the clock and remembered my past history and said to myself, yes, this is the best choice. I do not know what is ahead of me and I do not know how long the journey will take or if I will make it on time. I simply decided that I need to find out.

Up to this point, I had been relatively sedentary for 3 years. Prior to that, there was an auto accident in 2012 (in a different, much bigger city) in which I had to do the same thing (walking/biking) for nearly 4 months. I thought that 3 years was a long time and was concerned if I had the stamina. I then recalled the mindset I had in that tough situation in 2012 and applied it to this moment.

Executing the Decision

I stepped out the door, didn’t look back at the car and just went. I left about 2:45 pm. I set my stopwatch as I was curious about the time at various landmarks along the way. I said that if I am going to do this, I may as well keep track in case I end up doing this again. I can prepare better this time.

I walked the same route I normally drove. I picked that route as an efficient route for driving (gas and time). I figured this particular route could work just as well for walking. After about 10 minutes in, I felt a little dismay, then a lot as I covered several blocks. It bothered me that the weather got so cold as to make driving inaccessible. I thought about a lot of things as I walked, but kept marching on.

I encountered a pack of dogs along the way. I am walking past industrial buildings so there are open spaces for dogs and the like. These were free roaming dogs with no human affiliation. They noticed me coming, barked and line up. I looked at them very plainly, without fear, with no change of pace. They sensed something about me and decided to turn away. I looked their way for a few seconds over the course of a minute before returning to my thoughts.

About 10 minutes later, I was at the main highway. Fortunately, there is a big wide shoulder on this highway. I walked it with firm attention on my task. I crossed a few off ramps and a few intersections over the span of 50 minutes. Many thoughts passed my mind about the journey, the circumstances.

Goal Achieved

I finally made it to my destination. My feet were more exhausted than I was. The best news was I arrived at work 15 minutes early.

Recap with Others

I was not the only one who had car trouble that day. Others had battery problems as well. I spoke to a few associates about my solution to walk. The journey, on foot, took me 1 hour and 30 minutes. I called up Google maps to see what their assessment and they estimated the 7 mile trip would take 2 hours and 30 minutes by foot. Even when I adjusted the default route Google suggested to match my own (their route was longer), the time estimate was the same. Either my route was better than expected or my foot pace made a difference (none-stop, regular cadence).

Return Trip

A co-worker who was headed in the same direction gave me a ride back. I greatly appreciated it. The evening shift was over and I was back at the apartment at around 10 pm. After I settled back in, I thought about the battery situation.

This Happened Before

I knew I would have the day off the following day. That gave me time to address the car situation. I decided to try the ignition again. No avail. The last time the battery failed (about a year and 3 months ago), I got one from Wal-mart and installed it. That situation happened at work at the end of the evening shift. A coworker drove me to Wal-mart at my request where I decided the best course of action was to buy a battery and not rely on a boost off. After we returned from Wal-mart, he gave me a boost. That was enough for me to return home to do my first battery install. My youngest brother, an auto tech in training, added his expertise. That battery did well until the deep cold got it recently.

First Solution

I thought I would simply unthaw the battery. I went online to make sure I could do that safely. By some miracle, truly a miracle, I had exactly the item needed to contain a battery indoors. A pyrex container used for cooking. I never used it, my mother left it behind and it just sat on the shelf. I just happened to remember that I had it.

My idea was to simply let the battery sit in room temperature overnight. I looked at dozens of online articles about battery maintenance and learned many things I had no interest in before. I learned that some people in colder climates take their battery in at night. I learned about battery tenders and a litany of trivia that I decided to mentally store away for later. The main thing was making sure my solution was realistic.

Popping the Hood

Getting the battery out was the hard part. Took until about 2 am (I ate and relaxed first). The hood release doesn’t work right and it took me a while to figure that out. I would pull the latch under the steering wheel, then walk around to the front of the car to open the hood. It used to work, but no longer. I kept trying and trying and that was the main barrier to progress. I decided to re-read the owners manual to the car, but pay attention this time. It didn’t say anything about two people to open the hood. Then I remembered that the hood release used to slowly retract after you pull it, but the spring action is no longer in effect. That is when I realized that this was a malfunction that I will have to creatively override.

To solve the problem, I used a closed umbrella, braced on a small wrench box. While the umbrella held the release latch in the open position, I went around to the hood and successfully opened it. Yes, that took quite a bit of time combined with a difficult screw on the battery’s positive contact. Anyway, when you encounter a problem like that, you simply look for a solution.

The Thawed Battery

The terminology I have used so far may be off, but I thought the solution of thawing the battery had a good chance of working. I had other plans ready otherwise. I woke up, looked at the battery, then felt the sides. It definitely felt less icy at 10 am than it did at 2 am. I decided to check some emails, fix some food, follow-up on some online posts. I wasn’t worried since I had mapped out 2 to 4 contingency plans if the battery failed to work.

Preparing to Install the Battery

I went through a few wrenches to get the battery out of the battery bay in the car. The one, final screw on the red (positive) contact was ultra tight. I was on the edge of wearing out the fastening nut when I decided it wasn’t going to budge. I had different idea to wiggle the round contact back and forth in a semi-circle to pull the contact up. That worked, but I wondered about getting it back on. We are about to find out.

Installing the Battery

I am looking at the result of early Tuesday (I finished around 2 am) and stayed focused. Since the positive contact was the more troublesome to remove, I decided that should be the first to reconnect. I simply pushed it into the positive pole, but not super tight like before. So far, so good. Now, the negative contact. The lights in the car comes on. Hope had temporarily arisen in me replacing mere calculation and execution.


Didn’t work. Unlike the 3 tries to start I did nearly 24 hours ago, I tried several times over about 10 minutes. Based on my brief research the night before, I spaced out the ignition sequences on the chance that it would eventually start. For a small while, it did appear that the engine turnover activity was getting firmer and shortening out less on each subsequent ignition attempt. My rational thought kicked in to realize that I begin to indulge in false hopes that will eat away precious time because I had fallback plans that were time sensitive.

Plan C

The first plan was to stick with the battery I had on the chance that I could return to a serviceable condition. That didn’t work. The next plan was to take the bus. You might ask why I didn’t take the bus on Monday. Buses do not run on that holiday. I didn’t know that, but my instincts pushed in a direction on that day that made that a moot point. Glad I followed by instincts.

I wagered that I might have difficulty carrying a battery on public transportation. I would have to walk several block, carrying a heavy battery on the possibility of being rejected. I didn’t mind that actually since Plan D was to walk to Wal-mart with said battery if that happened. An hour and a half journey with a heavy battery in one hand didn’t seem very appealing. That is when I decided upon Plan C.

I would borrow my mom’s car without causing her too much burden. She is recovering from serious medical treatments and so my plan was to walk to her house and ask for permission in person. Telling someone over the phone that your battery is dead can worry them, and I prefer my mother not worry about things. So I walked to her house, calmly and confidently explained the situation in a way that she knew I had a real handle over the situation. She let me borrow the car without question.

My plan was to solve the problem in the most efficient and least convoluted way possible. Take the battery to Wal-mart, get a free replacement under the conditions of the warranty. If the warranty claim was rejected, go to AutoZone and buy a new battery. With either option taken, return to my apartment, install the battery. If the battery failed, use jumper cables to close the gap. That was the plan.

In reality, the warranty claim was honored. I was greatly relieved and thankful. I got the battery. It turned out, that the original agent did not sell me the exact battery that I needed. It was compatible somehow, but it wasn’t the model listed for the car. The now defunct battery was tested and found deficient. I got a free replacement that was the exact battery this time. I requested that the new battery be tested just to make sure I did not get a dud. I drove back to the apartment, installed the battery and all was well.

Good Exercise for Reflection and Testing

I decided not to waste the exercise I got in the last two days. I walked an hour and a half on Monday, 1 hour on Tuesday. It takes 30 minutes to get to my mom’s house. I decided to walk back. During the walks I thought about many things. Things I could have done to prepare better like have a bike as a backup, been more knowledgeable about car maintenance, simple things like having the right wrenches available, and variety of minutia. I definitely thought about the fact I sometimes put too much an emphasis on cheaper rather than better components. Those were some of the pleasant thoughts. I also thought about life in general. Something about abruptly losing comfortable routines can place you in a different cognitive space. I explored many threads of thought in the last 72 hours as I prepare for a new geography in February. As they say, sometimes things happen for a reason. In the meantime, I am glad the situation is resolved.

I left my mom’s house about a quarter after 5 pm. The outdoor temperature had dropped to about 27 degrees. The fact that the battery I have is rated for 32 degrees was still fresh on my mind. I was eager to get back and put it into use. The battery worked well and I went to the other end of the city to fill up on gas. I was on the cusp of empty. Gas prices are down so that is good. I was fortunate to live in a city that is designed the way it is. Walking similar routes growing up may have helped as well. At the end of the day, I decided to bring the new battery indoors. No sense tempting fate twice.


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