Home > Trip > Dispatches > Daily Dispatches 2013 > Daily Dispatch #75

March 16, 2013: Dormant Truck Battery

Last night, at 8 p.m., I headed out the door, in order to go food shopping. I am really adept at eating what’s here, so there wasn’t much left. I was down to gnawing on rubbery carrots. When like now, I’m alone, I have to make advance preparations for going anywhere. So no, I don’t run in the direction of the truck and seconds later, drive off, rather I first do what needs to be done around here.

The mental list was again lengthy. I turned on the generator, took a shower, did the dishes, filled the water buckets, and then turned off the generator. I next fed and watered all the animals, making

two trips down to the horse enclosure – in ten minute’s time they drank eight gallons of water. I then grabbed wallet, canvas bags, and my shopping list.

My shopping list was one of my best. I’d previously looked to see what we had on hand. I did all this well before dark so that I would not risk being stopped by the police. (This seems to happen when I drive after dark. The glare of the oncoming headlights disorients me.)

I then got in Sputnik, put the key in the ignition, and turned it on. Nothing happened. I checked, yep, I had the right key. There was no roar to life, sputtering, or clicking sound. The silence was momentarily deafening.

Nine years of my going to yoga class paid off. For the longest time I sat there and took in the outer landscape – I looked ahead and saw the yard, the guest cabin on the hill. I looked left and saw the sun setting behind the woodshed. I looked right and saw the driveway, no leading to nowhere.

It occurred to me that in another ten years I might, in a similar circumstance, be overwhelmed by the beauty of the immediate landscape. This is what twenty years of yoga does for you. But I knew that I wasn’t there yet. No, I was here and attempting to deal with our truck, which for no discernible reason, had failed to start.

Why, I wondered, didn’t my parents enroll me in a yoga class when I was a kid? If they had, I’d now be ahead of the game. The same holds true if they’d taught me to sew, play the piano, downhill ski, horseback ride, and fix vehicles. Nada. I was instead taught to read, write, and clean my dinner plate.

So I sat there for what seemed like a long time, but was most likely only thirty seconds or so, and then exited the truck. I trudged back up to the cabin, and was greeted by the dogs who were happy to see me. Never mind it had been less than five minutes, they were ecstatic. They ease the dread that accompanies entering an empty house.

I suspect, but I don’t for sure, that the truck battery is dead. No, it’s not dead, it’s in deep freeze, like Walt Disney. I considered calling upon neighbors for assistance, but then thought better of this. People who live in Alaska are reputed to be a very independent and resourceful lot. It’s unthinkable, if you live around here, to ask for help more than once or twice, because if you do, you are then seen as a hapless individual who’s mooching the existence. The way I figure it, I have a handful of Need Help Tickets. I’m not cashing what I have on hand now because I may need to use them in the future.

I also considered attempting to jump-start the truck myself. Sad to say, but I know less than a four year old male as to how to do this. This is how I think it works. You must first gather together your equipment – in this case, a vehicle with a working battery, a vehicle with a non-working battery, and jumper cables. You then take the cables and hook positive thingies to positive thingies, or negative thingies to negative thingies, or negative thingies to positive thingies. It’s very important to get this right, because if you don’t, you can blow the car to smithereens. I know this because I read about it in a book. The guy who knew little more than I did burned his face. The girl who’s car he was driving then dumped him. Then, once the cables are connected, you or someone else starts the working vehicle. Or, you start it yourself.

I’m not sure if you need two people to do this. I have in the past assisted Pete in this endeavor, by turning the engine over. (Picture it, me turning an engine over. You, car mechanic. Me, Alys, strong too, like bull). Could be that he could have done this himself, and was just humoring me along. Dunno.

As I write this, I’m finding myself feeling increasingly more appalled by my lack of knowledge about this seemingly basic task. Quite often, I see guys with cables in hand, bent over two engines. Sometimes there are women present. Young ones are usually either by the side of their mate, wringing their hands, talking on cell phones, or checking out aps. The older ones remain seated in the car, and continue to look straight ahead. The former smile and the latter don’t.

Pete is supposed to get back late tonight, so I’m for now going to let sleeping trucks lie. I know that when I tell him about the dead battery, that he’ll put it on the very top of his things to do list. The very top. This is because otherwise his universe will remain out of alignment.

I suppose I’m lucky. I could be living with another incompetent artist type like myself. If so, a differing scene would play itself out tonight. Incompetent artist type would go to the phone book, call AAA Towing, and have someone else jump start Sputnik. And if it couldn’t be started, he’d have it towed to a shop and serviced. And if I was living by myself, I would do the same.

What follows – yes, I did Google “truck jumping batteries.” This is what I learned:
Knowledge, in the right hands, is power.

The Right way to Start a Car – A Close Reading of Pedro’s Website

“The right way to jump start a car. Much has been said and written about car/truck batteries and how to jump start a car/truck that has a dead one. The thing is, a lot of this info is either incomplete or wrong.”
And can it be said that THIS information is complete and accurate?

“Sooner or later you will find yourself in a car with a dead battery. So please read on.”
Myself. I thought the self was dead. I am thinking that the truck battery is dead.

“Here I will give you the right and up to dated way to jump-start a car safely. Of course this is if you are stranded away from home. When you are at home the best thing to do is use a charger, not a booster or cables.”
What is a charger? And what’s the difference between a booster and cables?

“First of all, I don't recommend jumping cables to the motorist, second the best options are to use a booster or just call (an expert mobile service) or take the vehicle to an expert shop. If the battery is older than 3 years or so, it could be bad.”
Now you’re telling me to use a booster. Do you mean booster chair? And yes, it’s bad. Yes, it’s very bad. The truck battery is at least as old as I am.

“If you must use jumper cables then here I will show the right way to do it.”
Okay. Three paragraphs into it – now we are talking.

“Read the whole article since the info is all over the same.”
With a few minor variations here and there.

“First some information about batteries. I repair many vehicles with bad batteries. The reasons the battery went bad can be many, so after jumping a vehicle you should seek professional help. Here I will tell you what can make a battery go bad, what to do to prevent it and things to do in an emergency situation.”
Yes. I must seek professional help. I’ve known this for some time, but have been in denial. The truth sometimes makes itself apparent in very strange ways.

“Why a battery goes bad: Bad alternator.”
Bad alternator. Bad, bad alternator.

“Bad or loose serpentine belt or off or missing serpentine belt due to another bad component.”
A serpentine belt is a snake, right?

“Excessive heat or cold.”
Excessive cold, perhaps. Excessive heat, not likely. This is bumfuck Alaska.

I know this from experience. My sister recently told me I’m not a spring chicken. Which begs the question, what exactly is a spring chicken? Is a spring chicken older than a fall chicken? This is reverse logic.

“Defective Part from factory. (Rare).”
Then why mention it?

“Leaving the car sitting too long or driving the car in short trips not allowing the battery to recharge.”
Guilty, guilty, guilty. $10,000 bail with no parole.

“Too much drain, like the battery is too small for the demand. Or maybe there are add-ons like monster stereo systems etc.”
Monster stereo systems. Might be related to the serpentine belt. We may dealing here with something like the Loch Ness Monster.

“Parasitic drain. Or just leaving the lights or something on.”
Are we talking tape worms?Large Strongyles? Ascarids? Maybe I should do as I do with the horses and every six weeks deworm the batteries.

“Dirty connector/terminals.”
Yep. How could it be otherwise?

“Vibration. When there's no hold down.”
Ohh yeah. Car sex. I’m all for it. It’s probably more ethical than sex with animals.

“Using the wrong fluid to replenish it, like tap water instead of distilled water.”
Huh. And bow to mecca three times after giving the battery a papal blessing.

“Bad computer. The voltage regulator is there in some cars.”
Bad, bad computer. I was right to be wary of technology.

“Physical damage. Car accident, being dropped.”
Car dropping. Do it all the time. Me Alys, you Tarzan. Me on steroids. You on valium

“Taking care of your battery. The best way to prevent battery failures is by doing regular maintenance on the vehicle. When regular maintenance is done the battery should be one of the main items checked. They should clean terminals, top off the fluid if possible using only distilled water, do some tests on it, and of course test the charging system etc.”
“They.” Who is “they?” Where is “they” now?

“Even the best batteries will meet their maker sooner or later.”
Yes, there is a place in heaven for all “good batteries.” They can "diehard" or die soft but they all die. Death be not Proud.”

“The average life of most batteries is about 3 years, believe it or not.”
I don’t believe it.

“Some top of the line batteries can last a bit longer. I have noticed a decline on the life of batteries lately.”
This must be because of global warming.

“So if your battery is about that age,” That age? “have it checked or just change it to have peace of mind.”
Here – the answer to the world’s problems. Who would have thunk it?  “Especially if you're making a long trip.” A trip to the grocery store, a long trip?

“What to do if your battery is dead.”
This depends on what your religious affiliation might be.

“In an emergency when a battery is dead, the first thing that comes to mind usually is to "jump" the car. Well I don't recommend this.”
Neither do I, not unless you are very tall. Rather, I suggest you call a mortuary.

“First of all, this is a potentially dangerous action. (Doing this can cause an explosion and injure you or actually kill you (pieces of plastic going off at very high speed can cut your throat), blind you, or deafen you).”
That is, unless you can jump higher.

“The best thing will be to call someone to come and check the car or take it to a shop (there's a chance the alternator could be bad, so replacing or boosting the battery may not solve your problem).”

“If you happen to have cables in your car, then you have to find another car to boost you.”
This is best done by someone trained to do psychoanalysis.

“This is dangerous too, because in doing so you can damage very expensive parts in both your and the assistant vehicle.”
Pieces of plastic going off at very high speed can cut the car’s throat, blind it, or deafen it.

“There's a chance of connecting the cables wrong if you're not familiar with the process, if this happens you can disable any of the two cars involved for good and incur in more expensive repairs. The best way to do this if you choose to boost the car is with a portable booster. Some have a switch that will prevent you from causing sparks. Also some models have a device that will polarize the system automatically. So it will be impossible to connect it the wrong way. Some can be connected right at the lighter port, but this takes more time because you have to let the booster charge the bad battery for a while, if you try to start the car right away you could blow the inline fuse or burn the cable.”
This is getting complicated.

“Also after you get your car running, if you disconnect the assistant car and leave the car running to recharge your low battery this will cause serious damage to the alternator. The alternator is not designed to charge batteries that are too low or at zero volts.”
Then what is it designed for?

“The right way to do this is when using a portable booster to leave it connected to the car so the alternator will charge both slowly and not stress it self. The alternator has the ability to sense the battery state of charge and also the system voltage demand. It will charge accordingly. If the battery is very low it will charge continuously, hence straining it self and overheating.”
Battery strain, will give it hemorrhoids.

“After 30 minutes or so you can then disconnect the booster and keep driving the car for some more time to charge the battery fully.”

30 minutes???

“Better yet just drive the car to the nearest service place or call a mobile service when you get home.”

“If you're driving at night or your vehicle has day driving lights this will take a little longer.”
TO Get where???

“Of course after having any problem with a low battery and getting the car running, the intelligent thing to do is get your favorite tech to check you system completely to have peace of mind.”
Yes, this is the intelligent thing to do all right. Peace of mind is very important.

“Another thing that you need to know is this, sometimes you have a battery installed and it fails soon after (one or two days) why?”
Why indeed?

“Well there are different reasons, the battery could be defective (very rare)”
I sense that we are now going around in circles, “or there's an intermittent problem with the charging system or a device that is putting a small drain after you turn the car off.”
Drains? I thought we were dealing with a battery.

“New cars have many computers,” what about old trucks?, “and they use a small amount of energy after the car is turned off, but it is a very small amount and it should not drain the battery in less than 3 months approximately. If it does it’s because one of the computers could be staying awake too long.”
Computers staying awake? The future is now.

“Or has an intermittent short. If this happens to you, don't get upset thinking they sold you a bad battery, or that the mechanic is incompetent. The car has to be diagnosed again to see what happened.”
Buying a new truck is beginning to seem like a far better option.

The right way to jump-start a car. This is the way I recommend to perform a battery jump with cables.”
Try Jump roping, but first watch the video.

“This takes a little longer than what most publications recommend, but is the safe way to do it. I am a professional mechanic with 28 years of experience. Before you even think about getting your jumping cables out you should: First of all it will not hurt to read your owners manual, there you can find lots of info pertaining the procedure. Like where the battery is "hidden" etc.”
Won’t hurt. It’s the flying bits of plastic that hurt.

“Make sure both cars are close enough for cables to reach with out cars touching.”
Don’t want them to breed.

“Inspect the battery for signs of damage. A broken battery case is not a good sign. Do not jump if case is cracked or you see fluid leaking.”
Instead, consult your favorite doctor.

“Set the emergency brake on both cars and turn off both ignitions and any other accessories other than the flasher as mentioned.”
Give the flasher a trench coat.

“Keep at least one of the vehicles flashers on and any other safety device like flares etc. displayed. Battery terminals should be free of dirt and or corrosion. Use at least water and a wire brush to clean them.”
Singing, dancing, are also permitted and in fact encouraged.

“Make sure both cars are of the same voltage and polarity. Some cars are grounded at the positive instead of the negative although rare. Most cars in the road have 12 volts batteries. With the advent of hybrid vehicles I will strongly recommend you just calling an expert. Hybrid cars have very high voltage batteries. 12 volts batteries won't harm you even if you touch both terminals but hybrid use much higher voltage. Also avoid connecting the cables backwards; very bad things can happen if you do.”

“Wear at least eye protection that includes a face protector. Gloves will be nice too. Do not allow battery fluid to touch you, your clothes or the paint job. In other words, dress for success.”
High heels are also a must.

“In very cold weather make sure the electrolyte is not frozen. (Use a flashlight etc to inspect, not a lighter).”
Cigarettes are okay though. If you don’t smoke, call the Marlborough man.

“Be very careful not to touch any moving part of the engine like belts, fans, etc while performing the procedure either with the cables or your clothes or jewelry etc.”
And keep the crown jewels where they belong. In your pants.

“Now the cable part, (see illustration at the end of article) before you connect any of the terminals make sure they are not touching each other to avoid any sparks. Batteries give off very explosive gasses that can kill you if they ignite. Also if the cables get hot be aware that they could be too thin or the engine could be dragging for some reason. The starter could also be bad (grounding it self). Also may be you have cranked the car too long. Check to make sure the clamps are attached properly. Let tem cool off a bit.”
Cranky cars, cranky owners, bad, bad.

“If anything like dome lights come on after the cables are connected, the cables are connected correctly.”

“The first terminal to be connected as recommended is the positive one in the donor's car then at the disabled car (both at the battery if possible).”
Ignore the active cable. It can kill you.

“Then you connect the negative cable at the battery terminal of the donor's car and make sure you can access the engine at the disabled car to connect the cable there.”
Do in handicapped parking spot only.

“When the cars finally starts, keep at least the headlamps on to aid in keeping any voltage spikes from damaging the delicate circuits in the many modules on today's cars.”
Cars have modules?

“(+) Is the positive terminal (usually red). (-) Is the negative terminal (usually black). This cable goes to the car chassis and the engine block from the battery. Disconnecting sequence is the reversal of the connecting sequence Smoking is not recommended any time you are working near cars.”

“More about this. Never hook up batteries in a series circuit way, you will get twice the voltage and blow many things including computers.”
Huh. A vehicular blow job. Best now, to abandon battery and focus on the mounting block.

“This will certainly damage your electrical system to say the least.”
Absolutely. And your car’s reproductive system will never again be the same.

“Some cars with antitheft systems will activate it whenever the battery is low or disconnected. Again read the owners manual for info on this and how to reset them.”
Now who would steal a car with a dead battery?

“Every manufacturer use different systems.”
Dat’s right.

“When jumping a car you have to first charge the battery with the "donor" car for at least 5 minutes or more if possible, then try, with the cables disconnected to start the car. If the car doesn't crank or cranks slowly then recharge some more with donor car, then with cables connected try to crank the disabled car.”
Donor cars? Are the blood types all the same?

“When selecting a set of jumper cables make sure you get a good quality set. The thicker the cable the better. Saving money here will prove a very bad choice. Cheap cables can overheat and in many cases burn or just don't work when you use them (cheap construction around the clamps). Also don't get the shortest or the longest. The middle will be best.”
Otherwise, boom.

“Never crank a vehicle more than the recommended lapse in the owner's manual (usually no more than 10 seconds) to avoid damaging the starter. If the car cranks for very long periods with out starting then you could have more serious problems than just electrical ones. Always wait some time before trying again to avoid damaging your starter or damaging the donor's battery.”
A few years is permissible, a few decades is even better.

“If when you connect the last cable at the disabled car you see a lot of sparks make sure there isn't anything on, or the cables are connected properly (polarity), otherwise some sparks are normal since the disabled car's battery is probably very low or just dead.”
Don’t forget to administer last rites, or second to last rites, if minimal sparking occurs.

“There are some top-of the line cables that feature a foolproof device against connecting them wrong.”
Some, but not all. Remember, if you attempt to do this, you are taking your life in your hands.

“Every time the battery goes too low it gets weak. Different from deep cycle batteries on boats or RV's, car batteries are not designed for this and will after a few discharges just quit altogether Batteries used to be better known as "accumulators" and you can guess why don't you? Yes they store electricity and the alternator's job is to keep it charged not to charge it from 0 volt, that is the job of a charger.”
The pay’s lousy, the work’s hard, but the benefits are immeasurable.

“A battery won't get damaged if kept in the concrete floor instead of on top of a piece of wood. The way batteries are constructed today prevents this.”
Levitation works best.

“You don't need to go and spend big bucks for a battery at the dealer, not to mention towing costs. Any battery that meets the specification of your vehicle will do well if maintained properly. The trick here is to get the right battery, meaning the right capacity. Never use one that has less than what is required. A little bigger is better.”
Bigger is ALWAYS better.

“Some batteries have a little window that has a green or black indicator to tell you if the battery is good. Well this indicator is not very accurate for this, since it only measures the state of charge of only one of the battery's 6 cells. Another cell could be bad and you could get a "green" indicator even though the battery has only about 10 volts, which is not enough to properly start a car. Some of the devices on your car might still work tough. The car will crank very slowly.”
Must be dealing here with Model Ts with modules.

“If by any chance acid gets in your eyes, do all you can to get it out pronto. The more it stays there the bigger the chance for cornea damage.”
Oh, just leave it be. None are as blind as those who can’t see.

“If you suspect a bad connection on the jumper cables, do not wiggle the connector while connected. Disconnect one on the disabled car first then wiggle the suspect ones then reconnect the rest. Remember you want to avoid making sparks.”
Uhh, thought we wanted sparks.

“After using the jumper cables wash them with water if possible and store them in the bag they came in. This will avoid damage to your trunk from the acid that gets stuck to the terminals.”
The bag they came in?

“Always work on a well-ventilated area.”

“The alternator. The heart of the system. If your alternator is bad, it was the cause of the dead battery in the first place; so jumping the battery won't get you too far. As a matter of fact you probably won't be able to drive even a mile more. You could end up at a neighborhood where you don't know anyone that will be too wiling to help you.”
If you live in such a neighborhood, move.

“If the battery or alternator or charging light was on before the battery died, then it is still on after you jump the car then the charging system could have a problem. It will be a good idea to contact a professional.”
Quite obviously, a capitalist wrote this.

“An alternator could be malfunctioning even if you don't see a red light in your dash telling you so.”
If this happens, grab the defibulators together, and taps three times.

“If you are knowledgeable and want to test your charging system with a voltmeter, consider this, some carmakers have systems that will not charge when the battery is found to be full. This is done to prevent overcharging and also to increase miles per gallon (The drag on the engine is less) This also helps the durability of the alternator.”
Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Alternators are not designed to "charge" batteries (specially newer cars, they are usually weak in this area). Their job is to keep a fully charged battery that way.”
An unemployed alternator is a drain on the system.

“When a battery goes down for any reason, the alternator has to work overtime to bring it back to normal. The use of day driving lights is one of the reasons many alternators fail prematurely, the alternator works harder than in a regular system. But they do offer a good safety measure. Also accessories not installed at the factory like monster stereos will also put an extreme demand on a stock system not designed for such loads. There are some high amp alternators available for these cases. Also the use of multiple batteries helps. Consult an expert in this field for assistance.”
Back to the monster stereos. I feel like we are now getting nowhere really, really fast.

“Never disconnect a running car battery terminal to "test" the charging system. This was done long ago before cars started using computers. But today doing this can and will damage very expensive components. Also it can create sparks that could cause an explosion. Believe me, many people still use this method to test the alternator, yes even people that "think" they know, like some airplane mechanics.
Airplane mechanics think they know. This is very reassuring.

“Starting a car with the cables connected and letting it run could damage systems in either car. Things like computers etc. I have fixed many vehicles with bad alternators and computers due to this. That is why I recommend charging the bad battery by letting the good car charge the bad one for at least 10 minutes. Then you can disconnect the cables and start the car with out damaging anything. There's a theory that running two cars with the cables connected can damage the alternators. I will up date this article with some facts about this.”
I can hardly wait. I actually have nothing better to do but wait, because my battery is DEAD.

“Push starting; it may not get you too far either.”
Never does. Unless said vehicle is parked on a hill.

“Another way to get a car running is by push starting it. This is not recommended either. First, damage to the drive train is possible, (Expensive) especially if done often. Second, as I mentioned before, if the car doesn't run because the battery is dead, the alternator will work too hard to charge the battery when you get it started. If the problem is the alternator, the car won't run too far at all because the battery is not getting any charge so it will be depleted very soon. Push start should be done only in extreme emergency situations. As I said, be intelligent and call an expert.”
Be intelligent and call an expert. But first make sure that expert is smarter than you.

“I hope the information here was of help to you. As always no one is perfect. If you think there's a mistake or want to add something to this article, by all means contact me directly.”
Here you go . . .

“Considering the low cost of replacing the battery with a new one and after reading this information I am pretty sure you will decide not to risk performing a jump instead of replacing the battery. Unless of course, you are a professional and/or already know what I wrote here.”
I know I know nothing, how about you, dear author?

“Today's cars are very complex machines; it is better to leave things to the experts when it comes to dealing with them. You will actually save more money (or even your own life) that way by avoiding costly mistakes.”
Beam me up . . .

A Postscript

Late in the afternoon, after I finished doing a close reading of the above very informative website, a friend, Steve Rubenstein, pulled in the driveway, hopped out of his Ford 250, reached in the back, pulled forth his jumper cables, and recharged Sputnik’s dormant battery.

In the process, I learned two important things. The first was how to use battery cables. It’s actually quite simple. You put the positives on the positives – positives are red, and the negatives on the negatives -- negatives are black. Now I don’t know why this is, perhaps it’s that there’s a complete circuit formed. What goes around comes around. Must have something to do with the word karma.

What you do not do, ever – this is what Steve said – is allow the ends of the handles in your hand to come in contact with one another. This is what might kill you, in which case you will now have no rationale for wanting to jump the batteries.

I would like to have asked Steve more questions, but he was in a hurry. I was, however, most grateful for his coming over here on such short notice. I used up yet another Help Me Out card. Now I have one less card to work with. I am, I know, going to have to be very, very careful.

Next: 76. 3/17/13: Little Girls and Horses