(first published 02/02/10)
With the exception of our vintage Ford tractor, I think the last time I changed a vehicle battery was 1989 or 1990.
It isn’t that I don’t know how, or didn’t want to be bothered. That’s what happens to the division of labor after you get married and have kids and the pace of life starts working on your family’s ability to keep from being mowed over.
Mark took on the tasks he had a talent for, as did I. It saved time and money. After 20 years with life’s battles, a person builds a body of problem-solving skills. Mark’s hands weren’t tuba-player hands, they were farmer’s hands. He had an insatiable curiosity – annoying even – as many local mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and HVAC guys could tell you. He would just call them up and grill them until he knew what he needed to know.
Sometimes he’d get hung up on some little thing he was trying to fix and he’d come ask me help him troubleshoot. My mechanical mind is pretty good, I don’t mind saying. Mostly, I offered a fresh set of eyes.
Two weeks ago, the mechanic who services my pick-up said it was time for a new battery. During my Saturday run-arounds that weekend, I picked up a new battery at the auto parts store. Several days later, on one of the warmer evenings, I headed out to the garage to make the exchange.
As I checked the wrench sizes I’d need, I loosened a connection that tripped the car alarm. The battery on the key fob had given out months ago and I didn’t bother to replace it. I didn’t see the point in continuing to arm a 10-year-old pick-up. But I went in the house to get the fob, hoping there was enough juice to disarm the truck one last time. No luck. I was glad the alarm shut itself off after a minute, but I couldn’t do anything without having the truck disrespecting me over and over again – opening a door, a hood, turning around and sneezing. Of course, I’d disabled the ignition.
After about ten minutes of that, my dog was getting upset and I figured the neighbors were tired of listening to random alarm sounds amidst the sleeping bird sounds and drone of a nearby drilling rig. I went inside. First, I called the brother-in-law who had a Toyota. He wasn’t sure what to do, although he remembered a friend saying once that he disconnected the negative ground first, to avoid tripping the alarm.
Too late for that.
I called the brother-in-law who sells cars for a living. He said the truck ought to recognize a legitimate key in the ignition. He told me to endure the insults of the alarm, and change the battery anyways. That might help it recognize the key.
The next night, I found it oddly satisfying to disarm the system by disconnecting the negative ground. But as soon as I reattached the wires on the new battery, the alarm went off again. I tried the key, to no avail. I tried another combination of key inserts and battery disconnetion-reconnection. After enduring another round of multiple insults from the alarm system, I went inside and decided I would stop by the mechanic’s shop after work and do what Mark would do – pester Dave on how to solve the problem.
Dave talked me through “valet” mode. I just needed to push the button and turn the key in the right combination to achieve it. He suggested several combinations to try when I got home.
Open door, HONK-HONK-HONK, insert key, push button, HONK-HONK-HONK, push button-insert key, HONK-HONK-HONK.
The next morning I called Dave. He wouldn’t let me off the phone, despite the alarm blaring in the background, until I was off the ledge and we found the right combination that put the truck’s alarm back in valet mode.
The solution was completely counter-intuitive to normal problem-solving. When something doesn’t work, you try something else. The truck wanted me to do the same step twice before honoring the key in the ignition.
I burst into tears with Dave still on the phone.
It’s always the little things.