Everything I need to Know I Learned from My Mechanic

Today, my mechanic added a useful skill to my repertoire. Specifically, he taught me how to start a car with a burned out starter motor, and it does not involve hotwiring. What is more, he did this over the phone, thus saving me the $50 tow fee to get my car from my back yard to the garage. It is good to have a mechanic.

I’m going to go so far as to say that my mechanic matters more to me in my day-to-day life than my doctor does. That is almost certainly because I  and my children are rarely ill and have no serious chronic problems. My car, on the other hand, is getting to a certain age. Most unfortunately, my partner’s car is getting to a certain age at about the same rate. The age of the two cars can be measured in the following ways: 1) I know my mechanic by first name even though we have no social contact, 2) the garage has done the last two minor repairs for free, and 3) my mechanic recognizes my voice on the phone. This is not a good sign.

Here is where I get to be practical for a few moments. If your car is also of a certain age, but you don’t have a mechanic who will help you diagnose and repair over the phone, I will do my best to ‘splain. Or at least sum up.

So, here’s why I suspected the starter motor. When I tried to start the car, there was a click. That was it. I checked that it was in Park, and that the gear shift was actually working, and that the connection between the ignition and the gear shift was behaving properly. All the lights were on, and the dashboard lit up properly, so we were pretty sure it wasn’t the battery (which also eliminated the alternator, and fan belt as problems). Since it didn’t turn over at all, it was more likely to be an electrical component than the engine-y parts. (I believe that is the technical term, but I wouldn’t actually say that to the mechanic, because he might suspect me of being a girl.) Just to be sure, though, my husband tested the battery with a multi-meter, because we know how to replace the battery ourselves.

Anyway, when I told the mechanic that I was pretty sure that it was the starter motor, he asked whether I had tried to turn it on a few times. I said that I had tried three or four, and it definitely wasn’t starting. “No, no. You have to turn the ignition on and off a bunch of times. It should catch.”

I admit it. I was skeptical. But I went out and turned the key back and forth about 8 or 10 times, and then it caught. The car didn’t start, but it made that little cough that says that the engine is getting a warning at least. Unfortunately, I was so surprised that I turned it off again. I did this a few more times, and got the hang of it… there’s a rhythm to it. It’s like pumping a swing: you’re giving the motor a little kick, and getting it going a little faster, and once you’ve done it a few times, the motor kicks the engine. The key to this technique is to listen really carefully so that you don’t miss the engine catching. I think it took about four tries, but darned if the thing didn’t start??? There might have been some babying with the gas pedal, and I might have done a little cheerleading, but it started!

This is the point in the story at which I pat myself on the head for realizing that I shouldn’t turn the car off when I go back in to call the garage. Also, at this juncture, I dance one of those football-touchdown dances… to celebrate my mechanical aptitude and close working relationship with my car that allowed me to figure out what was wrong. When you have a car of a certain age, it is good to have car-empathy. Yes, I’m totally bragging. Because I’m that sort of woman.

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