Let’s admit this up front: I’m a more than a little insecure about my talents with tools.
Maybe it’s because my wife, the handyman’s daughter, politely tells me to get out of the way when a screwdriver or hammer is needed.
Maybe it’s because one of my sons, no thanks to his dad, built his own motorcycle out of a collection of spare parts.
My own dad taught me how to hold a golf club, not a wrench. So if I get a chance to prove myself with something found in a toolbox, I seize it, wisely or not.
Last week, I was fresh off a recent triumph over a troublesome toilet. Everything went wrong with that throne at the same time. The filler kept sticking. The chain broke on the flush valve, and it was no simple, ordinary setup.
Just as I was basking in a moment of male pride, my car battery decided to give up the ghost.
I could have seen this coming. The battery died for the first time last summer. Being the proud owner of a little device called a battery conditioner, I put it to use. I managed to extend the battery’s life so it could croak in December, forcing me to replace it in the driveway on a cold, windy day, instead of on a pleasant July afternoon.
I could have called for professional help, but I hate admitting I can’t handle one of the simplest tasks of automotive repair. I’ve always replaced my own batteries, but this time, it was not so simple.
One look under my car’s hood, and I realized that automotive engineers have been working overtime to make life hard for do-it-yourself types.
In this case, they surrounded the battery with other components, then pushed it so far back under the hood opening that it’s practically in the driver’s lap.
But they forgot I have the internet, where I could foil their scheme by searching for how to replace the battery on my brand of automobile.
Ominously, the first thing to pop up was a post titled: “How in the (bleep)ing (bleep) are you supposed to get at the battery?” in my type of car.
A deeper dive found two videos explaining how it’s done. One of the videos lasted 14 minutes. In the other, it took the narrator a whopping 27 minutes to complete the job.
Confusingly, the two driveway mechanics in the videos used different tricks for freeing the battery from its cramped prison. Looking for a third opinion, I found two more strategies — one of which involved removing the windshield wipers!
I settled on using a combination of the two techniques in the videos. I need to apologize to the guy in the 27-minute video for thinking he was slow.
Of course, he probably didn’t make a video of his first, blundering attempt. He also didn’t have to keep going back into the house to search for more tools. He didn’t fumble a 10 mm socket into the depths of the engine compartment, never to be seen again.
He also had an older model of my car, which used a simple, old-fashioned cable to connect to the negative pole on the battery.
When I finally pulled the negative terminal from its dark hiding place into plain view, I found it looked nothing like the ones I saw in the videos. Three cables — not just one — were attached. This complicated matters considerably.
I later learned that since 2013, models of my car have used some kind of smart cable that tells the car’s computer how the battery is doing, and how much power to send it.
Reattaching this smart cable requires more room than actually exists, or it least it seems that way when you’re leaning and reaching as far as you can under the windshield to try to tighten the connection.
When I finally finished the job and bandaged up my knuckles, I found myself wondering why my car’s smarty-pants computer, which knew exactly how my battery was feeling, didn’t bother to tell me the battery was feeling almost dead.
The answer to that might lie in the classic movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” You know, where the evil computer says: “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”