Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Great Dead Double Battery Caper

Last night and this morning I had an adventure of sorts. It started yesterday at around 7 PM, when I drove to Central City Comics to play in their weekly Magic tournament. It was just starting to get dark, so I turned my lights on on the way there.

I played in the tournament, had fun, and got back to the car at about midnight. I was going to drive myself and my friend to a fast food place for a post-tournament victory dinner, so I unlocked my door and pressed the automatic unlock button on the door to unlock the passenger side door. Nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing.

Then I noticed that my light switch was still on. I had left my lights on for the entire 5 hours, and when I tried to start the car, nothing but a dead *click* resulted. So, my friend brought his car over so we could jump-start my car. However, there was a problem: on old diesel cars, they require quite a bit of power to first power the glow plugs and then crank the high-pressure diesel engine. Mercedes diesels got around this by using a giant battery. GM diesels, on the other hand, simply used two regular-sized car batteries wired in parallel. This presents a problem for attempting to jump start a totally dead battery: you need a source charging BOTH batteries, and only charging one will simply not work.

So, after trying to jump-start it with only one (switching it back and forth a couple times to try to get some charge in each battery) for about 15 minutes, we finally gave up and decided to come back the next day armed with one of our roommates and their car to do the required double jump-start. My friend gave me a ride home, and I went to bed.

At 5:30 in the morning, I got a call on my cell phone. "Is this George?" the voice asked.
"Yes," I answered groggily.
"Hi there George, this is Officer So-and-so from the Ellensburg Police Department, is your Oldsmobile diesel car parked downtown?"
"Yes," I said, wondering what the problem was (I had specifically checked to make sure it was legal to park in that space overnight).
"Well, because of the Farmer's Market today, your car is in a tow zone, and I'll need to tow it away if you can't get it out of here before 6 AM. I really don't want you to have your car towed, is there any way you can get down here and move it?"
I explained the dual-battery jump-starting situation, and asked him if I could get my friend down there right away if he could provide the jump on the other side.
"Sure, just get here before 6AM," he said.

So I frantically called my friend, dreading him not picking up his phone given the early hour. Three rings. "Hello?"
"Hey can you come pick me up and then take me to my car right now so we can jump it, the police are there and it'll get towed if I can't get it moved."
"Oh, OK," he said, "I'll be there in 5 to 10 minutes."

We got to my car at about 5:50, and the officer was waiting there with his portable car-jumper in hand. We hooked up both batteries, let it charge for about 1 minute, and then it started right up! I thanked the officer profusely for his help and for giving me a chance to get my car started instead of just having it towed.
"Well, you saved me a lot of paperwork," he said, "glad I could help."

I bought my friend doughnuts for breakfast, drove around for about 15 minutes to charge the battery, and came home. All was well.

Three lessons learned:
1) Have a spare car-jumper in the car for future emergencies (I now have one). Even in a single-battery car this is a pretty good idea for no-one-else-around-middle-of-nowhere types of situations.
2) The Ellensburg Police can be pretty cool about things (I sort of already knew this from previous encounters with them). I can't imagine a big-city cop actually CALLING you to try to save you from a tow.
3) 5:30 is very early, especially when you got to bed at about 1 AM. I'm taking a nap now.


NoJGenny said...

And it makes a good story.

Ben said...

Now I have to go buy one of these thingymajiggers. Dammit. But thank you.