Mar 18, 2012: Is it plugged in first?

Have you ever tried pushing the door, only to find that it says “Pull”? Ever stood outside an unlocked door, assuming it was locked because you never tried it? Or have you ever thought some machine was broken because everything you tried had no effect, only to discover it was unplugged? Have I got a story for you…

My ’95 Honda Civic is affectionately named “The Rattler” after an unreliable Model T from a children’s book. My wife calls it the purple car; I swear it is gray because I would never buy a purple car, but whatever. My car has developed a bad reputation for refusing to start in damp or wet weather. Sometimes it will, but you never can tell.

Well, I changed the spark plugs recently, and things seemed to be going better; it did start in wet weather several times, and then it didn’t this week. Because I took our only other vehicle to work each day, all our other plans had to be put on hold until we could either start it or buy a new (read: new to us, but well-used) car to replace it. We didn’t expect to have to take these kind of measures, but we need a reliable car since we live out in the country, and we had finally gotten fed up.

I actually got it started one night after cleaning the spark plugs. It took a jump start from our van, but it ran, though rather roughly. I kept it running for 10 minutes, then turned it off, and then started it up again. I thought – problem solved. But then it wouldn’t start next day, even after I sprayed WD-40 in the distributor cap to get out the moisture I thought maybe might perhaps be somewhere around there. (sigh) I had to protect the car from the wrath of my wife, but I had plenty of my own. She made plans to tow it and sell it for scrap as she listened to my report.

So we began to research used cars for sale under $2500. We live cheap. :) We found a dealership that seemed to specialize in them, as well as an individual with a promising prospect all close to a mechanic friend of ours we knew would shoot straight with us. His name is Andrew Parker and he works at Whistler Automotive in Tulsa, Oklahoma, if you need a mechanic. We arranged for my parents to watch our kids for the morning, and we went car shopping, just the two of us.

We had so much fun. Our first stop was a long-time mechanic with long stories and long promises, but the car had some serious issues. We took a test drive and stopped by our mechanic to have it looked at. He didn’t even have to get it on the lift to find more than a thousand dollars of needed repairs, and he showed me where all them were needed. We decided not to invest the repair money, and took the car back. Then we had some real fun at the dealership.

We went from car to car, each of us pointing out the good, the bad, and the weird, and taking notes on paper. We got inside, started the engine, looked under the hood, looked in the trunk, looked under the front end (very dirty work, and it makes you look funny to passersby), moved the seats, looked at all the dials and knobs, and then made more comments. It was good conversation, and we sure gave the manager some exercise getting keys. He also seemed very puzzled about why we kept checking the trunks. He must not have kids or buy groceries. His loss.

We test-drove two of the seven or so that we looked at carefully. The cars were arranged by make and price, which was very convenient, and it was nice to take a car to the local convenience store whenever we had to use the bathroom. Convenience, indeed. We finally decided to call our mechanic, Andrew, and set up a time to look at our favorite from the lot. We went home pleased with a good day’s work…and disgusted with the nearly $100 spent on parts recommended by the auto parts store to repair the car we already had that wasn’t running.

Well, today, I had planned to research spark plug cleaning online (which I did, unwillingly, because I just want to get it done, thank you) and then go take off the top of the crankcase and clean/repair/replace whatever needed whatever, whatever, whatever…we’re selling it right? On a whim, I put the key in the ingnition, and VROOM! One turn, and it was on. It still ran rough like before, but I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it just needed to dry out. I realize all you mechanics out there are shaking your heads in disbelief, but guess what I saw when I looked under the hood of my miraculously running car:

In my haste and frustration when I cleaned the spark plugs and doused my distributor, I had forgotten to put two of the four valve cylinder plug things back in place on top of the spark plugs. No wonder it didn’t start before, and how in the name of Mr. Goodwrench did it start now? I quickly turned it off, put it back together, and it started again, purring like a kitten. (sigh) I decided to check the crankcase anyway, which only revealed some excellent gaskets and random parts, which I’ll ask Andrew about. But we still don’t know exactly why the plugs needed cleaning; but it’s running now, so we can actually get it to a mechanic, which is good, and especially now because it’s spring break, and I’m at home and not work, and we don’t really need it this week, just like the parts I have to return, and…why didn’t I check under the hood the first time it didn’t start? (sigh) I guess my awesomeness needed a little restraint, so God allowed me to enjoy a little humility. Do you need to enjoy some, too? Make sure it’s plugged in first.

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2 Responses to Mar 18, 2012: Is it plugged in first?

  1. John Thorpe says:

    Well done! I would barely be able to open my own hood.

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