Just another 10 minutes and this battery will be outta here.

I was brought up to do things myself. This is both a blessing and a curse.

First the good: I’ve saved a lot of money doing things for which I might otherwise have to pay. I’ve fixed a ton of plumbing around the house – from leaky faucets to poorly flushing toilets. I’ve built my own computer for less than $100 in parts. I’ve repaired power cords to save electronics that might otherwise have to be replaced. I even built a stud wall to insulate an uninsulated closet in my house.

These things are not difficult. They mostly require patience.

The trick, however, is to know when you’re outmatched. When I first moved into my house, I tried to replace an old shower faucet on which the screw practically melted under the pressure of a Phillips head screwdriver. Before the whole thing turned into an uncontrollable leak, I called in the pros.

Every so often, though, I’m determined to take on tasks when I shouldn’t.

A case in point: Last week, my car wouldn’t start. The battery was getting pretty old, and the cold weather had rendered it useless. I needed a new one.

My wife, always practical, suggested I go to the Advanced Autoparts store on Easton Road in Glenside, where they offer to install things like batteries, windshield wipers and headlamps for you, while you wait, free of charge.

But to me, the idea of idly watching someone else swap out my car battery was absurd. I’ve done it myself more often than I could count. In fact, I had recently swapped out both  headlamps on my wife’s Mazda. (Changing those lamps was not an easy feat, by the way. It won’t be long before you have to remove the engine block before you have room to replace minor things like headlamps).

So I drove my old 98 Forester to Advanced Autoparts to buy the battery. When the woman who sold me the battery asked if I would like it installed, I said I’d be happy to do it myself if she would lend me the tools. Typically, I would have brought it home, but if I could swap it out in the parking lot, I stood to save a $12 charge for the old battery. How hard could it be? I’d have the battery out and replaced in 10 minutes, tops.

I should have taken a good look at the old battery before I’d committed to replace it myself. The bracket that held the batter in place was affixed with hangers and bolts that were so rusted, they appeared to have been left underwater for years. They wouldn’t budge. The marine terminal that held the positive cable to the battery post was so corroded, it wouldn’t budge either. With a quick turn of the socket wrench, I snapped the terminal in two. Time to buy a new one.

If I hadn’t been in the parking lot and if I hadn’t said I would replace the battery myself, I probably would have given up and begged for help much sooner. But I couldn’t do that. After an hour of work and a little help from one of the employees – who was keeping the good socket wrench to himself – I had removed the rusty bracket and replaced the snapped marine terminal and had the new shiny new battery installed and ready to go. But wait. In the hubbub of replacing the battery, a few false starts of my car’s alarm system and running in and out of the shop to look for new tools, I had managed to lock my keys in the car. I had to walk home to get a spare set.

I learned a set of particularly valuable lessons. First, never assume that an autoparts store has the tools to get a job done. Second, always work on your car at home where if you lock your keys in the car, the spare set is just inside. And, finally, the most important: If someone offers you to do something for free, take them up on the offer. I could have sat back with a cup of hot coffee and offered helpful hints to whatever poor autoparts employee got the bum luck of replacing the rusty, corroded battery on my abandoned submarine of a Subaru.

Next time, even if it’s as simple as a windshield wiper blade, I’ll gladly let the shop do it.

– Pete Mazzaccaro


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