The Hapless Mechanic — Part 65,784

I think we can all agree that most new or new-ish cars are not designed to permit under-the-hood maintenance by the average owner. I suspect that’s not a big deal for most of us. Modern engines are marvels of complexity, but also are (usually) such paragons of reliability that the lack of specialized training and tools is not (usually) a handicap.

I’ve never had the need or felt the desire to tinker with the engines of our current vehicles. I know how to check the fluid levels and that’s pretty much the only reason to even pop the bonnets nowadays…with one exception: I still replace the batteries myself. That’s not a hugely complex job, right? You just loosen one or two bolts holding the battery in place, then remove the leads to the terminals, lift the old battery out, put the new one in, and replace the stuff you loosened earlier. It’s what…a ten-minute job? Usually?

Not so fast, bucko. Literally, not. so. fast. I learned this week that at least one car maker has conspired to take even that simple task away from me.

The factory-installed battery in MLB‘s SUV celebrated its fifth birthday this month. Five years on a car battery is awesome, at least in my experience. I’m sure the mild central Texas winters help to prolong battery life, but whatever the reason, I’m impressed. I’m also very skeptical that there’s much useful life remaining after five years, and so I headed to Walmart to purchase a prophylactic replacement.

I hauled it home in the truck, and after unloading it in the garage, I grabbed a crescent wrench and opened the hood of the SUV. And then the second-guessing started.

As an aside, alert Gazette readers will recall that my DIY track record aspires to be merely dismal. I have a knack for turning the most plebeian task into a sisyphean challenge, whether it’s assembling a piece of furniture or repairing a weedeater or wiring a stereo or making toast. I’ve learned to accept my maladroitness…or at least to not be surprised by it. So I dealt with what ensued with a certain amount of resignation, and possibly some unrepeatable vocabulary.

Does your car have one of those space-age plastic covers that car manufacturers are employing so as to not offend our delicate sensibilities with their engine’s mechanical nakedness? The SUV has one, and while it’s wonderful for keeping the engine compartment clean, it really should be embossed with a warning to the effect of “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Would Enter Here To Do Basic Maintenance Such As Replacing The Battery.”

I won’t bore you [further] with a detailed list of the challenges I faced (although I can’t help mentioning that I managed to drop a perfectly good socket wrench into a place in the engine compartment that can only be accessed by a complete disassembly of the entire vehicle). Suffice it to say that while I finally managed to replace the battery, I’ve had to follow up the procedure by ordering some replacement parts to rebuild the previously mentioned engine modesty panel.

I never had much mechanical aptitude, but there were always a few simple tasks that I could successfully perform. Even those have gradually disappeared from my repertoire, but I figured I could always count on the battery replacement drill. Now, even that seems to have been pried out of my bloody-knuckled hands.

Still, I remain defiant, and resolve to periodically go into the garage, raise the SUV’s hood, and curse at the few engine components that I can still identify.

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