On Sunday night I was driving at 2AM after spending some time with a friend and I was on my way to return my DVDs. My battery light had been on all weekend and I was going to have it checked out on Monday. However I didn’t make it very far. My radio died first, and then a few blocks later my engine started slowing down. No electricity means no sparks, hence no engine piston strokes. My car came to a dead stop as all the electrical circuits went dead, and I had to struggle to turn the steering without power steering.
Out of all the places I could have ended up in, I ended up pulling into a bus stop. It was on Robson Street, however, so with the help of some drunk passer-bys, I managed to roll the vehicle back into a smaller street and parked it.
At 2:23, I called a tow truck through BCAA (I have a BCAA plus membership), and at that point the lady told me 40 minutes or so. I was on the phone with somebody for a while, and after 40 minutes I phoned again to check. She said she located the driver a few kilometres away, and that he should be arriving soon. Another half an hour passed so I called to check again, a bit irritated. I’m supposed to show the BCAA guy my membership card to get it towed to my mechanic so I couldn’t quite abandon my car, so I had to stay, and I was getting sleepy.
She told me that the tow truck itself had mechanical problems, and the driver is trying to sort it out.
Talk about irony eh? My car breaks down, and then the tow truck that got called to help me out is about to break down too. Luckily, the driver managed to resolve the situation on his own, and finally, at 4AM, I managed to get home.
Turns out the alternator was dead, according to my mechanic (and it was also my #1 guess based on my read of the symptoms). If you don’t know, the alternator is the spinning part that does the reverse of an electrical motor – it converts spinning motion into electricity. It connects via a drivebelt to the engine shaft, and as the engine runs, it spins, charging your battery. If this thing dies, or a wire becomes loose, you’re draining your battery and when you finally kill it, your car dies. So if your electricals become weaker and weaker, die one by one until the engine finally dies while driving, you’ve got a non-charging battery.
However. If your car runs fine once it’s going, but has a hard time starting up, it’s the opposite – the alternator is working, but the battery isn’t supplying the energy. It’s either the battery wire/terminal, or the battery itself. In that scenario, while the car is running, the electricity generated by the alternator keeps the sparks going as well as your radio so your car won’t die during operation, but once you shut her down, you’re done.
Yes, not only do I know how to build websites and databases, I know a fair bit about mechanics and engineering too.