“Sir, Sir!!” the guy waved at me from across the grocery store’s dimly lit parking lot. I cautiously slowed and powered down the window.
“I left the lights on in my car and now it won’t start. I have my elderly Mom with me and just need a jump start. Someone else has offered to jump start it, but their car is too small. I think we need an SUV like yours to get mine started”.
Sure enough, there was a small car with jumper cables connected to his SUV. I’ll admit, I’m a bit skeptical at times like these, but at the same time I’ve been stranded my share of times and had someone appear at just the perfect time.
The guy continued that he didn’t know anything about cars and was totally over his head on things like this. I could tell he was really upset, as can happen in times like this. His elderly Mom was quiet, but capable and effortlessly offered an extra hand or held a flashlight.
We connected my SUV; let it charge for a few minutes and then he cranked his. It would turn over, but not start. Hmmmm…..there was a familiar sound that was missing, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
I broke out my heavy jumper cables and tried again. Still the same result. By now, the guy was getting even more upset. “Why do things like this always happen to me!!?” “This is going to be expensive!!!”. Meanwhile, his Mom just watched and allowed whatever to unfold.
I put my gear away and shone the flashlight under the hood. The transverse engine looked like so many engines I’ve seen before. The driver’s side had the air filter, throttle body, and intake hardware. The passenger side had the serpentine belt, A/C, alternator, power steering.
I asked him to start it and still I sensed something was missing. As he started it, the engine turned about ¼ of a turn and then stopped. It was then I realized what I thought the problem was.
Usually when you start a car, no matter what brand, there is a sound of power as the starter turns the engine over. You can almost feel the torque, especially if you have the hood up. Not so here; every crank was a feeble attempt to turn the engine over.
“May I give it a try?” I asked. The guy, leapt out of the driver’s side, glad to be away from it. I had a feeling that if could’ve just run away, he probably would’ve.
As I got in, I just bumped the key slowly, just enough to move the engine. I really wasn’t trying to start it; I was proving a theory with each bump. With each bump, the engine made the usual, anemic sound and didn’t start. However……
Now and then one bump sounded solid and I quietly said “darn, I missed it”. After a few more iterations, I had a rhythm. Every 3-4 bumps would be anemic, but the 4th or 5th one would catch.
This process took a few minutes as I figured out what was happening. Meanwhile outside of the car, the drama was building even more. “I knew we should’ve never come here!” the guy exclaimed. “Can you call someone, does he know what do, and is he awake!!?” He was feeling lost, stranded, and just wanted out of here and it showed. His Mom retained her composure throughout and silently watched me.
I bumped the key a couple of more times and then waited. “C’mon baby, I know we can do this” I said under my breath. I knew I could start this car; I just needed one important piece of nuts and bolts to line up just perfectly one time.
One more turn of the key, confidently, putting it all on the line with this one shot. I had missed a few opportunities earlier, but this time I was going for it. I turned the key all the way and held it………with a solid, familiar sound the SUV roared to life!!
Woohoo!! I had a feeling I could do it, but to actually hear it run was quite rewarding.
The guy hurriedly began throwing everything back into the SUV. At one point, I had a feeling he was going to run me, his Mom, and my SUV over if we all didn’t move. He just wanted out of there!
Meanwhile, Mom asked me what it was. In 30 seconds or less, I explained that the starter had a dead spot and all I did was bump it around till I found the one place it’d catch. Not a fully technical explanation, but enough so she’d understand.
She calmly and graciously said thank you many times as I lowered the hood and prepared to leave. She said they would go home now and I said “you can go anywhere you want, as long as you leave it running”. We both just laughed and I watched them peel out of sight, almost literally.
I sat for a second, amazed at how the mom was so composed and the son was so dramatic. What a dichotomy of emotions and character!
As I rolled away, I couldn’t help but remember the times I was that same person; stranded, alone and someone took the time and courage to get me on my way. I had a renewed sense of gratitude for those times of rescue and said a quiet thank you for being able to lend a hand to get them on their way.
You never know what events will transpire, whom you’ll meet, but somehow it all comes full circle and that’s what makes life interesting.