Losing Power


It’s a commentary on this blog that I’m really only writing this story because people have said I should. It’s an amusing anecdote from the other night, but it’s just something that happened, and I really don’t write many posts like that anymore. I wonder why.

I went up to watch the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville Thursday night. Get up there, no problem.

The first sign of a problem comes right after I get gas at the Franklin exit and I’m getting back on the interstate. The battery warning light comes on, with a message to check the charging system. The car seems to be fine, and the warning goes away pretty quickly, so I kind of hope it’s just one of those random flukes, but figure, if not, I’ll take it to get checked the next day.

It continues to do that the rest of the way down I-65 to the state line. Comes on briefly, and then goes away again. Weird. Again, no sign of any problems. Maybe a loose connection or something?

At Ardmore, the light begins coming on more frequently, and staying on longer. Hmm. Not good. Begin trying to trouble shoot. Does it happen when I slow down or something? Can’t find any commonality.

Somewhere between Ardmore and Huntsville, I notice that my console lights seem dimmer. I don’t even make the connection at first. I thought maybe I’d bumped the dimmer knob, but adjusting it doesn’t help. I realize what’s going on, and at the point — around the intersection of Jordan Lane and Research Park, at the edge of town — things start obviously going wrong. The electrical systems in the car are starting to lose power. I begin turning off everything I don’t need — the radio, the air-conditioner, etc. I begin trying to figure out who I could get to come help me if necessary, but it’s late at night, the car’s still moving, I’m getting close, and I’m determined that I’m going to make it.

By the time I make it to University Drive, I no longer have any headlights. I probably should have stopped. But the roads are well-lit, there’s very little traffic, the car’s running, I’m even closer, and I’m determined I’m going to make it. I’m constantly checking the GPS on my iPhone, looking at how much farther I have to go.

Plus, I figure, the engine runs on gas, not electricity, so I should be able to make it, right? I may lose electrical systems, but the car will keep moving, and that’s all I need. It’s somewhere on Jordan between University Drive and the I-565 overpass that I realize that, while the motor itself uses gas, there are some systems, like the transmission, that do rely on electricity.

When the transmission goes out, I consider just pulling over, but, again, I’m getting so close, and I figure if I drive slowly, I can just stay in first, and I won’t need the transmission.

So I resist the temptation to pull over into the parking lot of the Chinese restaurant right before 565, and instead head up the overpass over the interstate. And it’s at the top of that overpass where my car dies.

But this is a good thing. Getting stuck there would have been bad, but since I’m at the top, I can just coast back down. I do so successfully, and coast into a parking lot.

Again, this would be a reasonable point to just give up. But, again, I’m incredibly close now. Less than three miles. And I have one more trick up my sleeve — I’ve got a portable battery charger that can be used to jump start the car. I do that, charge it for a bit, and start going again.

That doesn’t last long — gets me basically to the next place I can pull over before that charge is exhausted. But I’m determined. I’m not giving up. It occurs to me that the charger hooks up to the battery cables, and when it jumps the car off, the car is basically pulling from it like a battery. It’s got a fair bit of charge in it, so I hook it back up and leave it, using it as a back-up battery.

Of course, it’s too big for the hood to close over it, but, I figure, I’ll just drive slowly. I’m so close, you know? So, yeah, it’s not long at all before I find myself driving down Patton Road with my headlights out and my hood sticking up. Thankfully, I can see under the hood well enough to find a place to pull over.

OK, obviously I was driving too quickly. Get out, put the hood down, start again, more slowly. The hood stays down for, easily, seconds longer than it did last time. I pull over yet again.

No more tricks up my sleeve. But one left in my pants, as horrible as that sounds. I take off my belt, and use it to tie down the hood over the battery charger that’s hooked to the battery of my car, and continue heading, inexorably, closer to home. Well under two miles now.

I make it through the last major intersection before the house when the car dies again. I manage to coast into a parking lot and almost completely into a parking space. At that point, I have nothing left. The batteries dead. The charger’s dead. No more gadgets. None of my remaining clothing will help.

The car won’t move. One-point-two miles remaining. The remainder of the distance is covered on foot.

I would have preferred to make it home in my vehicle, but, at that point, I’m just glad to have made it home.

In light of Joe’s comment, I’m adding to the body of this post that my car is a 2005 Ford Taurus, in case anybody is Googling for this particular problem. If you know anything about it, let me know. I had the alternator replaced, they said they had never seen one as bad as mine.

2 Responses

  1. If the picture is of your car, then you have the same car I do, same color even, a Ford Taurus (2005 by any chance). Anyway, I have the same problem with mine, though I’ve been lucky enough not to be stuck in the situation you were in. Any time that has happened to me, it’s been close to home and, like you, I carry a battery charger with me whenever I leave town.

    My car’s been looked at tons of times and no one has been able to pin down the problem other than “something wrong with the electrical system.” I’ve gone through one alternator (actually two since the first replacement was faulty), and several batteries, new battery cables, etc. and nothing has been a permanent fix.

    If you find out what the problem is, let me know. Maybe it’ll give me a clue as to what’s wrong with mine.

  2. Yep. Exact same car, then. Crap. I really hoped the problem was fixed. That’s no good. Yeah, if I run into anything else, I’ll let you know, and would appreciate if you would do the same.

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