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Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Trouble With Batteries

I heard the ding of my motion detector; but I was underneath a 1991 GMC ¾ ton pickup, with both arms occupied. I called out ‘just a minute, and I’ll be right with you’. Yea, that worked. A woman in dress and high heels bypasses the no customer beyond this line marker, and click clacks over to the truck. She crouches down, peering under the truck.

“Hi, I don’t mean to bother you…”

Too late.

“…I was wondering if you could change a battery for me. I’ve already bought it, and it’s out there in my trunk.”

Oh goody, bring your own parts time. I slid out from under the truck carefully, after looking forlornly up at the steering gear I had almost jockeyed into position. A one man shop has its drawbacks. I can’t both whine about interruptions and the cost of hiring extra guys, while praising the pluses of being a one man band all these years.

“What year and make of vehicle do you have, ma’am?” I ask, as I work my way up to a standing position, and remove the filthy plastic gloves I’d been doing the steering gear job with.

“It’s a 2002 Chevy Impala,” she replied, following my gesture to walk back toward the shop front.

I told her what I charge for changing a late model GM vehicle battery, and she instantly becomes defensive. Most people believe changing a battery on late model vehicles is the same as doing one on a 1970 Chevy Impala. It’s not. If the vehicle computer is allowed to lose its memory, all kinds of unusual things can happen, such as stalling, hard starting, radio security lock out, or alarm circuit lock out. The charge is for half an hour, including the expertise in not messing the car up doing it.

“For changing a battery?!” Ms. Impala questions with what she thinks is legitimate outrage. “If I were a guy, you wouldn’t charge me that.”

“No, I’d tell you to take the battery back where you bought it, get a refund, and come in for me to install a new Delco Battery from my supplier; because I don’t normally install other people’s parts,” I answer truthfully.

I don’t know this woman, so being a little patient doesn’t hurt. I explain the complexity nowadays in changing a battery, assuming it is a maintenance replacement rather than a problem. The lady’s in her late twenties, and looks to have a good job if clothing is any indicator.

“Fine,” she sighs unconvinced. “Can I drive the car in?”

“Sure, I’ll get an invoice ready.”

Ms. Impala drives in. I write up the estimate, looking the car over for any hidden traps under the hood, like dirty fingerprints indicating the backyard boys had beat me to this job a couple times. She signs the estimate, and I give her the copy. Ms. Impala opens her trunk. I take out the new battery, and load test it. It’s no good. Luckily, it has removable caps over the cells, and I show her the brand new battery has a dead cell with my hydrometer. To say she’s unhappy would be an understatement. I remind her it could have been worse. I could have installed it; and when it didn’t run, we’d have both been really unhappy. I load the DOA new battery in her trunk and she leaves.

I take my phone under the GMC with me, because I know what’s coming next. The phone rings fifteen minutes later. It’s the sales manager of Backyard Bob’s Parts R Us.

“Did you tell this lady our new batteries were no good?!! I’ll…”

“No,” I cut him off, “I did not tell her your new batteries were bad. I told her the one she brought over for me to install was no good, and I showed her which cell was faulty. Did you test it?”

“Our batteries are…”

“Did you test it!?” I repeat more pointedly.


“Call me back after you test it,” I add quickly and hang up.

No calls, so I finish the GMC. An hour later, the 2002 Impala drives in. The lady gets out in irritated fashion, and walks around to meet me as I leave the office. She has her arms folded tightly over her chest (body language I’ve learned over the years meaning I’m pissed off). This is better than hands on hips, which means I’m pissed off at you.

“The sales manager put another new battery in for me,” she states.

“Great,” I reply, wondering why are you here then.

“My Chevy is stalling at every other stop now.”

I shrug. “Just drive it for a few days until the computer gets a chance to relearn the idle. Hopefully, that’s the only thing you’ll have a problem with. There will be stuff you will have to reset from your owners manual. When you start having trouble, look in the index, and follow the directions for whatever it is you find doesn’t work right.”

“Can’t you just hook something up and set it for me?”

Uh oh, the hands drop to her hips.

“No, it doesn’t work that way,” and I know this from experience. Something else always shows up in real life driving. I didn’t want this monkey on my back. “You’ll have to be patient. Otherwise, I suggest you take it to the dealer.”

“Thanks… you’ve been a lot of help,” she retorts on her way to slamming into her car and driving off.

Yep, that’s me, Mr. Helpful. :)

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