Thursday, July 31, 2008

Replacing the battery

Last Friday my cab partner, Vitao, was 40 minutes late for the second time in a row. He apologized and offered to turn the car over at 3pm instead of 4pm next Friday. I agreed, with no hard feelings. Vitao is a good guy. While we were talking, he mentioned the shop had changed our alternator the day before. The battery was discharging during his shift. It seemed fine after that.

New alternator installed by Fred.
Looks like new plug wires too.

Saturday afternoon I picked up the car and the battery idiot light was glowing, and the voltmeter was reading low, and it was dropping slowly as I idled. It was 5:30 p.m., so the mechanic would be gone until Monday morning. Knowing I have a knew alternator, I decided to drive to Auto Zone and buy a new battery.

Typically I check things out with my own meter, but it disappeared from the trunk compartment months ago. I suspect Fred, our thieving mechanic. Also, I wanted to fix it myself since bringing a car to Fred is quite an ordeal. The last time I needed a battery, Fred gave us an old one that he had cleaned to make it look new. My cab partners and I embarked on a three month odyssey of having the car fail to start when we got belled -- cost us a bunch of money and time. We had to get jump starts several times a day before I got Fred to admit the battery wasn't new. Doing things myself avoids all this pain.

New battery installed by me

Ninety dollars and an hour later, I started the car, with the new battery, in the Autozone parking lot to find the problem was still there. Belatedly I checked the grounds and cleaned and tightened the clamps, especially where the copper wires are crimped. No luck.

Bad picture of the battery light and voltmeter

I got on the radio and explained the situation. This was actually quite tricky because the dispatcher was repeatedly calling a single car number. Apparently this driver vanished, and now he was long overdue for the night shift driver. It took more than five minutes to get through.

The dispatcher, Louie, said the cab company owner was in the office, heard me mention the problem, and they told me to drive to the office. I was given a loaner car which looked a bit grim but drove quite well. The last guy to drive it was The Fat Bastard, who bent the seat into a permanent reclining position. All I needed was a sideways baseball cap to complete a gangsta image.

The following idiot lights were glowing on the dash of the loaner:

    Air Susp
    Check Engine
    Air Bag

Judging from the amount of space on the dash, that was every light except maybe an oil light. At least I had that going for me. At night, with all those lights on the dash, it was like driving a christmas tree. But holy smokes! the car had a lot more power than my 92, and the transmission is much better. I'm actually considering giving Fred $200 to sneak into the shop on Sunday and swap the engine and transmission with my cab. Nobody would be the wiser, and I'd be a lot happier. Of course, Fred owes me $100 from last October, so that would be worked into the deal. I'll let you know if I make the proposal.

Incidentally, all of our cars with air suspension leak (as far as I know). Instead of removing the garbage air equipment and simply putting in standard Crown Victoria coil springs, the policy is to fill the system beyond capacity, and then let it slowly leak out over two weeks. Repeat. When I picked up the loaner it was jacked up really high in the back, kind of like a 60s muscle car. It is an absurdity that only exists in the wonderful world of taxis. I'm riding around in a car that's jacked up in the back, with nearly every warning light flashing on the dash. I just buckle the seat belt and sigh. If I was a religious type, I'd have crossed myself.

This car is jacked up (hard to see in this shot)

This gives you an idea of the ridiculously
jacked-up stance of the car

Several hours later, while sitting on a cab stand, I found out what happened to the missing driver. He had locked his keys in the taxi down in Imperial Beach, and then walked a very long ways to the Palm Ave trolley station, then came back up into town on the trolley. He didn't have his cellphone with him, and for reasons unknown he didn't stop to use a payphone. His replacement (the evening driver), who told me about this incident, had to wait three hours to get the car. After the driver showed up at HQ and explained himself, the car had to be retrieved from IB. Par for the course.

No comments: