My inability to fix cars is near legendary in our household. Oh, I can make it look like I know what I’m doing, propping open the hood and staring into the engine block with a concerned look on my face. But I might as well be staring into a dumpster for all the good I can do.
Not my dad. My dad can listen to a car cranking, his head tilted slightly to the side, and determine, for the most part, exactly what’s wrong without ever opening the hood. It’s partly generational, I think — his generation spawned the sort of fellow who loved taking an engine apart on a Saturday just for the fun of cleaning it and putting it back together on a Sunday — though it also has something to do with the way cars today are made. Most times, you can’t tell what’s wrong with a car unless you take it to a mechanic — who then plugs it into a special computer so the car can tell HIM what’s wrong. It’s a matter of having the right machinery, I suppose.
And then there are the days when it’s clear I shouldn’t be allowed near a car at all.
Recently, my car—a ten-year-old Saturn with 150,000 miles on it that I plan on driving until it implodes—failed its Maryland emissions test. I wasn’t too surprised—it had started rough the morning I took it in for its test, and it ran rough all day. The next morning, it wouldn’t start at all.
For the next week or so, I grumbled about calling a tow truck to drag the car to the shop, and every once in a while would go out and sit in the driver’s seat to crank the engine, hoping that this time — this time! — it would turn over. It didn’t.
My dad stood by patiently during one of these cranking sessions, listening with his head tilted slightly to the side. “That sounds like a battery problem,” he said. “Why don’t you pop the hood so I can take a look?”
I reached to the floor and pulled the lever, and there was that muffled PLOOMF! sound the hood makes when it pops — only when I came around to the front of the car, I couldn’t get the damn hood to pull open. “Add THAT to the list, now,” I groaned. “I’ll call a tow truck tomorrow.” My dad sipped his coffee for a moment. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said.
Later that afternoon, I ran errands for several hours. When I returned home, my dad had the hood of the car propped open, and was charging the battery with a portable charger.
“What is . . . I mean, how did you get the hood to open?” I asked. “I pulled the lever and couldn’t get it to work!”
“You were popping open the trunk,” my dad said.
I shouldn’t be allowed near cars at all.