Monday, January 05, 2009

The Scent of Stupidity

When dusk made it too hard to see the water birds, Mary Ann came back up from where she'd parked the Trailblazer and reported that she'd run the battery low and the car wouldn't start.  A little later I drove the Jeep down to the pond and rummaged in the back seat for some jumper cables I thought I'd left back there from the last time we'd needed them.  Sure enough, I saw a tangle of black and red thick cables and teased the bundle free from the towing strap and the control cable for the winch and began hooking up the clamps.  

I'd jump started cars too many times to count and I thought I knew all the tricks.  Experience and a healthy respect for my own intelligence led me quickly though the steps.  I hooked up the stranded car's battery first.  Headlights and my iPhone's screen gave me enough light to be confident that I was connecting red to red on the battery and black to black. Then I went over to the Jeep and connected the cables there, seeing a spark and a dimming of the headlights.  Boy, the Trailblazer's battery must be really dead.

I got in and tried to start it.  Just a flicker of lights and solenoid clatter.  It was as if I weren't connected at all.  I got out to check, and saw immediately that something was wrong.  Smoke shouldn't be billowing off the cables like that.  Nope.  That didn't look right.  In fact the cables were glowing red and insulation was dripping off them.  The scent of burning insulation was strong.

Not quite stupid enough to grab the cable clamps to disconnect them with my bare hands, I snatched the clamps from the Trailblazer and used them like pliers to tug the connection free from the Jeep.  Luckily the glowing wires didn't start the dry grass on fire.

I quick investigation in the dark showed me my problem.  There had been two sets of jumper cables, both with the same red and black color scheme, tangled together.  I had connected one set to the Trailblazer and the other to the Jeep.  Unfortunately, the Jeep side unused connectors had been connected together, so I'd just put a dead short across that battery.

Sure that I'd avoided a fire, I got the Trailblazer started the right way just in time to avoid looking like a total idiot when my son-in-law came over to see what I was doing.

What should I have done better?  I should have untangled the jumper cables, at least enough to notice that I was dealing with two sets there in the dark.  And I should have listened to that slight nag that happened when I connected the Jeep side and noticed that the clamps on that end weren't exactly the same as those on the Trailblazer side.

But I'll take being lucky.  All I lost was a set of jumper cables.  And I gained another story to tell.


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