Hold My Beer: An Engineering Story

Canada is a wonderful place to live. Hot summers, beautiful trees in the fall, and snowy winters. As December raced away, Mother Nature decided to turn the thermostat down to -15°C. The ground was covered in a blanket of snow and going more than a few days without snow was rather shocking.

Several of my siblings live on the other side of Canada. My parents were gone to visit for the holidays. As the only child still in town, house sitting naturally was my duty. This job does come with its own perks. Instead of living in my relatively small apartment I have access to a large house and two cars. The only downside of the house is that it is across the river on the other side of town.

So the day my parents were leaving they planned to drop their SUV at my apartment building and then take a cab to the airport. I had an exam that morning and driving my parents to the airport at 3 AM was definitely out of the question.

I get up in the morning and get ready to go write my exam. On my way through the parking lot I noted they had left the SUV as planned. Once I returned home from my exam I had to run some errands with my roommate. I started the SUV and the engine started making awful noises. Cars aren't my forte but there was obviously something wrong. As there isn't much traffic at this time of day and for fear of the SUV not restarting I drove directly to my parents place to exchange the SUV for their car. After the car change I completed the errands around town and returned home for the night.

The next day I had more errands to run. So as would be expected, I go out to the car and go to st. Go to star. Go to starrrrrrrrrr the car. The engine wouldn't start. Just an incessant clicking as the car tries desperately to obey my wishes. The car previously had battery issues so I could only assume the battery was dead. The car was quite a distance from the apartment building and I don't have car battery charging equipment. At this point I was willing to try anything because getting a cab to my parents place would be rather costly.

Really long extension cord and power supply? CHECK

I give my dad a call and he provides a solution: grab a power supply and extension cord from the lab on campus. For context, my dad is an ECE prof at my university. I still have access to two labs that I worked in over the summer which he also uses for his research. It is also very convenient that I live very close to campus so I could easily grab the equipment.

The power supply was a 900W supply. Much more than we needed but hey, might as well not run a supply near the maximum. I got it connected with the help of one of my roommates. I needed him for an extra set of hands since we didn't want to have stuff touching the snowy ground or the car needlessly.

We let the battery charge for a while. After the current dropped, indicating the battery was charged, we tried to start the car. Same issue as before. The car wouldn't start, it would simply try it's best which obviously wasn't good enough.

At this point I was starting to lose sensation in my hands since it was absolutely freezing (it was now colder than the original -15°C we started working in and started to get windy). I quickly packed up the equipment and returned it to the lab, saddened that the sketchy charging setup failed.

With the battery completely dead with no capacity to hold a charge a battery replacement was the only option. Fortunately a family friend was able to lend me their car so I could go and purchase a new battery. The next afternoon, after my exam, I went and picked up the new battery. Then came the fun part of the day, swapping the battery in the parking lot of my apartment in similar conditions to the previous night.

I have a few tools around my apartment but not everything needed to make the change. I had vice grips which could be used to get some of the nuts off but, the ones that are tucked away would have been impossible to remove. Thankfully I was able to borrow some tools from the ECE department's tech shop.

Cars have never really been an interest to me so I don't have much experience working on cars. This being said a battery change seemed pretty straightforward. I looked up some videos on how to change the battery for this specific model of car. It is as straightforward as I thought. Sadly with everything in this story it can't be that simple.

I opened up the hood and start to remove the bolts holding the connectors to the battery. The nuts were stick on rather hard but they came off eventually. The real problem came from ground post having half a decade worth of dirt and grime frozen onto it. I spent at least half an hour prying the connector off the battery post. Due to the wind and cold I had to go inside every few minutes to warm my hands up. Once the cursed ground connector came off the positive lead was child's play in comparison. The new battery was installed and the car FINALLY started.

With the car back in a functioning state, the adventure was finally over.



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