A small comedy of automotive errors

I woke up Thursday morning with plans.  It was a bright sunny morning, and the first thing on my agenda after breakfast was to pick up my sister’s three young children for the day so that she could enjoy some quiet time with her newborn.

I usually drive the Mustang, but since I would be buckling children into the back seat I decided I much preferred the 4 door car, so Natalie and I climbed into the little gray Lancer that Kaitlyn normally drives.  We buckled our seat belts and I turned the key in the ignition.  Nothing happened.  Although it has been a reliable car, I wasn’t terribly surprised.  We had all spent the previous evening outside, and the kids were playing hide & seek.  One of the little ones must have hidden in the car and turned on a dome light or failed to close the door all the way.  I would take the Mustang to pick up my nieces and nephew, and jump start the Lancer when I got home.

Natalie and climbed into the Mustang, buckled our seat belts, and I turned the key.  Nothing.

Apparently the little brats were playing hide & seek in both cars last night.  I decided to have a talk with them about playing in vehicles when I got home.  In the meantime, I would use the van to jump start the Lancer, then jump start the Mustang when I got home.

We moved the van into position, popped the hoods of both vehicles, and attached the battery cables.  I turned the key in the Lancer ignition.  Nothing.

Now I knew I had been wrong to blame the children for this car’s failure to start.  The ignition switch in this car had been showing signs of wear since we bought it, and we knew it would need to be replaced eventually.  Apparently, today was the day.  Grrr.  I would have to jump start the Mustang instead.

I squeezed the van into the driveway next to the Mustang, attached the cables to both vehicles.  Finally, things went according to plan.  The Mustang roared to life without hesitation.  Less than ten minutes later, I was at my sister’s house and three of her children were in my car.  I turned the key in the ignition and…nothing.


Perry works about 1,000 miles from home now, so I am exceedingly thankful to have a daughter with a driver’s license.  I am also thankful to have three, count ’em three, vehicles, for those days when TWO OF THEM SUDDENLY WON’T START.

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Moby Dick

I called Kaitlyn to bring the 15 passenger van and jump start us.  She did, and I did not turn off the engine when I got home.  Instead, I kicked out the kids and headed to the auto parts store to get my battery tested.  My hope and expectation was that I would need a new battery.  I would have to turn off the engine to get the new one installed, but with a new battery I would be good to go.

Unfortunately, my battery tested good.  And my car wouldn’t start once again.  I knew this was a possibility and had already arranged with Kaitlyn to drive the 2 miles to jump start my car again, but the guys at the store gladly did it for me.  They thought I probably needed a starter, but warned me that it was not returnable once installed so didn’t want to talk me into buying the part purely on their hunch.

This time when I got home, I did shut off the Mustang.  Then out of idle curiosity, I turned the key.  It obediently roared to life.  I tried again, and again, and again.  Ten times in a row, it started.  Grrr.

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In the meantime, Kaitlyn had been researching online and learned that it was a quick and easy job to replace an ignition switch in the Lancer, even for a novice.  Excited by the idea that we could handle this problem ourselves, I rushed out and bought the $92 part.  I took the Mustang, but I also took an older child so I could leave the engine running.  Even with ten consecutive starts under my belt, I wasn’t taking any chances.

When I got home, Kaitlyn had already disassembled the ignition of the Lancer and just needed some help breaking the old switch loose.


Naked steering column. Not pretty.


Shiny new $92 ignition switch

Go, Kaitlyn!  She quickly got the new one in place, reassembled everything, and turned the key.


Nothing?  Did we just waste $92 on a piece of plastic?

But it was acting different now: the hey-idiot-you-left-your-key-in-the-ignition alarm wasn’t beeping.  We decided maybe she should put the old one back on, just to ensure that nothing had changed.  Maybe the new one wasn’t working because something was assembled incorrectly.  When she took the plastic cover off of the steering column, several small pieces of something fell down and bounced around the floorboard.  Impossibly tiny coiled springs, and little pieces of electrical-looking pluggy-things.  Bad things.

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The girls had a prior engagement, so were out of time and had to leave.  Forced to choose between Moby Dick and the Mustang, they decided to take a chance – and a pair of battery cables.  There would be plenty of pals to ask for a jump if the need arose, but all went well and they returned later in the evening without incident.

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Perry was due home in less than 24 hours and we had a busy weekend planned.  I had hoped to solve these problems for him, so at this point we left it to the experts: two friends with mechanical experience came to look at the vehicles.  One identified and reassembled the door-open sensor lying in pieces on the floorboard, and then they worked together to diagnose our other problems.  Their advice: buy two starters.  As crazy as it sounded, they both believed we had experienced two starter failures on the same day.

As crazy as it sounds, they were right.

And the ignition switch?  It turns out, that was a good call too.  The car that has always, always required a good strong 3-second crank on the key, until the little cutouts in the key pressed funny shapes into your fingers?  It now starts when you just turn the key.  Imagine that.


  1. Lois Groat says:

    One of the things I love best about big families: we just assume we can fix things. Therefore, we can fix things. 🙂

  2. Twice I have had my car stop running while I was driving, the car simply stopped. Problem was simply a bad batter both times, nothing wrong with my alternator at all. The symptoms for other mom’s, strange electric issues crop up a month or two before the battery dies, things, like the doors won’t lock or unlock reliable using the key fob, electric window decides to only open or close when it wants to, not every time I hold down the button.

  3. Hooray for kind friends! I hate it when we have car trouble, because we live out in the country and it makes me feel completely stranded when something happens. So glad you were able to get everything fixed and running again! 🙂

  4. Hello, Kim. Maintenance and repairs! What a responsibility and particularly when you don’t know anything about the busted item! Charlie Brown said it best, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!”
    Best regards from up here in Oregon

  5. We live 40 minutes from our closest big town. Once, the kids, 8 of them, and I were on our way home. My mother worked in the same big town. Our car broke down about halfway home. It was the alternator, and would need to sit in the nice people’s yard until hubby could get there. Meanwhile, we were stuck.
    So, my mom came from town, took 4 of the kids home, then turned around, came back for me and the other 4 kids and took us home. We laughed so hard about my poor mom having to run such a taxi service, going back and forth!!

  6. You are such a good story teller. I despise car trouble. So glad yours had a happy ending.

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