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              - Cold weather starting, batteries n' wires - 

          |  A fun story of mythical creatures and your car |

                             Batteries n' Wires
                            By: Ed Sanders

                E-Mail:   edsanders@edsanders.com


            This story is incomplete. Auto repair, while fun and 
          economical, can be dangerous. There is no way we can warn
          you of each and every hazard. How can we tell you that while
          installing a hub cap, don't smoke and have a bucket of gas
          nearby?  Don't wear jewelry around car batteries or wires.
                  If you have no common sense, stop reading! 
          If you have some, invest in a shop manual and read the
          warnings in the front of before you proceed to follow any
          advice given here.

            The battery is what supplies the power to start your
          car. It's a chemical storage tank for electrons. We'll
          refer to these electrons as "Little Ralphies". From
          now on, we'll refer to the battery as the "Little
          Ralphie House".
            When you turn the ignition key to start your car,
          most of the Little Ralphies are sent to your starter.
          The starter is an electric motor that has a gear on
          one end of the shaft. This gear slides along the shaft
          so it can mechanically connect the starter motor to a
          thing called a ring gear on the engine. Some of the
          Little Ralphies are used to make this gear slide along
          the shaft to engage the gear. The thing that makes this
          happen is an electro-magnet, called a solenoid.

            At the same time, what Little Ralphies that are left
          run off to the ignition coil, through the distributor
          and plug wires to the spark plugs. The spark plugs make
          a spark which is supposed to ignite the gasoline vapors
          in the cylinder and make them burn. (Hence the term
          ignition key.)

            Why then, isn't an ignition key called a starter key?
          In the early days of cars, there was no starter. All
          the ignition key did was allow the Little Ralphies to
          go to the spark plugs. The driver or the driver's
          assistant was the "starter". A crank was inserted in
          the front of the engine and the person cranked! A lot
          less to go wrong, until the cranker got tired!

            Back to our modern winter. A LOT of things can go
          wrong when trying to start a cold engine today. First,
          the Little Ralphies have to get into the battery to be
          stored for starting. Your alternator makes the Little
          Ralphies. When your engine is running a belt transfers
          power from the engine to a pulley on the alternator. The
          alternator then turns, making Ralphies. Most of the
          Ralphies are sent around the car to make things like
          the lights, radio, horn, heater blower, windshield
          wipers, and a lot of other stuff work. The Ralphies
          that are left over are sent to the Little Ralphie House
          for use later.

            The next characters in our story are the Gremlins.
          The Gremlins are in a constant battle with the Ralphies.
          The Gremlins want to stop Ralphies from being made, from
          getting to the Ralphies House, from staying there, and
          from doing their job. The Ralphies travel around your car
          on a maze of paths.

            These paths are called the wiring harness. I think the
          reason it was named this is that when the automobile was
          replacing the horses, people were using terms that applied
          to horses and carriages for things that seemed similar in
          cars. Harnesses for horses transferred the power of the
          horse from the horse to whatever it was pulling, as a
          wiring harness transfers the eletrical power around the car.
          The horses' harnesses were often complicated mazes of black
          leather that only an expert could figure out. Wiring
          harnesses are wrapped in black tape or pass through black
          plastic tubing, and are even more complicated.

            In any event, the Gremlins lurk along these paths, and
          all over your car trying to stop the Ralphies. Sometimes the
          Gremlins employ their friends the Crudmakers to stop the
          Ralphies. The work of the Crudmakers is one of the most
          common things that will stop your car dead. It's also one
          of the easiest to fix or prevent. The Crudmakers are deathly
          afraid of grease, vaseline, baking soda, and some little
          purple rings you can get at most auto stores.
            Here we go off the subject again! Many people have
          believed that you can protect yourself from poisonous snakes
          by making a ring of rope around you before you go to sleep.
          Supposedly snakes won't cross a rope!?

            The first place the Crudmakers like to attack is at
          the doors of the Little Ralphie house. In common terms,
          these are the battery terminals. You can stop the Crudmakers
          by removing the Ralphie roads (the big wires that attach to
          the Ralphie house), and cleaning the inside of the Ralphie
          road ends, and the Ralphie terminals with a solution of 
          baking soda and a old tooth bush. Be sure not to get any
          of the baking soda and water solution inside the Ralphie
          house. If you do, you'll ruin some of the Ralphie food,
          some of which is sulfuric acid, and starve some of your
          Ralphies. After cleaning put a couple of snake rings on the
          terminals (those purple rings), or coat the terminals and
          Ralphie road ends with grease or vaseline. Place the Ralphie
          road ends back on the Ralphie house terminals, and tighten
          the nuts that clamp them tight.

            Use Amsoil Heavy Duty grease, not petroleum grease here.
          Petroleum grease tends to emulsify water, which Crudmakers
          thrive on eventually.

            In order to do their work, the Ralphies have to run in
          circles around your car. If they can't make it all the way
          around the circles, they can't do their work. They run from
          the negative door of the Ralphie house down the Ralphie road
          to the body of your car and to the metal part of your engine.
          This is called the path to ground. If your starter won't work,
          and you've already killed the Crudmakers at the Ralphie doors,
          this is the next thing to check.

            You can tell your starter isn't working if you turn
          the ignition key to start and absolutely nothing happens,
          except for perhaps a 'click'. The fastest method to tell
          if the Ralphies are being held up on this path is with a
          set of jumper cables. (Portable Ralphie roads.) Connect the
          jumper cables to the negative terminal of the Ralphie house.
          The Negative terminal will be marked NEG, (-), or Negative.
          Be SURE you are NOT on the Positive terminal, or you're
          going to make some BIG sparks, and if there are gasoline
          vapors or starting fluid in the air, maybe an explosion!
          Connect the other end of the jumper cable to a part of the
          metal on the engine. The best spot is a lifting lug if you
          can find one, this is a piece of the engine that juts out
          with a hole in it.

            Try to start the engine. If the starter works, you know
          you have a bad ground. This means the Crudmakers have been
          at work where you can't see them easily, either in the Ralphie
          road (battery cable) or at the other end of it.

            You may need a new battery cable, or perhaps you can
          take it off at the other end of the engine and clean it
          with some sandpaper, Scotch Brite, or what have you. Don't
          use steel wool! The Crudmakers love it!

            I don't recommend the next troubleshooting procedure
          unless you're real familiar with the inner workings of cars.
          You can get yourself killed if you don't know what you're
          doing! This is where you check to see if the positive battery
          cable and connection to the starter is ok. If the engine is
          a standard shift, make SURE the transmission is in neutral.
          Make Sure the ignition switch is OFF, the emergency brake ON,
          and the tires blocked. If you have to jack up the car to get
          at the starter, make SURE it's securely on jack stands.

            Connect the jumper cable to the Positive terminal of the
          Ralphie house. Touch the other end to the starter motor
          terminal with great care not to touch ground (the surrounding

            If the starter works, the battery cable is bad, or perhaps
          the ignition switch, or the Ralphie paths in between. Maybe
          the Crudmakers have been at work somewhere.

            These and many more problems can make themselves known
          in cold weather. They may have been there all along, but
          the presence of Jack Frost makes their effects known for
          several reasons.

            The Ralphies don't like to come out of the Ralphie
          house when it's cold. They'll use any excuse they can find
          to stay home.If they encounter any Gremlins or Crudmakers
          that they might have overcome in warmer weather, they just
          say the heck with it and go home when it's cold. If the
          Ralphie house is real old, there might not be many Ralphies
          there. Ralphies are lazy, and they need to be pushed to
          make them work. The thing that pushes them is called current.
          The current is measured in Amperes, referred to as amperage,
          or Amps. We'll call them Ampies. If there aren't enough Ampies
          to push the lazy Ralphies, your car won't start.

            In the summer it doesn't take many Ampies and Ralphies
          to start your car. In the winter, it can take a lot. Remember
          I said most of the Ralphies have to get to your starter motor
          to spin the engine? The Ralphies that are left over from this
          task have to get to the spark plugs to cause the fuel to burn.

            In the winter the Ralphies don't want to go out anyway,
          and there are less Ampies in the Ralphie house to kick them
          out. (Some of the Ampies go south when it gets cold). If you
          have petroleum oil in your engine, it gets thick when it's
          cold, like molasses. It takes a lot of Ampies, pushing a lot
          of Ralphies to make the starter spin an engine against this
          thick goo. Even if it does spin the engine, there might not
          be enough Ralphies and Ampies left over to make Sparkies at
          the spark plugs. Liquid gasoline dosen't ignite very well.

            The injectors or carburator are supposed to change the liqiud
          gasoline from a liquid to a vapor, which ignites easily. When
          It's cold out, the gasoline doesn't want to turn into a vapor.
          This of all times is when you need strong Sparkies to make the
          gas burn. If you have Amsoil Synthetic oil in your engine,
          less Ampies and Ralphies will be needed to spin the motor,
          so more will be able to make Sparkies. The Ralphie house will
          usually last longer too as it won't be used as much.

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