My small car had no real garage, as this was a rented house. I had made a temporary mobile shed with some galvanized iron pipes and tarp, which gathered leaves and sometimes got waterlogged. I had to clean it periodically.
I shook the roof down and started sweeping around the car when I noticed two wires hanging from behind the front bumper. The wires were muddy from the last trip on the gravel road in the rain. I knew immediately as the exposed wires were still copper colored this was sabotage. Well, it's nothing to get worked up about, 'cos I knew who the saboteur was immediately. I peeped under the car. Yes he was there napping away, dreaming one of his puppy dreams. This puppy had a nasty habit of chewing through every thing in sight. We hid our footware inside, to protect them from him.
Somehow, he had noticed the hanging wire from the park light, which was mounted on the bumper, together with the turn signal. He had chewed through the wire and severed it. I opened the glove compartment and found the PVC insulation tape I took with me for emergencies. I bend down and spliced the wire ends together and secured it with tape. Then forgot about that.
Those were the days they were showing Jurassic Park at Liberty Cinema. Three of us planned to see it and thought of taking my mother too with us who had a taste for that genre of movies. So we thought 3.15 pm show would be ideal. So all of us drove to Colombo and watched the movie and enjoyed it thoroughly.
"How did you like that movie, achchi?" my daughter asked.
"Very good. I loved that!" was the answer.
So we were driving back all content when we saw this 'Exotic Plant Exhibition and Sale' at the Viharamahadevi Park. All of us, having green fingers, could never resist passing one of these and we looked for a parking space. Later, several thousand rupees poorer and the trunk of the small car loaded with more shades of greenery, we left the park. It was getting dusky.
I chose Biyagama Road as it had comparatively less traffic than Kandy Road or Battharamulla Road. When we passed Kelaniya, it was still light enough to drive without head lights.When I passed Manelwatta Raja Maha Vihara, I switched on the lights. It was a sharp downhill and suddenly the car started to fill with black smoke.
"That goddamn truck!" I said because an overloaded truck that was climbing the hill was belching black smoke. We thought the smoke was from that. Even after driving about one hundred meters, when the smoke didn't recede, I was suspicious. It was becoming worse. I pulled over immediately. As soon as the car stopped the I notice the smoke leaking out of the front of the car. I pulled the hood release and engine cover clicked open. I ran to the front and lifted it. Oops, black smoke with the stench of burning plastic threw me back.
"Get out of the car!" I yelled and everybody did.
There were flames from the general area of the battery.
I ran back and got a piece of rag and started fighting the flames. What I put out reignited sometimes and after the combined effort of Deepa's and mine, we managed to put the fire out completely. I later discovered the paint on the hood had blistered.
Now that the immediate danger of fire was over, I thought of getting home. I just turned the ignition on and checked. Actually the engine started immediately, but to my horror new smoke emitted from the wire harness as soon as the headlights were switched on. I switched off the engine and slapped off the fire which was starting again.
"I shouldn't lose my head. Keep cool. How you work in a crisis is what you really are," I told myself.
There is no mechanical fault. If there was one, the engine would not start. This is some electrical short circuiting. I checked the wires again. Some of them were melted and exposed and you couldn't say which was which. And the darkness made things worse. Luckily, my mother had a habit of taking a small flashlight in her handbag whenever we went somewhere. It came in handy. With the beam of the flashlight, I inspected the damage. Then I started a systematic search with checklist, while Deepa, my copilot watched out for smoke signal. I got the all clear sign. I switched everything off and started the engine. Engine started. We watched the engine compartment. It was running without a hitch. No smoke.
Then I switched on the turn signal. No smoke.
Then the wipers. No smoke.
I stepped on the brakes. No smoke.
Then the headlights. Oops. Smoke!
I switched off the lights and the engine off.
I walked over to the Hardware store that was open and bought some fresh PVC insulation tape. With the help of the flashlight, I started taping the exposed wire. After some time I realized this was all I could do. I also discovered that the hazard lights could be switched on without any danger of fire.
Then I asked everybody to climb aboard and I started the engine. Deepa held the flash light on to the road. It shone back on us reflecting on the windshield and then she discovered if she put her hand outside the car and flashed the torch the visibility was better.
So we resumed the dangerous and tough journey home.
It wasn't easy driving a car in the night with a beam of a flashlight especially when the drivers of the other vehicles both going your way and the opposite way were very inconsiderate. Ones behind you honked and flashed head beams and blinded you. Oncoming ones switched on the head beams to see me better and understand what the hell I was doing. All these made my predicament worse. One special dude who overtook me slowed down and allowed me to follow him, to my immense relief.
At Biyagama,, near the Fonterra Company, I pulled over and looked for an electrician. Actually there were no auto electricians at that time but there was this resourceful dude who did radio repairing, who offered to help.
He did a systematic check and discovered that wire I had spliced that day to be the culprit.
"Why did you do that?" he asked me.
"Well my dog ate it and I spliced it back together and taped it."
"My God! this is the plus and the minus you have spliced together."
"I thought it was the same wire. Actually I didn't notice the color of the wires as they were covered with mud."
He pushed his hand in and pulled out two more wire ends from the park lights.
"Oops, then why didn't it happen before? I've driven this car so many times after splicing the wires together."
"But that was in broad daylight when you didn't have to use headlights."
So it has been an accident waiting to happen. It has been a time bomb. It was just a matter of time until I switched on the lights someday. If it didn't happen today, it would have happened at a worse time. Actually I was about 10 - 15 km from home now. Just imagine this happening in the middle of nowhere! Long way from home!
The wire harness could be leaking in hidden places. So he disconnected the suspicious circuits. He somehow managed to draw new direct line from the battery to the headlights. At the same time he displayed to me the car engine, once started could run on the alternator, without the battery power. He removed the battery cable and demonstrated this. I thought only motor cycles with magneto could do that and now I was very much impressed.
Finally, we were roadworthy again. He advised me to disconnect the battery wire as soon I got home and get a proper auto electrician to do the job ASAP. We thanked him profusely and paid him for his trouble. Actually he didn't try to rob me blind. He didn't even accept the extra notes I tried to give him. And this was a guy who went out of his way to help someone in trouble and did not make a big show out of that either. This resourcefulness in a person is very rare.
When we arrived home, our puppy who did this all and hadn't the slightest idea what he had done to us,was wagging his little tail as faithfully as ever, in the bright headlights of our car.
Is there any message for you in this true story I marveled. The I listed them as follows:
- Never splice wires carelessly without checking there origin. I had peeped further I'd have discovered the hidden wire stubs.
- A flashlight is a must.
- You never know when A PVC Electrical Insulation Tape comes in handy.
- A small fire extinguisher is invaluable.
- Have extra fuses of various values on-board, but check for the fault and correct it before replacing them.
- Have a butterfly nut at the battery terminal that can be easily disconnected. A kill switch is the best.
- A tow rope/ cable and a jumper cable were suggested by my Sinhala blog readers who read this in Sinhala.
- I take two spare wheels when I'm on long haul drives. One in the bracket. Other in the trunk. Just imagine you are on your spare wheel 300 kilometer from home in the middle of the night.