If you missed the first part of this article Nightmare onE01-the Southern Expressway!, please press here.
I dreamed the luminous markings rushing at me out of the darkness in my sleep that night. However I called Chunji as soon as I woke up.
“Chunji, can I borrow your van battery for a couple of hours?”
“No problem, come and get it.”
“Hey, could you please bring it yourself, if you don’t mind?”
While waiting for Chunji’s battery, I called the auto electrician Lakshman and made an appointment to meet him in an hour.
And within that hour, I removed my battery from the battery compartment and put in Chunji’s one. Once the battery terminals were secured, I turned the ignition and the engine sprang to life. And according to Murphy’s Law, no red discharge lamp either. Isn’t it quite normal for the symptoms of most of our gadgets to miraculously disappear in the presence of the technician? Come to think of that, even the humans are like that! Don’t most of our pains and aches vanish at the doctor’s?
The electrician Lakshman worked at home, not a garage. When I entered through his black painted ornate gate, I saw him on his motorbike waiting to go out. He was going to drop his son at his tuition class. He asked me to wait for his return.
I sat on the beautiful garden bench among Lakshman’s wife’s flowering shrubs and kicked off my flip-flops and rested my bear feet on the green lawn still covered with dewdrops and fell into deep thought.
Most of us develop a kind of emotional attachment with our vehicles over the years, just like the kind we have with our pets. Though this may sound weird to some of you, this is the truth.
This van is no exception.
This old, but reliable vehicle has a reputation of taking us almost all over the island and bringing us home safely. And all the incidents that we faced from time to time has been due to human error than the technical error.
That accident at Yala for example was a direct result of the fully loaded van running over a weakened area of the concrete slab of a badly maintained causeway giving in. Somehow the van arrived home safely, in spite of the damages it suffered to the lower suspension arm which was replaced later.
Another day, one of the four new KYB shock absorbers I got fixed came off en route to Kandy, somewhere in Nittambuva simply because the careless mechanic had forgotten to tighten the lower nut of the front right shock absorber. The hydraulic cylinder of the shock absorber was somewhat dented as a result of being banged about on the axle.
The same mechanic forgot to tighten the nuts of the rear universal joint after replacement and the propeller shaft came off another day near Balummahara just before entering the Kandy road. This act negligence which was much critical than the shock absorber incident, resulted in damaging the differential and causing a hum. Later I had to buy the whole rear axle assembly from a Japanese reconditioned motor part dealer.
Another morning, I found my garage floor flooded with green radiator coolant because the worker at the service station, where I got the radiator coolant replaced the previous evening, hadn’t tightened the drain plug at the bottom of the radiator properly.
Not only the mechanics, some fuel pump attendants at the filling stations also suffer from amnesia. In this very vacation, as soon as we arrived in Sri Lanka, we had to go to Kandy to attend a wedding. I filled the tank up to the brim at a filling station in Gampaha district. When I stopped on the side of the road at Peradeniya, Kandy to ask for the directions to the Wedding reception hall, I noticed fresh patch of diesel near the front wheel. When I opened the fuel flap and checked the fuel cap, it was loose. The pump attendant had forgotten to screw it tight and I’ve been spilling diesel all the way to Kandy. After that I made it a point to personally check if the fuel cap is secured after refueling, ignoring the dirty looks from some fuel pump attendants.
The lesson I learned the hard way from all these incidents was to be vigilant every time a technician is supposed to tighten the nuts and bolts they loosened. I wonder if this is some genetic mutation. They really do forget.
So all those incidents were caused by human error.
And once it was a rodent error!
Once, the engine failed to start because the electric wire to the diesel injector pump was chewed through by a rat. I didn’t know this and I changed the diesel filter. I removed the whole diesel filter assembly from the engine and took it to the service station. The owner who checked the filter which hadn’t done at least quarter of its guaranteed mileage, diagnosed it was badly clogged and replaced it with a new one. When I attached the filter assembly and tried the engine didn’t fire. Later I brought my mechanic who found the rat eaten wire and spliced it back. The engine started immediately.
Later I met this service station owner at a clothing store.
“Hey, though you said my old filter was clogged and sold me a new one, the engine didn’t start. A rat had chewed off a wire to the injector pump.”
“Really? But sir, even that filter was no good. There should’ve some effect from that also.”
“May be. Who knows if the same rat ate up the diesel filter, too?” I said.
Interrupting my train of thoughts, Lakshman rode through the huge black gates into his yard. I, who was enjoying the awesomeness of the wet grass under my feet, quickly got up and went near the van.
I described the symptoms to Lakshman who listened attentively.
Let’s go for a test ride, first,” he said climbing into the driver’s seat. As soon as the engine was started the red light went off. Murphy is absolutely correct!
He drove along the treacherous road with sharp hills, curves and potholes. And bringing an immense relief to me the red light suddenly lit up. Lakshman bit his lower lip thoughtfully and said.
“Bro, we gotta take the alternator apart.”
We returned and parked in front of Lakshman’s house.
In these models, you have to remove even the driver’s seat to access the alternator.
“What happens if the alternator is faulty?”
“Let’s see bro. Let’s see if a winding is blown or if we could just service the alternator and get away with it.”
Lakshman who was reaching in to the depths of the engine bay and trying to remove the alternator, surprised me with what he said next. This is one major reason I like this guy.
“Bro, You won’t believe this. Two of the alternator mounting bolts are loose.”
“What the hell! How can that happen?”
“That’s what. You just hang on a sec.”
Then he did is something a technician would rarely do. He gave up the easy chance of making some easy buck and said,
“Let’s tighten them back and check without taking the alternator out.”
He tightened the two mounting bolts. Then he turned the ignition key and the engine sprang to life. And the red light went off immediately. After that we drove the van around for about an hour and checked. The red warning light didn’t come up. The lights, horn, wipers and all worked properly. Lakshman had given up the chance of removing the alternator, performing a make believe repair and swindling me.
After that we took out Chunji’s battery and put in my dead one and tried to start it letting the van roll down the hill. While Lakshman was at the wheel I tried to push it alone towards the road which was downhill. Just then my phone rang. Weni!
“Hang on a second Weni. I’m at the electrician. And I’m pushing the van…”
I shoved the phone into my jeans pocket and pushed the van. As soon as the engine started, I jumped into the passenger seat and pulled out the phone. Weni was still on line and I explained to him briefly what was going on.
To my greatest joy the red battery discharge warning light stayed off while the engine was running. Everything was coming to a happy ending. I paid Lakshman and on my way back, just kept on driving aimlessly until the battery was fully charges. I stopped at several down hills, switched off the engine and checked if the engine restated at the turn of the ignition key. Once I was sure thing were back to normal, I drove home, returning Chunji’s battery en route.
Still the loosened alternator mounting bolts were bugging me. Did they just come loose on their own or did someone forget to tighten them, again, as usual?
I found the answer when I peeped into the box where I keep some removed spare parts for samples and the labels or packings of the new spare parts. Lying on the top were three removed fan, power steering and AC belts slipped into the new Mitsuboshi and Bando cardboard sleeves. I replaced them in the last December vacation. And the alternator was loosened that day. Even after replacing the belts we drove so many miles. And even before last night’s ordeal we drove to Kandy and to Colombo and suburbs almost daily. Yeah, it’s true that the shit happens. But this shit has been waiting to happen and it did last night, at last.
So this is also a direct result of the sheer negligence of a mechanic. In other words, one more case of human error!
Some of my readers wanted to know why I took a risk like that.
Actually, risk taking is what we do throughout our lifetimes, isn’t it? What an enormous risk do the bus drivers who habitually drive on the wrong side of the double white lines and some motor cyclists take on daily basis? Even we prefer night driving. Even though the traffic is less, the danger of falling asleep at the wheel is always there. I find myself struggling to keep awake while driving at the night. And actually have fallen asleep, too, more than once.
Even if I keep awake, I never know if the driver behind the wheel of the oncoming vehicle is really awake. I have honked and woken up the drivers who were hurtling towards me on the wrong lane more than once. Even a passenger on a long haul night flight is taking a risk. It’s common knowledge that the pilots don’t get enough sleep.
On the other hand, this is unknown territory. I couldn’t bring myself to ask Alchemiya to find me a mechanic when they had a funeral to worry about. And even if we found one we’d have no way to know what kind of mechanics they would be. Everyone is not Lakshman’s type. There are types who would make a fortune out of this. And no one knows where this kind of repairs could end up. Some remedies are worse than the ailment. But had our fellow blogger Damith Gunawardene who has enough contacts in this field was at the funeral, things could have been different.
And honestly I didn’t know what caused this problem. No way to tell that without doing an inspection. Actually I had an assumption this would be the rectifier. And unlike a car, the alternator is not easily accessible in a Japanese minivan. And there wouldn’t be a need to do so as this is not a common problem.
I wouldn’t blame my passengers for any of this because I really didn’t share the details of my feelings with them. I rarely share my problems with the others by nature. I solve my own problems my way. And I see nothing wrong with falling asleep in a vehicle in the middle of the night. Even I sleep best, in vehicles (driven by other people) irrespective of the time of the day.
And most of all, I didn’t know that the expressway was not illuminated until then. Even on the way to Galle, I didn’t notice it because we had no light problem then.
And finally, I’m no exemplary character but an ordinary mortal. It’ your choice to classify this story as adventurous, stupid or boastful. For me it is just another poor attempt to present you another of my unforgettable life events.
If there is anything for you to take in this story, my humble suggestion is not to try to do what I did. If you get this kind of symptoms in your vehicle, you know where to check. A blog post like this would have been extremely useful to me that night.