I wish there were a catchy saying, along the lines of “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey,” for battery terminals. I think I have the color-coding down, thanks to lots of recent experience whipping around the jumper cables: positive = red (blood, life) and negative = black (death). But then you have to remember to hook up the red/positive before the black/negative, and that's where I get mixed up. Red (rhymes with dead) can be dangerous, and black is basic and comes before red in the dictionary. What's a girl to do?
The good news is that I was able to start the car last Thursday all by myself, using the portable charger. The bad news was that I drove straight to the mechanic and he charged me $500 to replace the battery and the alternator.
This seemed high to me. I know what a new battery costs (about eighty dollars), but I didn’t know the price of an alternator. So I asked the mechanic for a bill.
“A bill?” he said, as if the concept were new to him. “You want a bill?”
“Yes,” I said.
We were in the garage office, and he carried the form over to the car to fill it out without me watching. It said: “Replace alternator/Repair wire—$400. Replace new battery—$100.”
“That's it?" I said. "Can't you break it down? You know, an itemized bill?”
“You want itemized?” he asked.
“Yeah, you know … parts, labor.”
“That costs more,” he said.
“It costs more to have a bill?”
“Yeah. I have to use the computer.”
“Look, I’m … curious”—I was trying to avoid the word “suspicious”—“about the price of an alternator.”
So he divided the $400 into two smaller sums, somewhat arbitrarily, it seemed to me: $220 for the part, and the rest for labor. (A sign on the wall said that labor was $95 per hour.)
“Is there any guarantee?” I asked.
He shrugged and said, "Six months, a year.”
"Would you write that down?" I asked.
He scribbled something on the bill and said, “I’m not going to give you a piece of junk.”
"I know," I said. I gave him his five hundred dollars and shook his hand. At home, I Googled the car part. An alternator for a 1990 Honda Civic can be had for as little as $90. It seems that my mechanic had gone out of his way to fix me up with the finest, most expensive alternator on the East Coast.
“You got ripped off,” a friend (male) told me that night. A few days later, another friend (a female) said, “You got a deal.”
So who knows? I'm out $500, but the car starts. On Sunday, the odometer rolled over to 70,000. It happened on the road to the dump, or "Transfer Station" ("No Fish Guts"), on Kelleys Island, in Lake Erie.
Unfortunately, I don't think I can go to that mechanic again.