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Letter From America: Starting Problems

...I got a six-cylinder three and a half litre Dodge Grand Caravan with almost seventy thousand miles on the clock, and sailed off into the sunset feeling happy with the deal.

Next morning when I went to start it, all I got was a rapid clicking sound that reminded me of a troupe of Flamenco dancers somewhere underneath the engine....

Ronnie Bray tells of an efficacious $5 solution.

In mid December I traded in our Ford Explorer as it was getting along in years, has a quarter of a million miles on the clock, warning lights were coming on and going off regularly, and I didn’t relish spending a fortune on it in the next few years to keep it on the road. Besides which, it was an eight-cylinder five-litre petrol-swilling monster and it was time to cut down on our motoring costs.

I got a six-cylinder three and a half litre Dodge Grand Caravan with almost seventy thousand miles on the clock, and sailed off into the sunset feeling happy with the deal.

Next morning when I went to start it, all I got was a rapid clicking sound that reminded me of a troupe of Flamenco dancers somewhere underneath the engine. With persistence it eventually started. Although it usually started well after the initial start of the day, there were times when it seemed that we would be going nowhere. Yet, with persistence and not a little anxiety it generally got itself going and drove well and with a noticeable reduction in petrol costs.

One time in a supermarket car park an enlightened gentleman heard its clicking and growled, ‘tighten your battery!’ I did so when I got home, but it didn’t make any difference, I still had early morning troubles with starting.

My next stop was Google. There, I learned that the world and his wife and his dog had the same trouble as I did with starting their Grand Caravans. This made for sadness in the region of my heart and some despondency close to my corpus callosum.

Soon, by frequent attendance on Dodge Internet forums I became something of an expert on this problem and the suggestions for its cure. The disturbing thing was that there was no uniformly accepted view of the problem nor of how best to deal with it. Taking it to a Dodge dealer seemed a favourite but the cost of doing that was unattractive and so I sought further information.

Several sites recommended replacing the dodgy relay that fed juice to the starter solenoid. Although this operation is well within the capabilities of the average handyman, it did require either a pair of wheel ramps, or at least a couple of robust axle stands to elevate the vehicle to provide room under a low ground clearance vehicle. Since I had neither, the cost of a fifty-dollar replacement relay was heading towards the two hundred dollar mark and that was, in the language of theologians, anathæma.

Back to Google and thence several dozen other sites all of which predicted surprisingly dismal outcomes for those in my position, until I came to one site where a chap had had the same problem with his Caravan that the seventy-two million other owners had had, only this fellow had cured his problem for nothing by cleaning off his battery posts and, hey, presto!

I didn’t have a steel wire battery brush but knew where I could get one for a few dollars, and went to my favourite auto-parts store, as the natives call them. Although I looked really hard I didn’t find the brushes, but I did come across a gadget with two sizes of post scrapers and a tapered hole reamer that was designed for exactly what I needed it for.

It cost me five dollars and ninety-nine cents, plus local sales tax, and I applied it to the task the following day. The clean up took less than six minutes and, since then the beast has started on the first push of the button every time.

Sometimes the simplest answers are the best. It certainly was in my case, and consequently I do not have to wonder where my caravan is resting tonight! It is safe inside my garage waiting to roar into life first thing in the morning.


Copyright © 2011 – Ronnie Bray

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