Take a look at these three symbols:
I am nearly forty god damned years old. I am aware that there are many, many people who are older than me and who might even think of forty as young. And for certain things, I would be young. If I were to win a Nobel Prize, or become President, for example, or if I were to die of old age, I would be young for those things.
But in most ways? I really ought to have gotten my shit together by now. For example, I need very badly on my pay attention to the information in front of your Goddamned stupid face instincts, and my do not ignore shit and assume it will go away or change instincts. Possibly I should replace them with pay attention to information that is literally, and I really do mean literally, right in front of your Goddamn face and recognize when you do not understand something and do things about that lack of understanding.
With all that in mind, let’s tell a story about my fifteen-year-old, 150K-mile car, and about how I’m stupid.
Two years ago– two years— one of those three lights began appearing on my car dashboard for precisely the first two minutes and twelve seconds of any drive. If I was driving to work, it would blink off at exactly the same intersection every morning. I know it was two minutes and twelve seconds because I timed it.
The car, as near as I could tell, drove just fine, and the light never reappeared when the engine was hot. If I parked it for a while– particularly if it was cold outside, and it first started appearing in the winter– it would reappear, usually for the full 2:12 but sometimes for less than that.
I was told by someone who generally knows cars that it probably meant that my battery was helping the engine more than it ought to, and that I should get the battery checked but that the worst case scenario was that I’d need a jump if I ignored it until it became a real problem. The battery was, at the time, brand-new.
Naturally, I ignored it.
And lo, it came to be that I needed to take a road trip, and I decided that getting stranded on a road trip wasn’t a great idea. The light had, as of recently, been staying on for longer than the previous rock-solid 2:12, and that was rather alarming. But the car was still running fine and starting fine. I decided to take it to a local auto parts store and see if I could either buy or borrow an engine code diagnostic thing-a-ma-jigger.
You may have figured out by now that I’ve been thinking that the light was the check engine light. Now, I know what the check engine light looks like. It’s the yellow one, and I think on my car it actually says “check engine” on it. And the check engine light had been on for a couple of alarming periods of time during all this. Turns out, I need to do my best to not leave my car outside for long periods of rain, because the water gets into something and the engine starts skipping heartbeats until it’s dry. That’s alarming, of course, but the solution is literally “keep the car in the garage,” because the car needs to be cold and rained on for hours before this is a problem.
Turns out that the auto parts store does diagnoses for free, and it is as the man is hooking up the system that I realize that, no, that’s not the check engine light. Because, again, my “this is the check engine light” theory is existing in my brain at the very same time where I know the check engine light is yellow and in a different place. Somehow. I become very apologetic for my stupidity and describe what’s been happening, and he tells me again what the other person told me: your battery is helping the car too much, and you should get that looked at, but worst case is you’ll eventually need a jump and then you’ll HAVE to take care of it.
I continue to ignore the problem, and take my road trip. My car actually does get rained on for a substantial part of the trip, but it turns out okay somehow.
Fast forward to roughly now. Yesterday, specifically. At this point the light’s basically on all the time. But the car is still running fine. Never any problems starting, no rough running, nothing. You’d think I’d at least have had to crank the key twice at some point. I have, in fact, at this point actually decided that the problem is the sensor or a short with the light itself, because there’s no way that light could be on for two years without something going wrong if the light actually indicates a problem.
For no good reason at all, while running errands last night, I comment to my wife on my theory that it’s the sensor, and say something about at some point having said sensor replaced.
My wife looks over and says “that’s not the battery light. Haven’t we had this conversation?”
No we have not had this fucking conversation. And I immediately see the actual battery light. My eyes go right to it. It’s not lit. It’s never been lit.
These two motherfuckers look too much alike, is what I’m saying.
“Find out what the hell that goddamn light is,” I say to my wife. It comes out as slightly more of a command than I really want it to but what the fuck, brain.
It’s the engine coolant light.
How the fuck have I been low on engine coolant for two years? I know ferdamnsure what the coolant temperature light looks like, and it’s never been on. If I’m out of engine coolant, shouldn’t, I don’t know, maybe the engine have overheated at some point in the last two fucking years?
We get home and I wait for the engine to cool down and check the antifreeze. It is, indeed, low. Not, mind you, bone-dry. Just low, and I assure you that oil changes have not affected this light.
This morning, I added an appropriate amount of antifreeze. In fact, I accidentally went about half an inch over the “fill to here” line, so hopefully that won’t be a problem.
The light is no longer on.
I look forward to the car blowing up later today.