Not Broken

I had to manage a car situation these past few weeks. I was driving, stopped for lunch, and then it wouldn't start again. I thought the car was broken; her name is Beatrix Kiddo. She's had electrical problems before, and I only just got the battery a year and a half prior. I got on my smartphone while sitting in the 16-year-old dead car and googled for possible causes.

  • Could just be the battery.
  • Could be the alternator failing to charge the battery.
  • Could be a wiring issue.
  • Could be the starter motor.
  • Is anything plugged in that could be draining the battery? The security system is a bit old, so maybe it's not so efficient.

Called people to boost me, but nobody picked up the phone. My go-to people were out of town, so I couldn't call them. It was a Saturday, and we had plans to go out that night. I was leaving for Vegas in a week, so I had to get this sorted out for Carrie before I left. Plus, I was in a 2 hour parking spot, so I had to pay for more time and find a car2go to take me home. I got a boost the next day, and then it wouldn't start after I went grocery shopping. Carrie picked me up in a car2go (seriously, you should get an account), took me to Canadian Tire, and I bought a battery booster.

I wasn't entirely sure what the problem was yet. I didn't want to simply buy a battery, then get the car inspected when the battery didn't change anything, then replace the alternator, then replace the starter motor, etc. I had gotten calls before from Carrie sitting in the car, wondering why it wouldn't start. Once in Lethbridge, once in Edmonton, a couple times in Calgary, and sometimes I'd be the one calling her. On top of that, the whole auto industry is built around servicing vehicles. Bring it in every 5000 km for an oil change, but then get upsold on wipers, fluids, filters, additional services, blah blah blah. I wasn't about to just get everything checked and replaced. Plus, I was short on time, so what was I supposed to do in a crunch? We brought the band-aid solution back to the parking lot, and I taught Carrie how to jumpstart the car.

After looking at the battery terminals, it looked like there was a bit of corrosion between the connectors and the terminals. We had this problem once before, and luckily I already had a battery brush to clean up the contact surfaces. After fishing that out of storage, I boosted the car, took it to the in-laws' because I can't perform car maintenance in the condo's parking lot, then cleaned off the battery with an old toothbrush and a baking soda + water solution. Used the battery brush on the terminals and the inside of the connectors, reconnected the battery. Nope, didn't work.

I plugged in my OBD-II Wi-Fi device and downloaded the Dash app to see if there were any warnings the car was sending. Nothing. I grabbed my multimeter and tested the voltage while the engine was off and on. The alternator was working, so that wasn't the problem.

The battery was dead. The car was not broken.

Two weeks of drama just for that. It made me feel dumb, and I bet some of you are thinking that I really am. I felt helpless. With all my knowledge about technology, a "simple" problem became this entire thing and I felt dumb. This experience revealed a few things to me. First, we have to buy a Tesla Model 3. Second, my self-worth is based on my ability and performance, not my inherent value as a person. I felt a lot of shame in dealing with this problem. For most people, fixing a broken car would be a regular Saturday errand, but because of my generally low energy reserves (just like the dead battery!), every test or new insight took everything out of me. It took me so long to deal with the situation not because I was procrastinating, but because I had to take so long to gather the strength to face it. Car maintenence is part of my chore list, and I let Carrie down on that front. I didn't know what to do, but I'm the techie guy who's supposed to be able to fix stuff like this. I felt like a cheapskate because I was scared of potentially having to pay hundreds of dollars to replace numerous parts on an aging vehicle. I felt pressed for time because we were supposed to meet people that day and I had to leave soon. I felt incapable because I wasn't able to fix it myself right away. Afterwards, I was embarrassed that I bought two batteries when I could have just gotten one. I'm a problem solver, and that's the problem. My self-worth is based on what I can do, so when I can't do something, I'm worthless.

I've lived my life on a hamster wheel, a treadmill, because I've been chasing after my self-worth. I was invalidated a lot during my formative years where my honest thoughts were rejected and criticized. I was shown conditional love, where validation and acceptance were given only once I performed adequately. I learned that I'm not good enough the way I am and I'm not deserving of love, so it follows that I need to earn my worth. I asked my counsellor if there was a way to fix it, and she laughed.

"Notice how you identified the problem and went straight to 'fix it' mode."

"'re saying there's no fix."

For now, I have to settle for sitting in the self-awareness that I feel unworthy. Apparently there is no fix because I'm not broken. Instead, there is a different way of being where life is more enjoyable, so in the mean time, I'm going to save up some money for my Tesla.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le