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My car once ran without a battery, much less a computer

POSTED: September 26, 2010 12:30 a.m.

As a teenager, I attempted from time to time to perform assorted mechanical functions on my own car.

Sometimes, these were like daredevil stunts. Not the kind that involved jumping over empty school buses or anything like that. Once we decided that it would be cool if we could crank up the car, take out the battery and drive it around town.

This is the part of my life where they could have shipped me off to some research institution and found that my brain was not fully developed.

The car was a 1970 Dodge Dart, one of the ugliest cars ever made. It had a steering wheel that was held together in the center with a pair of Vice-Grip pliers. I'm sure that the folks who make Vice-Grips have found all sorts of uses for their fine tool. However, I may be the first to have used them as the essential part of a steering wheel.

It also had an 8-track tape player mounted under the seat. It wouldn't quite fit in the dash, and I found that mounting it under the dash left no room for a young woman to sit next to me, if I was so lucky.

The car had an engine called a slant six. It was a great engine that I proved on more than one occasion would run without oil.

But one day, a group of guys sitting around with nothing better to do decided to test their theory on battery-free operation of a car.

Without going into the details, a 1970 Dodge Dart will run without a battery. If they ever open a driving without a battery museum, I might be included. I'll be in the driving without oil division.

Do not try this today.

In the last month, we have replaced a battery in one car and a computer in another. In the old days, your battery just went dead and that was it. Now, because of computers and required amounts of voltage, the whole car goes nuts and doesn't run smoothly because of a weak battery.

And where is that guy who decided a car needed a computer?

The computer costs more than the first seven cars I owned (with batteries). The computer just lost its mind. I can relate to that. I'm the guy who drove a car around town one day without a battery.

Apparently, when the computer goes kaput, the car gets stuck in third gear. You don't want to pull out in front of an oncoming tractor-trailer truck in third gear.

It's fixed now and my grousing does no good.

I do miss the days when an adventurous boy could use some combination of duct tape, a wire coat-hanger, a pair of pliers and some kind of goo that would fill up cracks in your engine and make an automobile functional again.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.



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