Being as I had duty yesterday and have it again tomorrow, today was a short day at work. When I reached my car, it refused to start. It sounded like it wanted to, but simply didn't have the battery power to make it over the hump. Fortunately, a very nice lady came along, jumped me, and I drove home without further incident.
Over four hours later, I decided I needed to blow off some steam by hitting the Mohegan Sun blackjack tables. When I went to fire up the Minivan o' War, she gave me exactly the same symptoms as previously; attempting to start, and a constant but low voltage of 8.5 to 9 volts (vice the 14 I normally expect). I tried cleaning the connecting leads and the posts - no improvement. I called CornFed, who is a electrician by training, but couldn't reach him. After more cleaning and more frustration, I finally called my parents. My mom actually thought I'd reached the casino; my brother had relayed the text of my away message. She suggested I get a battery tester, and my dad thought I should simply replace the battery. When I reached AutoZone on the other side of I-95, I realized I didn't have enough information to make an informed purchase. So I bought a voltmeter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and walked back. I bought this type of tester because the battery is one of those "maintenance free" types, and thus cannot be opened to check water or electrolyte level. If there was any sort of internal fault, the entire unit would have to be replaced.
That turned out to be - the voltmeter showed 9.5 volts with the car off. Thus I embarked on the task of removing the old battery from the van - and that was where it really got hairy. While unscrewing the battery's mounting plate, I dropped the ratchet into a space between the headlight and the frame. I tried to pry it out with a toothbrush I'd been using to clean the connections, but I dropped that in as well. I was able to recover the toothbrush, but lost it again, then lost a third tool - the flat-head screwdriver I sometimes need to use to pry open the gas tank cover. I was able to again recover the toothbrush. After several trips under the front of the van, I finally realized what would be the perfect tool to get the ratchet to drop to the bottom: one of the sticks lying on the ground. It worked just as I'd hoped, and I finally recovered the ratchet about ninety minutes after originally losing it.
I then set to work once again on freeing the mounting plate. It took several iterations of torque, but I finally loosened the screw and removed the battery. Then I donned my dish washing gloves - unquestionably the last time I'll ever use them - and hauled the old battery over the interstate to the AutoZone, where I turned it in for a fresh new Duralast model. I brought the new one back to the New Nexus of Hate, hooked it up, and plugged in the testing voltmeter. A solid 12.4 volts gave me hope, and that was confirmed by a clean start, over five hours after the start of my efforts to recover from the problem.
I can't really blame the battery - although rated for sixty months, it provided more than six years of faithful and dedicated service to the Minivan o' War and to myself. After finally relaxing and reflecting on this, I noted two large ironies. One was that had I not desired to hit the tables, I might not have noticed the fault until tomorrow morning, when it would have impacted me much more severely. The second was that by not making it to Mohegan, I likely saved myself some money (spending eighty-five dollars on the battery and tester, vice losing two hundred at twenty-one). I'm primarily happy that I came through this with minimal impact on both my bank account and my freedom of movement. The flat-head screwdriver still being lodged in the frame is a minor price to pay for once again having a functional vehicle.