The Staple’s Hostage; Or, My Alternator, the Electric Welder


A staple held my car hostage early this week.

Yes, you read that right: a staple. The kind you put into the top left corner of a sheaf of papers to keep them together.

This little, unassuming staple packed a big punch. A punch big enough to shut down my vehicle.

Sunday morning, when I started my Honda CRV so my son and I could leave for church, I heard an unexpected sound: a hesitant engine when I turned the key in the ignition. My heart sank. I heard it again when starting the vehicle to drive home from church. Monday morning, when I attempted to leave for work, it wouldn’t start at all.

My battery has a 3-year warranty and was purchased less than a year and a half ago. I still have the receipt (Yay me!) so if it was the battery, it wouldn’t cost anything to replace. The battery is self-contained & sealed (meaning, it doesn’t need water periodically). I checked the necessary fluids (oil, power steering, etc.) and all were fine. I’m now out of ideas. I called my brother who was on his way home from his shift as a Palm Beach County Firefighter/Paramedic, to let him know I would need him to take a look under my Honda’s hood to see if he could figure out the problem. His best guestimate: either the battery or alternator needed to be replaced. Perfect. He jumped my battery and I drove to my parents’ house, where I left my poor, dying vehicle and borrowed my father’s SUV, my parents being out of town at the time and not needing a vehicle.

When I returned to my parents’ house Monday evening after work, my parents had arrived home from vacation, and my father removed the battery from my Honda so we could have it tested at the local Auto Zone. Diagnosis: battery is alive and well. So it was the alternator, which gave me visions of dollar signs dancing OUT of my checking account. Come to find out, alternators themselves aren’t expensive to replace; it’s the installation fees that’ll get you.

Tuesday afternoon, my father had my Honda towed to our mechanic – he attempted to drive it, but I guess I forgot to warn him about my impassive alarm system that keeps the vehicle from being started if you don’t unlock it with the remote. (Umm…Oops.) Wednesday afternoon, when I called my dad to find out the prognosis and cost, he said: “You lucked out, and there’s NO CHARGE.” (Whew! Praise Jesus!!)

The strange story: At some point in the week leading up to Sunday morning (the first time my Honda complained), a staple lying on the road launched itself up into the undercarriage of my SUV, attaching itself to my alternator, right on the spot where it communicates with/contacts my battery. The alternator then acted as an electric welder due to the heat it generates (14.2 volts & 20 or 30 amps), causing the staple to almost completely fuse to my alternator, and disrupting the alternator’s “communication” with my battery, forcing my battery to power my vehicle ALONE, until it ran out of charge. Once the mechanic removed that pesky tiny staple, my Honda ran like a charm.

This little scenario will probably have a cameo in one of my books someday, so be on the lookout. 🙂

Now, if that’s not the STRANGEST story you’ve heard all week, I’d like to hear yours.

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