Good news from the automotive front.

My wife came home at lunchtime to report that an indicator on her dashboard was lit, and when she looked in the manual, it said that was a warning about the car’s lights. We checked out the directionals, the head lights, the brake lights, and everything seemed normal, although one of the bulbs was a bit dimmer than the rest. We figured it wasn’t a problem that needed immediate attention, so we’d take it in whenever we got around to it.

After lunch, I took my car and left for work, with a quick stop at the post office. After dropping off some letters and packages, I got back in my car, turned the key, and heard guh-guh-geh, followed by silence. It wouldn’t start. No power. We’d been worried about the electrical system on my wife’s car, and it’s mine that’s dead.

I quickly narrowed down the problem to two possible causes. Either the battery was dead, or I needed a new alternator. I’m no expert (my entire automotive knowledge base consists of knowing when I’m low on gas and where to put more when I need it), but I immediately knew it would be the alternator, based on one simple factor — that was the most expensive option. Under my Automotive Inverse Proportionality Theorem, the correct solution to the problem is never the cheapest. This is expressed by the equation P = $$$.

I called my wife, who was about to run out to deal with about a dozen different things, and asked her to drive to the post office, trade cars with me, and then stick around to deal with the problem. She replied with a long sigh, followed by “okay.” We’ve been together for 21 years, so I know her verbal shorthand pretty well. That long sigh meant: “I’ll be right over to help you, but you are gonna owe me, big time!” Fine, whatever, I gotta get to work.

While waiting for her, I called AAA, who promised a tow truck within an hour. By that statement, you know that it was a clear, sunny, not-too-hot day — if the weather conditions were any harsher, it would have been a four hour wait.

Although the weather was beautiful, Mother Nature decided to add to the fun I was already having. As I hung up, a gust of wind knocked over my briefcase, sending a folder full of paperwork flying. It quickly scattered throughout the parking lot, giving me a chance to play the Chasing Paper With Your Foot game. You know this one. This is where you run after a piece of paper that’s being blown around and, just as you’re about to clamp your foot down on it, a quick breeze moves the paper another yard away, leaving you with nothing under your foot but the ground. Oh, for a pair of giant clown feet! You then repeat this fun process until you’re completely frustrated.

The upside to this activity was that it killed the time until my wife arrived, just as I picked up the last piece of paper (what was that, a couple of reams?). We made the switch, I thanked her profusely, and went off to work, twenty minutes late for a meeting, with a briefcase full of wrinkled, dirty notes, leaving her in the post office parking lot to act as my vehicular ombudswoman.

Fortunately, the AAA tow truck showed up not long after and gave the battery a jump, allowing my wife to drive to the service station. When she got there, the automotive diagnostician (!) gave my car the once-over and determined that my analysis of the problem was incorrect. I had thought it would be either the battery or the alternator. It turned out to be both.

Doh! The dreaded third option, even more expensive than the other two! I should have seen it coming: P = $$$ x 2.

So, what’s the good news, you ask? Once the repairs were complete, my wife was able to fill up the tank before the station owner invoked yet another of his semi-regular twenty cent per gallon gas price increases.

So, with a complete fillup, that’s three bucks in savings, right there. Hey, you take your wins where you find them.