An Ingenious Ride Home

Mar 15, 2004

RAY: This puzzler is automotive in nature and is filled with woe and intrigue. It was sent to us by Judy Belland.

Judy writes, "Here's a true story. It was Sunday, September 30, 1984. My sister's wedding had been the day before in Hagerstown, Maryland. I was getting a ride back to my home in Michigan with two of my sister's friends, Robin and John.

"We left early that morning and were only about an hour into the drive when John's alternator light came on. After a few more hours of driving, his car began having trouble. It was bogging down and some of the electrical stuff wasn't working.

"We got off the highway, and in the first minor miracle of the day, we found a place that was open that had a battery charger. We charged the battery, during which time we wasted about an hour and a half hanging around, drinking coffee, and trying to extinguish our hangovers. After the battery was charged we headed back to the highway.

"Things looked grim. I did the math. It was normally a 12-hour trip. But if we stopped for an hour and a half every two hours--assuming we were lucky enough to find a battery charger every time we needed it--it was going to take us something like 15 days to get home.

"Well, within seconds of our merging back onto the highway, who went whizzing by us but my aunt and uncle. They too were heading back to Michigan from the wedding. Simultaneously, the three of us said, 'Get 'em!'

"John floored it, and managed to catch up to Uncle Leadfoot. We pulled up alongside, rolled down the window, and said, 'We're having trouble! Pull over!' We found a place to stop, and John explained the situation to my uncle. My uncle, sounding regretful and a little frustrated, said, 'I could help, but I don't have any tools.'

"John said, 'I have some tools. I have a pair of pliers, an adjustable wrench, and a vice grip.'

"The uncle said, 'We don't even have a new alternator to put in! How could I possibly do anything to help you?'

"But, they were able to devise a plan! And, we made it back to Michigan with no difficulty-- and virtually no delay."

How did they do it?
Answer: 
RAY: What they simply did was they kept swapping batteries. So, when John's battery would run low because of his bad alternator, and was in danger of conking out and not being able to run the car, he'd take it out and put it in Uncle's car.

Uncle's good alternator would charge up the battery, and John would use the other battery.

They kept doing this, and they made it all the way back.

So who's our winner?

TOM: The winner is Blaine Bachman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and for having his answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Blaine gets a $26 gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division of Cartalk.com, and with that certificate he can get a brand-new Car Talk unmarked bill carrier, which we admit looks an awful lot like a nice gym bag.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter