MakeShift Challenge: Dead Car Battery: “No Stone Left Unturned” Honorable Mention

MakeShift 01: Melanie DuPont’s “No Stone Left Unturned” Honorable Mention
by William Lidwell
May 13, 2005

So I thought I had a pretty good sense of what attention to detail meant until I read Melanie DuPont’s entry; no risk of problem-solving tunnel vision with her around! Her battery probably couldn’t generate the C/V to get the car going in eight hours, but no worries–Melanie is clearly ready for any and all contingencies. Congratulations Melanie!

We gave Melanie a “No Stone Left Unturned” Honorable Mention. Here’s her entry:

Swig eight fluid ounces of water. Gotta stay hydrated.

Use the knife to carefully cut the top of the water bottle off, so that the top is just wide enough to slide in two soda cans, standing side by side. Make sure you keep as much water in the container as you can.

Eat two potato chips for luck.

Finely crush up the remaining potato chips in their bag, and dump them into the water bottle. Stir with a screwdriver.

Eat the banana. No sense letting your blood sugar dip, if it’s gonna be cold.

Squeeze the juice of a dozen limes into the water bottle.

Drink one can of cola, and pour a second can of cola into the water bottle. Don’t mind if it overflows. Then use the knife (or its file, or a rock) to scrape at least half the paint off the two cans.

Carefully widen the openings on the tops of the two empty soda cans, so that the cans can be firmly clipped together, back to back, with the jumper cable. Clip ’em together with the BLACK jumper cable.

Bite an apple. Mmm. Chew and swallow.

Go into the car and turn off or unplug every accessory: radio, fan, heater, headlights (duh), interior lights, and anything plugged in to charge (cellphone, for example). Also, turn the ignition to OFF and pocket the keys. This is so nothing sucks up the power when you try to start ‘er later.

Disconnect the car battery terminals from the car’s cabling.

Using the knife (or file, or rock) to scrape any gunk/corrosion off the car battery terminals. Do NOT touch any part of the car while doing this, and stand on two folded-over, DRY sleeping bags to further insulate yourself from accidentally grounding out the car battery and jolting yourself. Just because it can’t start your car DOES NOT MEAN it can’t stop your heart. Be careful.

Clip the free end of the black jumper cable to the positive (“in”) terminal of the car battery.

Clip the nearest end of the red jumper cable to the negative (“out”) terminal of the car battery.

Dip the other end of the red jumper cable into the water bottle. Position it so that it is dipped into the bottle, fully submerged, but not going very far below the surface of the water. You can notch the water bottle to accept the cable, if that helps keep it hanging in place.

CAUTION: you are about to complete the circuit. It’s very low voltage, but it could be very high amperage. Stand on your DRY, folded-up sleeping bags before proceeding to the next step.

Grabbing only the insulated part of the cable, pick up the black jumper cable that is clipped to the two soda cans. Slowly, and while standing on your sleeping bags, carefully use the cable to lower the cans into the bottle of water, and submerge them until they are resting on the bottom and until they are full of water/chips/lime juice. Position the cans and the red cable so that the red cable end is NOT touching the cans. The red cable end should be about 1 to 2 inches from the nearest can top.

Use the knife and dig a 3-inch-deep hole. Carefully place the water bottle into the hole, and pack it in, so that it is less likely to tip over. You don’t want to undo all your hard work with one careless move!

Top off the water bottle by carefully pouring up to two sodas in.

Now, if the jumper cable ends are copper, the soda cans are an alloy of aluminum and zinc, the chips are salty, the limes are ripe, and the cola is acidic, the battery is now charging.

While you’re waiting for your battery to charge, turn your attention to protecting your food, setting up shelter, and keeping warm. (Maintaining activity is crucial to survival. Boredom leads to depression, which leads to despair, which leads to inactivity, which leads to death. Keep busy.)

Put all your food, and all food trash (like the potato chip bag, those lime rinds, the banana peel, and the half-eaten apple) in the car, roll up all the windows, and close all the doors. This will help keep animals from smelling the food. While you’re at it, clean your hands and the knife with a little hydrogen peroxide. You don’t want to smell like food, either!

Set up your tent on the most sheltered side of the engine, very close to the car, with the opening facing away from the car.

Gather up some tinder, kindling, and firewood. 5 to 6 feet from the front of your tent, dig a shallow pit, and set up your woodland flammables in it (either a “teepee” or “log cabin” formation will work just fine). Use the matches (or, failing that, a road flare) to light the tinder and get your fire going. Blow gently on sparks to encourage them to turn into flames.

Build a low wall out of wood, opposite your tent and just past the fire. This short wall will reflect more heat towards you and towards the car. A warm car starts easier than a cool one!

If you’re confident your car has no fuel or oil leaks, set the small can of Sterno on your engine block. Light it. That will keep the engine warm, too.

After waiting five hours for the battery to charge, and tending your fire, disconnect the jumper cables at the battery, reconnect the car’s cables, and try ONCE to start the car. If the car fails to start, chew up the rest of your half-eaten apple and spit the chewings into the water bottle. Then, dump one full soda into the water bottle, even if that makes it overflow. This should add to the acidity and increase the voltage. Remember to disconnect the car cables, and then clip the jumper cables back on to the battery (black first, then red). While waiting 2 more hours, gather a LOT more firewood, and make a LARGE signal fire in a cleared area 20 feet downwind from your car. Hopefully, the car will start before your time’s up; and if not, the signal fire might attract some attention!

Figure 1. M. DuPont's Salt-Lime Battery
Figure 1. M. DuPont’s Salt-Lime Battery

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