It’s the alternator, not the battery, stupid!

WHY do bad things happen to certain people? The jury is still out. (

WHY do bad things happen to certain people? The jury is still out. (

WE’RE sometimes too engrossed with life’s tragedies that we often miss out on the countless little blessings and miracles that come our way.

I should have heeded the warning signs as early as Sunday evening. Oblivious to the likely consequences that lie ahead, I paid for my ignorance and indifference late Monday morning. 

While driving to the gym, I saw a red icon in the form of a car battery blinking on my dashboard. Before long the icon glowed permanently. Thinking that my five-year-old car just needed a new battery, I even went ahead with my workout before deciding to call the Motolite hotline to have a replacement delivered and installed.

NEVER take a blinking dashboard icon for granted (

NEVER take a blinking dashboard icon for granted (

As I waited in the parking lot for the deliveryman to arrive, I couldn’t help myself from doing the math. Having been a motorist with zero knowledge on trouble shooting for more than 16 years now, I know for a fact that some car batteries could last up to two years.

Battery replacement

Although I wasn’t exactly sure when I last had my car battery replaced, I was sure I could squeeze a few more months of battery life out of it. And true enough, when I tried starting the engine while waiting for Mr. Motolite, it instantly roared back to life. Still, the pesky icon on the dashboard remained.

IT'S the alternator

IT’S the alternator

Since all the nearby car repair shops were already closed, I dealt with the situation the lazy way: I went ahead and had the damn battery replaced. I was P5,000 poorer as I drove out of the parking lot, but at least I was reassured that my car wouldn’t stall in the middle of nowhere.

And true enough, as I drove off, the lit icon that so worried me earlier that evening was gone. I was so proud of myself for having dealt with the situation in such a cool and adult-like manner.


But the relief I felt was short-lived. I had barely exited the parking lot when the dreaded battery icon popped up again. Since there was nothing I could do anymore, I continued driving in the dead of night along Daang Hari—a haven, they say, where holdup men, carjackers and even the occasional murderer ply their trade.

Being stranded in a stalled car on a dark, lonely stretch of road connecting Muntinlupa with Bacoor was the last thing anyone needed. I said a short prayer before managing to get home.

NOT the battery which was causing the problem

NOT the battery which was causing the problem

Still, the lit battery icon remained a puzzle. Rather than see a car mechanic the next day, I went about my regular schedule. I ascribed the unexplainable to a loose circuitry in the dashboard that made the said icon glow. Brilliant!

It was while I was driving to an interview with the soon-to-be-married Shamcey Supsup that the answers to the puzzle that I tried to brush aside earlier came one after the other.

While I was still in Bacoor on my way to Coastal Road, and with the icon still glowing, the car speakers suddenly began failing. Still, I was unperturbed thinking I just probably needed to replace the wire connecting the stereo system with my iPhone. No sweat. I could live without music for a day.

NO matter how handsome a car is, it amounts to nothing as soon as it stalls in the middle of the road. (

NO matter how handsome a car is, it amounts to nothing as soon as it stalls in the middle of the road. (

Before long, as I made my approach to Coastal Road via a flyover, the air con started going on and off. There was no turning back by then. Now, this is bad, I thought. Still, the car ran.

Several kilometers into Coastal Road, after I resolved to drive by Honda Magallanes to have the car checked before taking a cab to my date with Shamcey, I suddenly felt the urge to roll down the window to let the wind in. By then, the air con had already conked out.

To my horror, the power window by the driver’s seat was, well, powerless. Although I could still roll down the other power windows, the one nearest me wouldn’t budge. Still, the car ran.

Paying with door open

Since my window wouldn’t roll down, I had to open the door for the first time ever to pay the toll. As I drove off from the tollgate on my way to Baclaran, I encountered a light drizzle.

I assume you now know what’s coming. After I routinely turned on the switch, the pair of wipers in front of me soon moved at a glacial pace. If this drizzle turns into rain, I’m really done for, I said to myself. Still, the car ran.

MY US-based brother Ronnie and I the day we drove off with my then new Honda Civic in December 2008. For some reason, I can't find a picture of my first ever car, a deep teal Toyota Corona sans power steering, windows and locks.

MY US-based brother Ronnie and I the day we drove off with my then new Honda Civic in December 2008. For some reason, I can’t find a picture of my first ever car, a deep teal Toyota Corona sans power steering, windows and locks.

Then I had this crazy idea of honking my horn to see if I could still be “heard.” As expected, my once loud, blaring horn was barely audible. Then something strange started happening. By then, I knew my luck had nearly run out.

With barely three kilometers to go before I could reach the end of Coastal Road, all the icons on my dashboard—from airbag to ABS, oil to, yes, battery—began blinking. I’m dead, I thought. Still, the car ran!

I only had a few more meters to go before reaching the corner of Coastal and MIA Roads in Baclaran. While waiting for the traffic light to turn green, I had this urge to turn the headlights on to see what would happen. If only I knew it was the beleaguered driver’s equivalent of a death wish.


As I turned them on, the dashboard, including the blinking icons and digital speedometer, suddenly went black. After having driven for nearly 17 kilometers, my luck had finally run out. Before I could even comprehend what was happening, the engine flat lined.  I tried turning it on several times to no avail.

Before long, cars behind me started honking their horns. Through it all, I remained surprisingly calm, as I began ticking off my remaining options.

Before I could even sort out the situation, God or the Universe or the Star or Happenstance or what have you started sending His angels in the form of a bunch of taktak boys (a.k.a. cigarette and candy vendors).

Until then, I never knew how handsome these rugged-looking, sun-soaked and rain-drenched men were. How could they not be when they were heaven-sent!

After I learned from them that the nearest car repair shop was just around the corner, I signaled my angels to give my car a push. It was when we reached Rapidé, one in a chain of car repair shops, some 20 meters away that I learned what was truly troubling my car.

After I told the chief mechanic the entire story, he came to the conclusion that the car’s alternator and not its battery was the one in need of a replacement.

Running on empty

As I understood it, the battery is mainly responsible for bringing the engine to life. But to keep it that way, you would need a device to help continue generating electricity that would power the car’s electrical requirements as well as recharge the battery. And that happens to be the alternator.

“The lit icon was your car’s way of telling you that the battery was taking an abnormal amount of load,” said the mechanic. “As it was, you were able to run on sheer battery power. But it couldn’t have lasted very long.”

The last straw was when I turned on my headlights. With a depleted battery, the amount of power a pair of headlights consumed was simply too much. True enough, when he tested the newly bought battery, it was almost down. No wonder my engine conked out.

To make things worse, he told me that if my old battery was barely a year old, then there was no need to replace it. Instead of trading it with Motolite for a measly P250, I should have just kept it for future use, he said. Oh, well.

Despite having spent another P25,000 for a new alternator, I consider myself lucky for having survived the trip. Since Coastal Road was a virtual freeway with a tollgate (what a misnomer!), anything could have happened.

Skyway fall

And when I heard later that day of the fate that befell a bunch of early morning passengers who died after a speeding Don Mariano Bus fell off the Skyway, I found myself saying a silent prayer for them and for myself.

The jury is still out on why bad things happen to certain people, and I’m not about to add to the debate. For all we know, the Skyway accident was purely the bus driver’s fault. Or the culprits could have been the owners, who, in their desire to squeeze out every centavo of profit, shortchanged their drivers and neglected maintaining their buses.

No matter how you look at it, what happened to those people and their surviving families was unfortunate. But why them and not us, I’m inclined to ask, when it could have happened to anyone?

And since I was stupid enough to insist on driving along a fast-moving highway with all the red flags blinking, it could have been me in another accident that could snuff out my life as well as others. Instead, I’ve managed to live today to tell you this tale. Well, if only for that, I’m thankful.

SCENES of death and destruction the day the Skyway fall (Manila Bullettin)

SCENES of death and destruction the day the Skyway fall (Manila Bullettin)







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