Just bypass the factory solenoid!

Philip Morgan

My second car had a massive design flaw that caused me to get yelled at in front of a puppet store.(My first car was a 1964 Jeepster Commando that had more rust than chassis. I actually installed my own seatbelts because it didn't come with any.)ImageBack to that second car.After the Jeepster took a dirt nap (which took only 6 months and about $1000 in repair bills. My dad at one point called the car a "pit of vipers"), I got the most reliable car I could find on short notice: a 1984 VW Jetta.It was the most college student-ey car a college student could own.This Jetta was from before VW started making cars you might describe as nice. For several years, the kindest thing you could say about it was that it was reliable.And it was reliable. Until, all of a sudden one day, it wasn't.I was parked in the Kroger parking lot and when I came out to crank up the Jetta, nothing happened.Turned the key and... nada. No click, no reassuring whir of the starter motor, nothing.This started happening more and more frequently until eventually, I realized there was a pattern at play. The problem happened when the engine was fully heated up from a drive longer than 15 minutes.I found two partial solutions. One always worked, and the other sometimes worked.The reliable solution was to let the engine cool down, which took hours. Not much of a solution!The other solution was to jump start the car, even though the battery was fully charged anyway. The extra juice from another car's battery would sometimes get my Jetta to start. Also not much of a solution.This all came to a head one spring break on a road trip from Davidson, NC--where I went to college--to Asheville, NC.I was doing reediculous things like keeping the car running at fuel/food stops to avoid the jump-start dance.While cruising along I-40 my friend Karl and I spotted this crazy-looking store that somebody was running out of their house.It was called "Our Father's Puppet Kingdom" and seemed to be selling puppetry supplies. (Apparently, they're still sort of in business: http://www.ourfatherspuppetkingdom.com/).As curious college students on a road trip tend to do, we exited the highway to investigate.I pulled the car into the house/business' circular driveway, stopped the motor, and we want to check out this bizarre business someone was running out of their home.It was closed. :( So, we hopped back in my Jetta, turned the key, and nothing happened. The mysterious starter problem showed up at exactly the wrong time.That's when I noticed that there was an automotive battery charger, just sitting there in the driveway, plugged into a crumbling old mess of a minivan.The temptation was too much for me. I looked around to make sure no one was watching, disconnected the charger from the minivan, and connected the terminals to my car's battery, hoping that the extra juice would be enough to convince the starter to turn over so we could get out of there.I got back into my the driver's seat to see if it would work.At that exact moment, the owner of the house/crazy puppet business pulled into the driveway. Oops...Busted! Caught red-handed!That guy was still yelling at us as we drove away after his battery charger--which I used completely without his permission--helped start my car. I'm pretty sure he was going to call the police if it took more than 30 seconds to unhook the battery charger from my car, hook it back up to his, and get out of there.I've never felt like such a boneheaded idiot.A few months later over summer break I took my Jetta into a shop and the mechanic was able to actually fix the problem.As it turns out, that year Jetta had a serious design flaw. The starter motor is very close to the exhaust manifold and the wire feeding current to the starter motor was a very small gauge.So when the starter motor heated up, the under-specced wire feeding it just couldn't deliver enough current.The solution turned out to be simple.A $10 solenoid and $3 of heavy-gauge wire directly to the car battery was all it took to permanently fix the problem!I wanted to hug the mechanic who figured this out for me and installed the fix. He did not look like he wanted a hug, so I high-fived him instead.Years later when I started running my own business, I realized I had a design flaw in my business.I had thought through every aspect of my service except how I was going to reliably get new clients.I would often get close to the end of a project, raise my head to see what potential clients were looking for help, and... nada. No clients asking for help, no reassuring inquiries in the inbox, nothing.If that reminds you of your business, you don't have to suffer from an unreliable pipeline. The fix might be easier than you think.It's often as simple as finding the right mechanic.One who understands your business and what small changes will make prospective clients start showing up more reliably.I can be that mechanic for your software development business: /services/