This happened two days ago (on the 27th of November, 1999), and thought you all might like to hear it.
So Sam (my QSW), Kelly (my gf) and I are driving across MD to visit a friend of hers, and the amp light & OXS light are acting up. They sorta blinked a couple of days before for a while, and then stopped. I figured it was an electrical short or a fluke or something, because it simply went away again. This particular morning, when I had started the car, the lights had flickered for awhile, and then gone out. I pretty much ignored them, in typical idiot fashion. As we drove, they started blinking tentatively from time to time, sorta flickering, never getting to full brightness. Eventually they would flicker whenever I let the revs drop below 2000, then 2500. So we pull into a gas station and I check all the connections - at the battery, at the alternator, and anywhere else I can think of. I remove all the connections, clean them up, and put them back on. I also, for good measure, because I'm under the hood, top up the oil & coolant. I start the car back up and... no difference. Shucks. Well, we're going to be kinda late by this time, but not too bad, so we keep going. I give Sam a pat and ask him to get us at least back to Kelly's parents' house (where we were staying in MD), tell Kelly that we MIGHT die by the side of the road and wouldn't that be exciting, and we're off again.
Well, now the lights flicker whenever the revs drop below 4000rpm. Hum. The stereo won't go on when I go to turn it on. Maybe I blew a fuse when I forgot to unhook the battery and sparked the alternator + terminal wire against the AC condensor. The car starts bucking. Hum. OK. Bad. The batter IS dying. I shut off all electrical consumers I can think of. I notice that the rear defrost is on. AH! That probably took away a lot of driving time. I shut if off and the car stops bucking. But not for long. So I pull off onto a side road (we're on rte 50, 12 miles south of the Bay Bridge in MD, if anybody knows where that is - two lanes in either direction, small divider down the middle and 55mph, but not limited access) and into a parking lot... which turns out to be an Auto Parts store parking lot. It's a godsend! I figure I'll buy a voltage regulator, replace it, and be on our way (I'm figuring that either the brushes are worn down or the voltage regulator has just gone hawwire). Hum. But the Auto Parts store is closed. Shit.
So we get back in the car, which is still barely running, and start off down the road again, hoping something else will be open on a Saturday. But the car dies before we even get back onto rte 50 again. Just dead.
So we roll the car back into the Auto Parts store parking lot, this time off to the edge on the gravel, towards the side of the store where there's another establishment with a bunch of Mercedes out front, along with an old MG and... a really beat-up looking Audi 5000!! One tire is flat, the window is down, no plates on it... but it does look complete. I wonder...
So we go inside and find an old Model A in the showroom, in beautiful condition. Other than that, the place seems kinda empty. I peer through the plate-glass window of an office, through the other side of the office, into a garage where there are several sailboats sitting. Huh. What an odd place. "Hello?" we say. Nobody answers for a minute, and then an older, balding, friendly-looking guy appears from the back. I ask him what he's doing the with Audi. "We'll, we're looking to get whatever we can out of it," he says. I ask him if he might want to sell me the alternator out of it. He hesitates, and says, "No, I don't think I should do that." Hum. I explain my situation to him, and he suggests the parts store next door. I tell him they're closed. He says there's a place up the way about 15 miles. I tell him the car is dead. He strokes his chin a bit, and then says, "Oh, take the damn alternator!" and smiles at me.
"Really?" I say.
"Yep," he says. "Merry Christmas!"
Huh. It's a bit before Christmas by my book, but I'm not arguing!
So we go out, and I start ripping the alternator out of the Audi while he watches (so that nobody asks us what we're doing), and then he takes off when I'm almost done. We thank him profusely, and he's gone. I take the alternator over to Sam and pull his out. They're different! I had checked the part numbers, and there was a "K" on the end of the one in the Audi, but otherwise they were the same. I didn't think it would really matter. Shucks. Evidently it does. They're similar, but kinda opposite, because the Audi's is mounted on the passenger's side of the engine compartment, while Sam's is in front of the radiator, on the driver's side. Well... huh. I stare at them for awhile. But the voltage regulators are the same! I quickly pull the one out of Sam's alternator and voila! The brushes are worn down to NOTHING. I pull the one out of the Audi's alternator, put it in Sam's, slap Sam's alternator back in (breaking the light blue field-activation wire in the process, but no big deal - I always carry wirenuts), and then we attempt to push-start it. After two attempts, it's a go, and no red lights! Hallelu!
I write Ron (the guy who gave us the alternator) a nice note saying how he's made my day and restored my faith in humanity, and go and put it, with the alternator, on the seat of the Audi, just as a black Mercedes is pulling into the parking lot of the place. I smile at him and shut the door of the Audi, then walk back towards Sam. The man in the black Merc hails me. "Are you all set?!" he asks.
"Yup," I say.
"You weren't taking parts off cars, were you?" he asks.
"Yes, I was," I answer bluntly, and tell him that we talked to Ron and that he nicely gave me the alternator out of the Audi.
"Huh," he says. "Well, it isn't his to give."
I tell him how nice it was that we broke down right here and there was an alternator sitting waiting for us. "Oh well that's different," he says. "Merry Christmas!" and drives off. I smile, get in my QSW, and we drive away.
There is no such thing as coincidence and people ARE nice after all. This after I was feeling all depressed and claustrophopic from driving in horrible traffic in megalopolis all week.