Electrical problems

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Recently, my car has been difficult to start. It starts fine, but every so often it requires the key to be held to start for the engine to start cranking (though the instrument panel lights up as if it were started and running), but once started, everything's fine. I just blamed the cold New England weather (below freezing in the mornings and at night). Most of these failed starts were done in the morning.

One time, my voltage hovered at about 10.6 V, but climbed back up to normal (13.8-14 V) and stayed there after driving in low gears for a while (to keep the engine above charging speed, 2.5 kRPM). I decided to keep an eye on the battery and replace it if this was a recurring thing (since I'm a poor out-of-work college student).

So, I went out to my car today. I was cleaning it out, but it reeked of my new fuzzy dice (which apparently are also air fresheners). I turned the key to accessory and put the windows down without a problem.

With my car cleaned out, I went to start it. The engine didn't crank, and I didn't hear the starter motor kick in. No lights came on at all. I tried holding the key to start for about ten seconds, but all that happened was my fuel gauge dropped from 3/4 to empty (though it doesn't drop when you shut the car off).

I figured my battery was dead, so my dad jumped it (though stupidly connected the batteries together without grounding it, claiming the manual "was full of s--t"). My car still wouldn't start while the cables were connected to his battery with his engine running, nor after they were disconnected.

The lights inside my car, when I open a door, start off dim and just die out quickly. Turning the key to accessory does nothing, but power used to come on for a second before dying. My power locks and windows don't work, the motor starts but just dies (and now my windows are stuck down).

Things I've tried:
- Holding key to start--did nothing.
- Jump starting--did nothing.
- Checking some fuses--did nothing.
- Looking at battery terminals--they look fine, no rust or corrosion..
- Switching batteries with my mom's car--she stopped me.

Any ideas? Assume I'm an idiot with cars, better to be too specific than omit details.

posted by  SignOfZeta

Sometimes a battery is too low to accept a jump immediately and needs a few minutes to build up a charge. Or it could just be bad. I suggest pulling the battery out and take it to the nearest autozone/checker/pepboys (or whatever you have in your neighborhood) have it chaged and tested, unless the battery is 4 or more years old in which case just replace it with a new, fully charged one. :2cents:

posted by  srober32

It was hooked up for about two minutes or so. When I tried to start it connected, nothing happened. After the cables were disconnected, still nothing happened.

Is this free? There's a Napa down the street, and AutoZone within driving distance. The battery came with the car when I got it a few months ago, and I imagine that's the original battery from 1997, so it might have to be replaced.

posted by  SignOfZeta

Autozone I know for sure is free (I think they all should be if they are not, especially if they want my business). Sounds like it is a bad battery though, looks like it will run you between 60 ro 70 bucks though, ouch! :doh:

posted by  srober32

I'd suggest buying a battery charger, every household should have one. Just get a small 10 amp one for like 30 bucks and leave it on over-night to let it charge.

Did your battery freeze? If it's frozen it won't accept a charge. Also, if it's frozen, it usually ruins the battery and needs replacement. That could be why boosting it didn't work.

posted by  88GrandPrixSE

30 bucks you don't have. :screwy: A battery charger is nice but not necessary. Take it out, have it charged and tested. :2cents:

posted by  srober32

But still, every house should have one, they can be quite useful. I still say your battery is frozen.

posted by  88GrandPrixSE

Batteries only freeze from two things EXTREMELY low temps or from being discarged in freezing weather. If the battery is older that four years and looks original, you should replace it. :screwy:

posted by  srober32

My dad poured tap water into the battery to try to fix it (idiot, it wasn't distilled). I pointed a space heater at the battery for five minutes. Now my interior lights are on at full brightness when the doors are closed, power locks and windows work (slowly), and I hear chimes when I leave my key in with the door open. However, there's this interesting buzzing sound coming from the right side of the engine (where the battery is); I assume that's undistilled water at work inside the battery.

My dad assumes it's more than the battery, so my mom is going along with him and it's going to be towed in a few days for repair. If I can get a new battery in there in time, I'd love to upstage them and say "I told you so."

Why is it every car I own has something bad happen to it right before its first oil change? My old Sable got totalled in my driveway (damn those (other) crazy drivers!), and now my Bonneville's battery is dead. Sigh.

posted by  SignOfZeta

Sounds like you have a short in your alternator. These other guys telling you about batt chargers and freezing don't listen, it would have to get bellow -60f or -51.1c for the batt to freeze. The diode inside the alt may still test good but the alt will still have a short, other possibiltys could be a draw. Try getting a small jumper wire with alagator clips on each side and disconnect your neg, hook the clip to the batt then to the neg cable. Then put an amp meter on it and read amps of draw should not be more than .05 with key off. If it is than start unpluging stuff untill that number drops down. Than you found your short.

posted by  apastarelli

[QUOTE=apastarelli]Sounds like you have a short in your alternator. These other guys telling you about batt chargers and freezing don't listen, it would have to get bellow -60f or -51.1c for the batt to freeze. QUOTE]

uh huh...... good luck in the real world buddy :thumbs:

posted by  BanffAutoSpa_ap

Yeah Realy, I just fell off the turnip truck...25 freaking years ago, apastarelli! Hummm, dischaged battery, specific gravity of electrolyte...8.5 ish(lets just say for giggles) outside temp...25 ish(f). Sounds like electrolyte will freeze since it is essentially water now, since the sulfur that keeps it from freezing at that temp is now attatched to the plates of the battery...shall I continue, Mr Wizard? :evil:

posted by  srober32

Well, the car got towed and fixed in one day. Very nice. Turns out the starter was bad. Two-hundred-something dollars later, my car now works.

But the new starter is crap. My old one would quietly start the engine at 2000 RPM (it sounded like power), and then it would slowly drop to 500-1500 RPM. This new one loudly cranks the engine and then the tach climbs up to 500 RPM while the lights steadily grow to full brightness. Now my Bonnie sounds like some old 1980's piece of junk (no offense).

It starts, so I really shouldn't be complaining. Plus it's raining, which should wash off all that dirt to some degree.

posted by  SignOfZeta

Take it back and ask the "mechanic" if he installed the shims under the starter properly because it should be cranking fairly quickly. :2cents:

posted by  srober32

shims are important, did he mention anything about the flywheel teeth or anything along those lines, i always put notes on work order(mainly to cover my ass and just so the customer knows how much of his ring gear is gone)

posted by  BanffAutoSpa_ap

It was a good garage. They've got all their certifications in order (though I haven't been there recently; they towed the car and my mom picked it up while I was at school) and a good track record with us.

No, it doesn't start abnormally slowly. Now that I've started it more, I've noticed that the difference between my old one and this new one is negligible. Besides, I haven't started it in any situation except "car's been sitting in below-freezing cold for at least seven hours (so you're gonna freeze for the next few miles)." I hate the sound it makes when it starts, though, sounds like someone pulled my car from a salvage yard. Would that be the characteristic of a faulty starter, because if it is, I may be able to get yet another new one put in.

My battery's a little low on volts anyway; it drops to about 11 V when I'm stopped, first gear, radio on, rear defroster on, fan on max, low-beams and brake lights on, which is enough to dim my lights. It's the old pour-in-water kind anyway, so I'm going to get it replaced when I get my oil changed (since my mom's footing the bill).

Interesting point... how would a bad starter kill all power to the car so that the doors and windows wouldn't work?

posted by  SignOfZeta

sounds like a battery or charging system problem, check your belt tension first then have the system tested

posted by  BanffAutoSpa_ap

Good way to damage starter motor commutators and windings is excessive starting with low voltage.

posted by  Wally

you have a side post battery with 2 positive connectors.one goes to the starter,the other part to the other ,like the alternator.if you jump start it,and the problem is what i think it wont help.you have to remove the terminals and the lead coupler and clean them

posted by  the lobster

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