No power Doesn’t al­ways mean a dead bat­tery

With so many electrics and com­put­ers in mod­ern cars, there are many things that can drain – or de­stroy – your car’s bat­tery

Calgary Sun - Autonet - - NEWS - BRIAN TURNER

While many of us are shy about tack­ling any­thing un­der the hoods of our ve­hi­cles, save top­ping up the washer fluid, swap­ping out a de­funct bat­tery is still a com­mon DIY chore. But more than a few hardy drive­way techs have found out the hard way that a click-clickclick when the key is turned doesn’t al­ways mean a new bat­tery is needed.

Bat­ter­ies can cer­tainly fail on their own, with the av­er­age life­span of a Cana­dian daily driver’s power unit be­ing around the four- to fiveyear mark. And to be cer­tain that the bat­tery is at fault, ver­sus the charg­ing unit (al­ter­na­tor), or wiring, or some­thing else, you need a good elec­tri­cal tester and some skill/knowl­edge. But there are a few hints the ve­hi­cle it­self will pro­vide to guide you in the right di­rec­tion.

If a ve­hi­cle starts fine and then the en­gine dies out while driv­ing and you’re only re­warded with the clickclick-click when you try to restart it, chances are it wasn’t the bat­tery’s fault. When an al­ter­na­tor fails on a rel­a­tively mod­ern fuel-in­jected ve­hi­cle, the en­gine won’t shut down un­til the bat­tery is drained of power (pri­mar­ily from the fuel pump and in­jec­tors). Usu­ally a warn­ing light will come on be­fore the stall out, but it’s not al­ways no­ticed. And of course, when the en­gine does fi­nally conk out, all the warn­ing lights come on, adding to the mys­tery. If you have a sim­ple elec­tri­cal mul­ti­me­ter, the volt­age read­ing at the bat­tery posts should be around the 14-volt mark for most ve­hi­cles with the en­gine run­ning. If it’s sub­stan­tially lower, re­plac­ing the bat­tery won’t solve things.

If you head out on a frosty win­ter morn­ing and the bat­tery won’t bring your ride to life, check it care­fully be­fore dig­ging out the booster ca­bles. If the sides are bulged out in any way, the elec­trolyte (fluid) in­side is likely frozen and boost­ing a frozen bat­tery isn’t a safe idea. Avoid the temp­ta­tion to try and thaw out a frozen bat­tery; if the sides are bulged then the in­ner cells will be dam­aged as well.

What once was a rare oc­cur­rence in the realm of dead bat­ter­ies is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity; par­a­sitic draws. This de­scribes a con­di­tion where some­thing in the ve­hi­cle is drain­ing the bat­tery with ev­ery­thing shut down and the doors closed. With the mul­ti­tude of com­put­ers on to­day’s rides, along with ra­dios need­ing to keep me­mory, there’s al­ways some type of drain on the bat­tery when the char­iot is at rest. It’s usu­ally min­i­mal, but things can go wrong and in­crease it to the point it will kill a bat­tery overnight. Chas­ing down a draw like this is best left to the pros. One new twist is the in­creas­ing use of data col­lec­tor de­vices that in­sur­ance firms sup­ply to car own­ers. Th­ese lit­tle units that plug into the ve­hi­cle’s di­ag­nos­tic port un­der the dash will keep a num­ber of com­put­ers ac­tive af­ter the en­gine is shut off rather than let­ting them go to ‘sleep’. Leave the ve­hi­cle parked long enough (one to two weeks on av­er­age) and you’ll have a dead bat­tery.

One fi­nal thought, if you’re go­ing to dis­con­nect a ve­hi­cle bat­tery, check your ra­dio’s anti-theft sys­tem in­struc­tions in the owner’s man­ual first. If you don’t take the proper steps, you can find your ra­dio locked up un­til a se­cu­rity code can be ob­tained and en­tered.


Home­grown handy­man Ian Geldof gets un­der the hood as he re­moves the car bat­tery from his ve­hi­cle on 85 Av­enue near 95A Street, Tues­day Au­gust 13, 2013. The me­chanic re­ports his car alarm has been sound­ing spon­ta­neously over the past few days, and that re­plac­ing the bat­tery will put the prob­lem to rest.

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