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Mazda3 won't start, don't think it's the battery. What could be wrong?
November 1, 2009 10:46 AM   Subscribe

My 2004 Mazda3 hatchback with about 20,000 miles on it won't start.

It was last driven across the street to move for street cleaning on Wednesday with no problems. We just got in the car to go somewhere and it won't start. As you can tell by the mileage, we don't drive it a ton - mostly once or twice a week to get groceries or go to Target or something.

Symptoms:
1. Battery appears to be ok - all lights and accessories come on, remote entry works, etc.
2. When I first turned the key it made several strange clunks and clicks. All the dash lights flashed. Did NOT ever turn over. Subsequent attempts just make a loud click. Personally I think it sounds like more than just the battery clicking but maybe it's just really loud in this car. (To me, when the battery doesn't have enough juice to turn the starter, it makes a light "tick" sound, but this sounds more like a louder "clack" or "clunk" sound to me. Or I could be crazy.)

It has been really rainy for a few weeks now and the car is parked on the street. The tank is about half-full. I made sure it was in Park (automatic transmission).

Any thoughts about what this could be or things we can try to get it to start so we don't have to tow it to a mechanic? Are we missing something obvious to check? We live in an apartment and do not have a garage so getting under the car is difficult, but we do have some tools and are willing to poke around if there are simple things to try.
posted by misskaz to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
 
Sounds like a dead battery. The same exact thing happened to me last week (parked on the street, heavy rain, click, click, click). I got a jump start, and all has been fine.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 10:52 AM on November 1, 2009


I'm not a mechanic, but I'd try jump starting it before going any further. Could be that it starts fine after jumping it and running for a bit. Could be that it runs fine after the jump but won't start on its own (needs a new battery). Could be it doesn't start at all and you'll need further diagnosis.

Good luck!
posted by reegmo at 10:55 AM on November 1, 2009


Luckily we have one of those plug-in car battery charger things, and the car's close enough to the house that it can reach, so that's worth a try. But having killed the battery on this car before, it's behaving differently.
posted by misskaz at 10:56 AM on November 1, 2009


Dead battery- the loud click is the solenoid. I'd check the manual before jump starting it - there's always a chance it can damage engine management chips etc. Better options are to take the battery out to charge it or push start it, if either are an option, not that they always are...
posted by prentiz at 10:59 AM on November 1, 2009


Ok we've hooked it up to the battery charger, we'll see if that helps. I will be so happy if this turns out to just be a battery. So. Happy.
posted by misskaz at 11:12 AM on November 1, 2009


1. Battery appears to be ok - all lights and accessories come on, remote entry works, etc.

There's a big difference between having enough power to turn on some lights and having enough power to crank the engine. Your symptoms sound exactly like a dead battery.
posted by knave at 11:23 AM on November 1, 2009


had a similar experience with my 2007 mazda hatchback and once we jumped the battery, it was fine. good luck...
posted by dmbfan93 at 11:57 AM on November 1, 2009


Personally I think it sounds like more than just the battery clicking

Batteries do not click. Ever.

2. When I first turned the key it made several strange clunks and clicks. All the dash lights flashed. Did NOT ever turn over.

Flat battery - no doubt at all. It is unable to flow enough current to either keep the starter solenoid fully engaged (the clicking/clacking) and turn the engine over plus keep the lights on. Jump start the car with an external power source (like another car) and/or charge the battery first. It should be fine.

if it was particularly cold last night, you may find you battery refuses to hold charge and gets flat like this more often or in a shorter time period - discharged batteries and cold weather don't mix. In this case, replace the battery.

Also: If you repeatedly start a car without running it for more than 5/10 minutes or so, it will not recharge enough to replace the charge lost from starting. In addition, using your car infrequently for short periods is not good for the engine. When you use your car, make sure you check that it has been at least run until fully warm once or twice a fortnight and it should be fine. If you use your car for more than (for example) 30 minutes in a two week period, you will be fine unless the battery is faulty.
posted by Brockles at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2009


If the battery has gone bad you may not be able to recharge it. The auto parts store (or dealer) can test the battery for you and let you know if it's salvageable.
posted by COD at 12:28 PM on November 1, 2009


I'm positive this is a dead battery.
You have enough power to turn the lights on and make the starter solenoid click, but not enough to turn the engine.
Like Brockles says, make sure you drive the car enough to charge the battery and warm up the engine, especially in cold Chicago. Really short trips deplete the battery since you're operating on a negative through-put whereby you're expending more than you're charging. And starting the car in the cold really taxes the battery.
Also, short trips can cause condensation and sludge inside the engine. See, there's moisture in the air and there's air in the crankcase of the engine. If that air is warmer than the block, it'll condense water on the cold surfaces of the engine. That water will mix with the oil over time and cause harm to the engine. By warming the engine up, you're evaporating the moisture in the crankcase (empty spaces inside the engine) and getting nice warm oil circulated to all the engine components.
Even if you only need to drive the car once or twice a week, it's good to take it for a drive for its own sake. It's like going for a jog if you sit in an office all day. There was a while when I only used my car for short trips and I made a point of flogging it at least once a week. I would drive it until it warmed up and then really wind it out and run it through all the RPMs. I have the 06 Mazda 3 Hatchback and have had zero problems with mine.
posted by Jon-o at 12:37 PM on November 1, 2009


Boy is my face red. Because I've experienced dead batteries on this car and others before, I thought I knew what those symptoms looked/sounded like and this was so different. But I guess those times it was a fully dead battery (due to leaving an interior light on, usually) vs. this case.

Batteries do not click. Ever.

Believe it or not, I'm not as dumb as I sound and I did know that. But I don't have the right mechanic-words to say what does do the clicking. How embarrassing. I hate sounding dumb. :/

Anyway, a couple hours with the plug-in charger and the car started fine. My husband ran it for 5 minutes or so, and I'll take it for a longer spin this afternoon.

The battery is the original that came with the car - having drained it fully a couple times before, and now this, is it time to get it checked out and possibly replaced?

Thanks, all.
posted by misskaz at 12:53 PM on November 1, 2009


Yeah, since the battery is 5 years old it's probably a good idea to get it checked out. Most auto parts store will test your battery and help you install a new one for free.
posted by zsazsa at 12:59 PM on November 1, 2009


The battery is the original that came with the car - having drained it fully a couple times before, and now this, is it time to get it checked out and possibly replaced?

Yes, you're nearing the end of this battery's life (5-6 years is pretty standard). Since it's not used often, you may see this weak behavior popping up more. As Brockles says, infrequent use and short driving trips are sort of a worst-case scenario for keeping your battery charged. On top of that, car batteries are "starting" batteries, not "deep cycle" batteries, which means they're intended to be kept 90-100% charged at all times. Every time you discharge the battery, you're taking a significant amount of life off it.

It basically depends how willing you are to jump start it every time it gets weak, or keep the battery connected to some kind of trickle charger, since the car isn't driven enough to keep it charged. If you're willing to put up with the hassle, you may extract a few more months to a year out of this battery. Otherwise, dropping $60 on a new battery will probably save you some headaches.

Note that in cold weather, battery problems will only get worse.
posted by knave at 4:01 PM on November 1, 2009


A loose or damaged battery cable can have these same symptoms. They will cause a high resistance connection that will light the lights and play the radio, but not crank the starter.
posted by rfs at 9:32 AM on November 2, 2009


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