Battery problems: my fault or the car's?
September 13, 2008 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Dead battery--is there a problem with my car?

I picked up my car yesterday from the body shop, where it had been for about two weeks for some work on the bumper/trunk/taillight, and my boyfriend drove it to the car rental place (about a mile) to drive me back when I returned the car. When we returned to the car it wouldn't start--the car beeped and lights flashed but the engine didn't do anything. We got a jump and my boyfriend drove it around town for about an hour (radio off, headlights and wipers on--hey, I didn't *choose* to get a dead battery at night in the rain during rush hour). He mentioned that the brake warning light on the dash went on about 45 minutes into the drive, as did the ABS light--Google seems to indicate this can be due to a low battery.

This morning, the battery is even deader than it was when I needed the jump (no beeping and flashing when I try to start it, just sadly flickering lights).

The battery is about two years old. The car exhibited no problems before I took it to the body shop. I'm pretty new to car ownership and not that knowledgeable about cars.

Does it make sense to take the car to a shop and having them look at it? Or did we just not do a good enough job charging the battery? Is it normal for a battery to die a second time after the car was driven for an hour? I don't want to waste money at the shop if nothing's wrong and don't want to waste one of my four AAA calls and time driving around if it won't fix the problem.
posted by phoenixy to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Is the battery discharging while the engine is running? There should be a light in your instrument panel that shows usually looks like a battery. If this is the case you may have a bad alternator.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 2:55 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Take it back, have them check the wires, spark plugs, alternator. Maybe something got knocked loose while they were working. Sometimes, too, there's a reset button for some functions which needs to be hit, which might explain the dash warnings.
posted by Riverine at 3:17 PM on September 13, 2008

This definitely sounds like a bad alternator or wiring to the alternator (I suppose the belt could be loose, too).
posted by rfs at 3:35 PM on September 13, 2008

A common problem is corrosion on the battery terminals.

Loosen the nuts holding the battery wires to both the terminals and vigorously move them back and forth for a minute, then re-tighten. This will wear down the buildup and allow the wires to have better contact with the battery.
posted by Operation Afterglow at 3:36 PM on September 13, 2008

Make & model?
posted by Zambrano at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2008

Bad alternator.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:29 PM on September 13, 2008

Yes, try cleaning the terminals. If this doesn't work, take the car to Autozone etc. and have it tested. They will usually do this for free. I think it could any three of those things: terminals, battery, or alternator.
posted by luckypozzo at 6:51 PM on September 13, 2008

I'd go for bad battery or bad cable...

With a bad alternator, you'd have trouble running the car at all once the battery ran out of juice.... turning the lights on would cause the engine to stall, etc.
posted by TravellingDen at 7:36 PM on September 13, 2008

You mentioned that you brought the car in for work on the trunk and tail lights. If they had to rewire any lights, such as the brake lights or the trunk light, they could have accidentally shorted the wires so it's draining the battery.
posted by lockle at 8:40 PM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am 100% certain that the alternator and the battery are bad. An illuminated ABS light coupled with a hard-start/no-start condition heavily suggest that the alternator is bad.
posted by jeffrygardner at 9:38 AM on September 14, 2008

I suggest investing in a couple of jump leads and driving around for a few days to see what happens, but this sounds like something that needs looking at. Most probably something's wrong with your wiring somewhere, either a loose connection or a leak, but a bad battery or alternator can't be ruled out.

Make sure you know how to jumpstart a car safely - no sense electrocuting yourself in the process.

You mention bodywork - A friend's car had a cable pinched in a minor accident, took the electrician days to figure out until he mentioned he had been in a crash: Have the shop that did the repairs go over the cables in the area.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all! Thanks to you, I brought my car in and it did turn out to be the alternator. According to the guy at the shop, it was putting out the wrong voltage and slowly frying the electrical system (!!)
posted by phoenixy at 5:43 AM on September 16, 2008

« Older How much to spend on a used bike?   |   I can hear their toilet flushing as I type. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.