Honda Civic Hybrid battery problems
December 14, 2009 8:43 AM   Subscribe

2004 Honda Civic Hybrid won't start, but battery isn't dead.

I ran down the battery a few weeks ago from leaving the lights on, and had to get a jump and ever since then, it seems like it's been harder and harder to get it to start.

Today (even though I didn't leave the lights on or anything) it wouldn't start at all, but there's definitely juice left in the battery, the horn honks (but somewhat weakly) and and lights work when i turn them on and it makes a clicking sound when i turn the key.

I looked at the battery terminals and the positive one looks like it has a bunch of gunk on it. I'm going to try cleaning that when I get off from work (advice for that is useful to), but aside from that, what else should I look at?

Should I just replace the battery? I can walk to and from work, so it's not really urgent that I get it fixed immediately.

Just want to emphasize that this is a hybrid car, in case that makes a difference.
posted by empath to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is possible for a car to have enough power to do things like honk or flash headlights, but still not have enough power to start your car. If you left the car running for a while after you got your jump, then there could be an issue with your alternator not charging the battery sufficiently while the car runs. How old is your battery? Disclaimer: I am not aware of the differences in the electrical system between a standard auto and a hybrid.
posted by newper at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2009

the battery may not be dead, but it isn't strong enough to turn the engine over... the "clicking" sound is a classic sound of a solenoid trying to turn the starter but failing..

as for the battery terminal..tighten them.. greasy gunk is not a bad thing, probably there to protect it, white/blue powdery gunk is not good...and needs to be cleaned off (baking soda on it, then dump some water on it (slowly)...)
posted by HuronBob at 8:55 AM on December 14, 2009

If by gunk you mean white crystals that look a bit like salt, be very careful. I may have the chemistry wrong, but I think they're sulphuric acid crystals. I use hot water with some bicarbonate of soda mixed in, but if you get that stuff on your paintwork it will fetch the paint off.

I'd get a mechanic to check the condition of the battery. It could be that the crystals are the symptom of a bigger problem. Did you drain the battery completely "dry" when you left the lights on?
posted by Solomon at 8:58 AM on December 14, 2009

this is probably gonna sound like a dumb question, but I am the furthest thing from a car person. Is there anything I should not do so I don't electrocute myself when i'm trying to tighten the terminal?
posted by empath at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2009

Did you drain the battery completely "dry" when you left the lights on?

I don't know what this means.
posted by empath at 9:00 AM on December 14, 2009

When you left the lights on, were they still on the next morning, or had they gone out?

Is there anything I should not do so I don't electrocute myself when i'm trying to tighten the terminal?

Don't touch the two terminals together. For example, if you have a screwdriver in your hand, don't drop it on top of the battery and let it touch both terminals together. Other than that, you should be fine.
posted by Solomon at 9:17 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The battery is flat, to all intents and purposes, just not 'your idea of flat'. The clicking is the starter solenoid not having enough power to engage the starter motor, never mind turn it. It's flat.

It went flat from the lights issue and, while flat, has collapsed inside and no longer holds a charge. You need a new battery. If it was cold when the battery went flat, that is the reason it is now screwed.

If you buy a new one, you will be fine. Just make sure the tools you use to change it do not touch the body of the car when taking it off or on.
posted by Brockles at 9:18 AM on December 14, 2009

seconding just getting a new battery.. they don't last forever, and if yours came with the car, that means it's about 6 years old or so, so it's probably due for replacement anyway. it might be old enough now that the alternator's having a harder time charging it, especially after you having drained it. (or maybe you didn't drive around enough for the battery to get a decent charge into it. could be either/or.)
posted by mrg at 9:32 AM on December 14, 2009

Remove the battery and take it to an automotive parts store where they can test it. If it's good they'll usually charge it for free. If it is indeed no longer good they can assist you in buying a new battery.
posted by NeonBlueDecember at 10:08 AM on December 14, 2009

And if you decide to clean the battery yourself, please use eye protection.
posted by scottymac at 10:12 AM on December 14, 2009

As noted, your batteries are dead. Important safety tip for cleaning battery terminals: Unhook the ground lead first (black, negative lead). This insures the ground is floating so if you accidentally touch the wrench to the chassis when unhooking the red/positive lead, it won't short.

When reattaching the leads, do it in the opposite order: attach the red/positive lead first, then the ground.
posted by chairface at 11:19 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you'll find that the battery is, in fact, dead.

Car batteries don't like deep discharges. Car batteries that are six years old are well into extended play (most batteries are only good for four years or so) and old batteries especially don't like deep discharges.

I think you've knocked it off its perch, and I think replacing your battery will make your car work properly again.
posted by flabdablet at 12:11 AM on December 15, 2009

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