Haven't used car for six weeks and now it won't start
May 30, 2011 3:01 AM   Subscribe

After six weeks standing idle my Hyundai won't start. What could the cause be?

I went to Europe for six weeks. When I got home I tried starting my car (which is parked undercover) with no luck. It cranks slowly once and then starts clicking. The clock resets to 12:00. My first thought is that the battery has drained. Any tips on getting it started before I buy jumper cables and start pestering my friends?

Oh, it's a 2003 Hyundai Elantra (manual) in an underground garage, so getting momentum for a push start will be difficult.
posted by smithsmith to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
Sounds exactly like a flat battery.
posted by pompomtom at 3:03 AM on May 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'm with you - from what you describe, I'd check the battery before anything else. Jumper cables are a good thing to have anyways, so I'd grab a set and see if a neighbor can give you a hand.
posted by SNWidget at 3:04 AM on May 30, 2011

Flat battery.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:20 AM on May 30, 2011

You could, if you had a sufficient area of clear space, try running it down hill in second with the clutch in, then as you get up some speed, bring up the clutch and start it. I hope you don't drive an automatic.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:21 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a similar problem, and it definitely sounds like a flat battery. You could get jump cables and pester your friends, but if the car is near an electricity outlet, you can buy charge cables and plug it in. Will take 5 to 6 hours to charge the battery but the plus point is you don't need another car. To stop it happening in the future, you can get a variety of gadgets to trickle charge the battery - I got a small solar panel that sits on the dash and plugs into the cigarette lighter port.
posted by Sifter at 4:25 AM on May 30, 2011

For about the same price as decent jumper cables1 you can get a deep-cycle gel-cell booster battery pack and never be dependent on your friends again. They charge from a regular wall outlet and work the same way as jumper cables.

1 That is to say, the cheap jumper cables are total crap and if you're going to buy jumper cables they should be good ones.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:27 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If your battery is four years old or more, replace it; it's probably just knackered. If not, there's probably some accessory somewhere (car alarm?) that draws enough current to flatten your battery in six weeks. Best recharge option is six hours on a mains-powered charger. This avoids the large currents and spits and sparks of a jump start, which have been known to do Bad Things to car electronics.

If you do end up buying jumper cables, get ones where the clips are made of metal with plastic insulation over the handles. There are some available with clips made of plastic with metal inserts in the tips - don't get those.

Also, when jump-starting a car: first start the donor car and let it idle. Next, connect the red jumper lead from the + terminal of the donor's battery to the + terminal of the recipient's battery. Next, connect one end of the black jumper lead to the - terminal of the donor's battery. Finally, connect the other end of the black lead to some convenient chunk of metal in the recipient's engine bay that isn't anywhere near the battery.

If your leads and connections are good, you'll hear the donor car's engine note change a little as it takes up the load of charging your flat battery.

You might also see a bit of sparking as you make the last connection (don't try to make this happen; it's unkind to your engine management computer). That connection will also be the first one you remove after the jump-start, and it may spark then as well. This is why you keep it away from the batteries: under rapid charge they can emit a little hydrogen, and you don't want to fire that stuff up.

Let the donor car charge your battery for about a minute before you attempt a start. You want most of the starter current coming back out of your own battery rather than through the leads and clips. Clips don't make perfect connections, and their resistance will cause a noticeable voltage drop given the typical starter motor's draw of a couple hundred amps.

Once you're started, don't stop your engine for at least 15 minutes; that should get you enough charge (just) for your next start.
posted by flabdablet at 4:58 AM on May 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

yeah, i'd try giving it a jump start and then a long drive to recharge things.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:05 AM on May 30, 2011

That is a flat battery. The clicking noise is the solenoid struggling to engage because the battery is VERY flat. It's possible it won't even start with a push start.

Get some jumper cables and correct them correctly (as above) and let the two stay connected for a good 2-3 minutes before you try and start your car. If it is slow to crank over, wait longer as you need to get some charge in the battery first before it can cope with the draw of the starter motor. Thicker jump leads will help with this, too.
posted by Brockles at 5:47 AM on May 30, 2011

First step would be to remove and thoroughly clean out the ends of the battery cable connectors where they attach to battery itself. Once they're clean have someone give you a jump start.

With some cars you cannot recharge a fully dead battery just by driving it. For those you'd be best served having a shop put a charger on it to full recharge it.

Also note it's a bad idea to let a battery go completely dead as this will greatly shorten the battery's life.

Batteries do slowly lose their stored charge over time. Older batteries will lose it faster.

It sounds like your battery has or is near to reaching the end of it's useful life. The simplest and most reliable solution would be to get a new one. Take the car in and have the charging system checked while the battery is replaced.
posted by wkearney99 at 5:53 AM on May 30, 2011

Nthing a shop recharge. A lot of newer (past decade or so) cars have weaker alternators that can wear out from fully recharging a flat or dying battery. And if it's an older battery, this is a good time to buy a new one, also charged from the shop. If it's a recent battery, you probably just had an accessory trickle charge off your battery until it went flat.

Of course, even if you do get it to start without cables (say, you call Triple A or another roadside assistance and they use a jump box), you should get some and keep them with instructions in your trunk in case of an emergency. You could be stranded without them.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:32 AM on May 30, 2011

Battery. Get a trickle charger for the next time you plan on leaving your car unused for more than a couple of months.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:20 AM on May 30, 2011

I bought a battery conditioner (an Optimate 4) to maintain a couple of lead-acid batteries in work which only see occasional use.

It's great and one of my colleagues borrows it regularly to successfully keep his aging car battery going.
posted by Homemade Interossiter at 10:56 AM on May 30, 2011

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