Jumpin Jack Flash It's NOT a gas gas gas
August 8, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Car battery dead at JFK long term parking after 3 week business trip. Port Authority Customer Care jumped it but it wouldn't keep a charge. What the hell do I do now?

Got back from 3 weeks in Russia last night, jumped in my car and...nothing. Long term parking customer care came, we jumped the battery so that the car started but the minute I took my foot off the gas it stalled. So I kept the car rev'd at about 4k RPM for about 10 minutes. Took my foot off the pedal, same thing - stalled. So we re-jumped, I drove around the parking lot at like 30 mph for about 10 minutes. Car stalled again and I couldn't re-start (customer care had gone by this time).

I left the car and went home to crash but now I have to back and do....what?? What do I do short of just buying a new battery and carrying it out there with me?
posted by spicynuts to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
How old is the battery? Here in California the auto club has a battery replacement service. They come to you and install a new battery.
posted by snowjoe at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: It's only maybe 5 years old. I've left it for two weeks before in the dead of winter and it started no problem.
posted by spicynuts at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2011

Yeah, there are tow truck agencies that will do that, too. Not cheaply, but in a jam it might be best solution. It certainly sounds like you need a new battery, particularly if the one you currently have is pretty old.
posted by penduluum at 9:12 AM on August 8, 2011

Most have places have battery shops that deliver, or mobile battery replacement services. Costs more than lugging it, but it's easier. Once you have a new battery in, immediately check whether you have a dead or dying alternator. Sounds like it may not be charging.

Ask your battery replacement dude to do it for you. Or a quick and easy way to find out - with the car running, put a multimeter set to 20volts across the battery terminals, your reading should be 13.6-14.4v (or so).
posted by Ahab at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2011

For some cars, you have to let them idle for ~30 minutes and let the car's computer 'learn' again. The girlfriend's Mitsubishi Montero is that way, which makes for a pretty large inconvenience when you have to get somewhere. I don't believe we apply the gas pedal when jumping that car.
posted by jangie at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2011

If you drove it around to no effect, you might also have an alternator problem. It's not hard for a mechanic to check, so it's worth looking in to.
If the car is a standard, you can always push-start it. Otherwise, you'll need a tow to your mechanics.
posted by Gilbert at 9:15 AM on August 8, 2011

Car batteries generally have a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years, depending on how it's been used and how many times it's been fully discharged. I'd start by replacing the battery (or having it done), and then just for good measure, have your mechanic test the car's charging system as soon as possible. A growing number of auto parts dealerships offer this service now, often at little or no cost if you buy a battery from them.
posted by xedrik at 9:20 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Crap. I was hoping the answer was something like 'go to the auto parts store and get a portable charger'. But then I realized I'd probably have to plug that in somewhere.
posted by spicynuts at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2011

In daylight, with no high current electrical devices going, most cars will get you quite a long way on a fully charged battery with a dead alternator. If you get your new battery, and you do have a dead alternator, you'll likely be able to drive it to a workshop before it dies again.

(Learnt that here on the green and had occasion to try it out recently. It worked.)
posted by Ahab at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2011

Once the engine is running the alternator keeps the spark plugs firing. You have an alternator issue. It's also possible that salts formed in that old battery have settled during the downtime and have shorted out the battery.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2011

My car takes forever to re-learn if the battery goes dead (my car is old and sucky). Half an hour in the parking lot and my car would still be stalling at stops, but it has always (eventually) recovered. I'm not sure how risky you're willing to be, but my first step would be to go out on the highway (or other road with no stops) for an hour--half hour out, half hour back, using a cloverleaf to turn around.
posted by anaelith at 9:28 AM on August 8, 2011

Best answer: Once the engine is running the alternator keeps the spark plugs firing. You have an alternator issue.

No, because it ran for 10 minutes. It wouldn't have ran at all if the alternator wasn't working. It ran on the alternator fine, but presumably at idle the alternator relies on the battery filling the void and there is too much electrical drain for it to maintain the car running (alternators charge better above idle speeds).

My car takes forever to re-learn if the battery goes dead (my car is old and sucky)

Very flat batteries can either take forever to 'wake up' or sometimes they won't at all - as soon as you drop off the alternator current, it will die. The battery is completely toast, most likely. A new battery will fix this.
posted by Brockles at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, new battery. AAA will bring one to you and install it. Join if you aren't a member. It's pricey to put in a new battery, but they do it in minutes and then you're done. (Mine was about $150). And then you have AAA peace of mind thereafter.

I left my car untouched for only a week and had this happen. Turns out it was a minor electrical draw from the alarm system. My car was old enough that I just had the mechanic disable the alarm and everything thereafter was peachy.
posted by clone boulevard at 9:43 AM on August 8, 2011

I suspect your battery is flat. Just replace the battery (or have it replaced - car batteries are dangerous).
posted by alby at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2011

Five years is a respectable run for a car battery. A quick perusal of the Auto Zone website looks like most auto and marine batteries come with a 3-year warranty.

So, before you decide you have an alternator problem, get a new battery. It's the first thing a mechanic would do since yours is old and past its average time to failure.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:02 AM on August 8, 2011

Response by poster: Yup... Just bought a new battery. On my way to JFK. thanks!
posted by spicynuts at 10:20 AM on August 8, 2011

If you have a voltmeter/multimeter that can read up to 20V DC, then try this test. (that's just one website that lists what voltages would be expected under different conditions, I know there are many such websites.)
posted by aimedwander at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2011

Oh, and you've got a new battery already, but for anyone else who finds this thread: Make sure you have everything turned off while you've driving your car around to charge. Everything. Headlights/running lights (double check if automatic), radio, air conditioning or heating, fans, double check all the interior lights (glove box?), unplug anything from the cigarette lighter (even if it's not charging, sometimes phone chargers drain anyway), so on and so forth. Your car will charge a little better and stall less.
posted by anaelith at 6:27 PM on August 8, 2011

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