I think there's a crossed wire...or my car is determined to die
January 4, 2013 10:53 AM   Subscribe

How could changing a car's battery cause the panel lights to come on when turning the car OFF? Or is everything in my car falling to pieces coincidentally at the same time?

I ended up needing a jump on a couple of different occassions, and although it is cold enough where I live to drain a car battery, I figured that it is the original battery and probably just time for a new one.

Unfortunately, by the time I was forced to that conclusion and was able to purchase a new battery, the only place open in town for service is a place I have had a horrible past experience with and has a reputation with others for shoddy work. Well, I thought, it's just a battery change. Ha!

I have a Dodge Stratus ('02 or '03) and to get to the battery, you have to take off the front driver's side wheel. (bad sign: I had to tell them this. otherwise they didn't know how to get to the battery.) Well, despite having to constantly check (hey guy, how's it coming along?) because the young kids in the back seemed to do more time fooling around than actual work on my car, it seemed to turn out ok--[they did an electrical systems test] the old battery indeed registered dead on their test, the new battery checked out fine, and the alternator and starter checked out fine. Great! But when I get home and turn off the car, the oil indicator light and the transmission indicator lights (the panel that has the letters for park, drive, reverse, etc.) come on. To clarify: these lights are not supposed to be lit up when the car is off and there's no problem with the oil (the light doesn't come on when the car is on).

Of course, by this time, everywhere is closed, and I end up leaving a voicemail for the service place (what the hell did you guys do?!) and pulling fuse #11 so the indicator lights don't drain my new battery all night. I haven't been able to go in yet and thought I'd query metafilter because I trust your collective wisdom more than the "mechanics" at this place.

So what happened? Did they hook something up wrong? Is it a faulty fuse? --if it was, wouldn't the lights just not come on at all?
posted by Eicats to Technology (13 answers total)
Are you sure your key is turned fully counter-clockwise? Do these light up when the key is out? The indicator lights are supposed to go on when you turn the key to the first position, even before starting the car. They do this so you can tell if an indicator bulb is burnt out. Then they go off when the car is started, unless there is a problem. You just may not have noticed this before.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2013

Do they come back on fully lit, or dimly lit?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2013

They come back fully lit. I've tried jiggling the key a bit before removing it, thinking something is sticking just enough in that first position, but no matter what, they stay lit when I remove the key. I do have a spare key I could try...

One other maybe relevant item: I do have an after-market remote car starter installed. I don't remember the name (Viper?); it was from Best Buy and we put it in a year ago. With the battery dying/getting replaced, could there be something with the auto-start that's getting mixed up?
posted by Eicats at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2013

Take it back and talk to the manager. Be firm. Somebody has crossed or pinched a wire.
Years ago I was rear-ended, and the body shop tightened a bolt right over a group of wires, shorting the entire electrical system.
Then they put in monster fuses to try to hide their mistake, which they couldn't locate.
I lost all lights and signals while driving home in the dark.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:31 AM on January 4, 2013

A battery replacement usually only involves a bracket (that holds the battery in place) and the large connectors for the + and - leads. It sounds like something was shorted out ahead of the normal switches that control the lights, which isn't something that's likely to happen on its own. Call the manager, this is very likely their fault.
posted by tommasz at 12:37 PM on January 4, 2013

I put this forward only as a *possibility* to consider. I'm not certain that based on what you've described, however, that this necessarily happened:

Hooking a battery up in reverse polarity by mistake (positive battery terminal to ground wire, negative battery terminal to positive wire) even only momentarily can seriously screw up automotive electronics.
posted by de void at 1:25 PM on January 4, 2013

1- Are you sure this wasn't happening before the battery change? It could explain why the battery suddenly died.

2- Could be the ignition switch has gone bad.

3- Or yes, something went bad with the remote starter. Does it work? Maybe it needs to be reprogrammed/reinitialized.
posted by gjc at 2:56 PM on January 4, 2013

Don't go back to the bad shop. Go to a good shop abd tell them what happened. It will cost you more, but it is worth it to keep the morons at the first shop away from your car.
posted by twblalock at 3:12 PM on January 4, 2013

It is possible the computer needs to be reset after the battery is disconnected.
Phone your local Dodge dealer service dept. or a 1-800 Dodge number and tell them of your problem.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:40 PM on January 4, 2013

Seconding the possible need for a computer re-set. Some cars don't cope well with being completely disconnected from their power source and need to have an alternative power source connected to the terminals while the battery is removed. Not as likely with the age of your car, but worth getting a real mechanic to have a look regardless.
posted by dg at 10:56 PM on January 4, 2013

I'm betting on either a computer reset, or they pinched a wire or shorted something to chassis ground when swapping your battery.
posted by xedrik at 9:47 PM on January 6, 2013

Just to update: weapons-grade had it about right. I discovered something is sticking or not disconnecting correctly in the ignition. But I've found my fix is the turn the key a little too far back, past the off position, then back to off and pull the key out. Then, no lights!

(In my mind, I still think the mechanics messed up something because I didn't have this problem until they got a hold of my car! But my fix is likely less stressful than going back and risking them breaking something else.)
posted by Eicats at 11:04 AM on January 7, 2013

In that case, it sounds like maybe your ignition switch is faulty. If that's the case, your current fix may not work for long.
posted by dg at 12:09 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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