Cannot start the battery. Battery!
February 11, 2016 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I tried to jump start my car with two different cars on the other end. What's my next move?

This weekend, after not having driven my car for a week, I found my car wouldn't start, probably because one of the doors had been left ajar.

I asked my neighbor to give me a jump. We did, and the car would not start, but I did get this "machine gun" sound. That video talks about terminal corrosion as a cause of that sound, so I disconnected the leads from the battery and inspected them. I've had to clean off battery corrosion before, and it didn't look like there was any this time. They seemed fine – there was no chalky gunk or anything that looked corroded.

Something that occurred to me is that I tried to start my car immediately after my neighbor's car instead of waiting. So, I got a friend to give me a jump, and this time, we started her car, waited three minutes then started my car. Same sound, no start.

I think my battery is still under warranty. Could it be completely dead? I can bring it to the battery store, but without a car, that's really difficult. Similarly, I'd like to avoid having to get my car towed so it could be looked at at a garage, but if that's what I have to do, yes, I'll do it.

Any ideas what the highest reward-to-effort next step is here?
posted by ignignokt to Technology (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you or anyone you know has AAA I think the next stop would be to get them to come out and take a look at it (not_on_display has it, fyi). It's possible that your battery is just waaaay dead (how old is it? can you check on the warranty thing?) and the AAA battery truck could bring you a new battery or jump it with their superbattery. Not the cheapest but they will show up at your house with a battery, see if you need it and, if so: install it for you.
posted by jessamyn at 1:43 PM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

The clicking generally means not enough voltage for the starter to turn over. Yes, could be completely dead battery causing too much load on the system for the jumping-car's battery to put enough juice into the system; how are you connecting the jumper cables? There's the possibility that somewhere the cables that create the circuit are worn/damaged/corroded, so the electrical circuit itself is broken, so if you're connecting the black end of the jumper cable to the engine block like they teach to do, but the engine block isn't properly connected to ground anymore, you could get this result. Bad alternator *could* be the cause, but less likely. If cleaning the battery contacts doesn't work, see if whoever you asked to jump you can drive you to the parts store to pick up a fresh battery; if the new battery doesn't work, then the problem is somewhere deeper in the system and the tow to the mechanic will probably be worth it.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:46 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: It could easily take longer than three minutes of charging from another car, especially with a very dead battery in cold weather. Try again, and be significantly more patient.
posted by jon1270 at 1:53 PM on February 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you don't have AAA but do have a credit card, they may also offer roadside assistance. I recently discovered my Capital One card does.
posted by something something at 1:57 PM on February 11, 2016

If you have a good connection to the jumping vehicle, you will hear a slight change in the sound of the engine when the connection is made as the engine slows down slightly. You should also be seeing some small sparks if you drag the clamp of the jumper cable across the terminal on your battery.
And Joh1270 is correct. Give it some time, see if it "improves".
posted by rudd135 at 2:05 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Make sure your battery has enough water inside of it. If it has removable tops on it, take them off and see if there is water inside and top it off, if the water levels are low in each reservoir. I had to do this last weekend when my car wouldn't start. I jumped it afterwards (it was making the same noise you described) and its been starting fine ever since.
posted by Big Chief Little Pants at 2:06 PM on February 11, 2016

Is it possible you reversed the leads? I've done that before.

The most likely culprit, though, is a battery that no longer holds charge. Had that happen to me in a rent-a-wreck this past summer, in rural Quebec of all places.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:15 PM on February 11, 2016

As other people are hinting at: Jumper cables generally aren't large enough to carry enough current to start the car on their own. Usually you have to wait for your own car's battery to charge up a little bit before the car will turn over. Hook up the cars, walk away from it for a few minutes, then try starting it.

Then, yeah, if you've got a towing service make it their problem. If not, it sounds like your battery will no longer hold a charge. It's pretty easy to replace the battery.
posted by straw at 2:16 PM on February 11, 2016

Taxi to battery store. Buy new battery. Taxi home. Install new battery. Return old battery under warranty/for core deposit at your convenience.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:20 PM on February 11, 2016

jon1270: "It could easily take longer than three minutes of charging from another car,"

This, especially if you don't have a serious set of jumper cables (IE: at least 4 guage).

Also while the white powdery acid can cause connection problems; lead oxide on the terminals and oxides on clamps can significantly reduce the voltage available to the starter. If you don't have a terminal cleaner some emory cloth or a green scrubbing pad are fairly effective at removing the oxide layer. Both the battery terminal and the clamps should be shiny.

Finally high internal resistance of a weak starter can compound a weak battery so don't be totally surprised if you end up changing both.
posted by Mitheral at 2:22 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: Join AAA if you don't have it. Let them come to your car, test your battery, and replace it if it needs replacing.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:28 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Unless your other good answerers advise against it for reasons I'm not aware of, I'd try jumping it again, but with one terminal of your battery disconnected, because a dead battery has much less voltage than a charged one, and this causes your battery to be an additional load on the battery and alternator of the vehicle you're getting the jump from.
posted by jamjam at 2:42 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: I've had this issue, when my battery fully died (from old age) and could not be jumped. AAA sent a truck and the guy replaced my battery; much more convenient and no more expensive than replacing it myself.

I no longer have AAA, but I have roadside assistance through my auto insurance company for a ridiculously low fee. Look into that as an option!
posted by ejs at 3:45 PM on February 11, 2016

Three minutes sounds like nothing, time wise. I'm as far from an expert as you can get, but in my jumping experience, I've often had to wait 15 minutes or so.
posted by Vaike at 3:53 PM on February 11, 2016

Your battery may be still OK. I would try to let the other car charge your battery as others suggested, or you could buy a cheap battery charger and leave it for a while.

A consideration, assuming you are still in Somerville, is that the temperature is hovering around zero with the wind chill. This will not only make your battery less efficient, but the temperature and lack of use of the starter may combine to have more draw on your battery that normal. It looks like it might be a little warmer there tomorrow.
posted by Yorrick at 4:01 PM on February 11, 2016

If you need an alternative to AAA, the Better World Club does similar work but is, er, "better" in certain ways.

Last time I had a similar problem it was a corroded battery cable (not just the terminal, the cable itself). However, the first and easiest thing to try after jumping is just replacing the battery. If it was 2-3 years old, often one deep discharge is enough to kill the battery off, especially when combined with cold.
posted by flug at 4:13 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

The battery is part of the cars electrical system, and that means if it's bad enough, sufficient voltage will not go through it, because a bad battery can basically mean an open circuit. If this is the case, you're not going to be able to jump the car. If you have a way of getting the battery to the nearest chain parts store, they will test it for free (at least at the ones I've been to.) If it's not bad, they'll charge it. If it's bad, they'll sell you a new one.

One important thing - once you've got this resolved and the car is started, take it directly to the parts store and they can do a start/charge test on the car in the parking lot; again, the chain parts stores (AutoZone in particular) have done this for free for me. (I don't know about Pep Boys because they have a repair shop and they may charge, so if it's them or another parts store with an attached repair shop, ask if they do free charging system tests.) This way you can make sure it was just a dome light left on or something and not a starter or alternator problem.
posted by azpenguin at 5:36 PM on February 11, 2016

1. Is the battery >=5 years old? Just replace it. (This is not a general statement, but that your battery is fully discharged and cold, just spend the $4/yr more for the battery living only 5 years instead of 7 and buy a new one, and save the effort trying to get it going only to be replaced very soon anyway).

2. Put a battery charger on it overnight at least.

3. The proper way to jump a car. Car A has dead battery, car B is good:
a. Start car B
b. Attach cables between cars (search online for the correct order)
c. Rev up car B to 3000 RPM for 10 seconds, then down to about double idle (usually 2000-2500RPM) and hold for three minutes.
d. After those three minutes, while still revving car B, start car A. Give it a little gas to help it start.
e. After car A is started, you can stop revving car B. Disconnect cables. Turn off car B when you desire.
f. Let car A run for at least 15 minutes before turning off to charge up the battery.

If car A doesn't quite start in step d, repeat step c.
posted by flimflam at 5:51 PM on February 11, 2016

The battery is part of the cars electrical system, and that means if it's bad enough, sufficient voltage will not go through it, because a bad battery can basically mean an open circuit.

The circuit is completed through the jumper cables and the battery and charger of the other car, regardless of the state of the dead battery.

As others have pointed out, the jumper cables and their contacts at both ends may not be sufficient to carry the current to turn over the starter at very low temperatures with no assist from the battery so charging the battery from the jumper for some minutes might help. If you have a dead battery, the cells may actually be frozen slush, and charging for a while will warm it up and melt the slush.

You may have checked and cleaned the cable connections at the battery, but you should also check the other ends -- the ground connection to the engine block and the positive connection directly to the starter motor.

One trick that often works if the weather is very cold is to take the bad battery out and put it in your kitchen overnight to warm up. Then reinstall it in the morning and jump it again. You can double the amperage you can pull out of a car battery by warming it from zero to room temperature.
posted by JackFlash at 6:49 PM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! The battery is two years old, but I see from your replies that it could still be killed dead by running lights + all the code.

Since there's so many variables, and I'm too squeezed for time at the moment to check them out, I'm joined one of the aforementioned auto clubs and will call in a couple days when my membership kicks in to have someone come by try a jump the most correct possible right way, then replace the battery if that doesn't work.
posted by ignignokt at 7:01 PM on February 11, 2016

If the battery is only two years old, then you probably didn't kill it. If you can make the time, go spend $25 on a battery charger (which is a useful thing to own anyways) and leave it plugged in charging overnight. I bet it will start just fine after 12 hours charging.

Properly charging a dead battery with a charger is much better for it than charging it by driving around and starting and stopping a bunch.
posted by ssg at 6:45 AM on February 12, 2016

If you're already going to be waiting a couple of days, meanwhile, send a friend to go buy a trickle charger and try that.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:03 PM on February 12, 2016

Response by poster: OK, what I ended up doing was this:

1. I joined Better World Club because it was slightly cheaper than joining AAA overall.
2. I waited three days to call their roadside assistance because that was the earliest I was allowed to call after joining.
3. While on the phone with roadside assistance, I found out that they do not do battery replacements.
4. I got an online estimate for a battery replacement for AAA. It turns out that they do provide this services for non-members, for $35 more than they charge members. It ended up being about as much as the battery itself costs online.
5. I called AAA. Literally five minutes later, I missed the call from the guy they sent out.
6. A minute after that, I found out they sent out the guy and that I should go to my car.
7. I went to my car to find the AAA guy.
8. As the AAA struggled with the really awkward-to-reach bolt at the base of the battery seat, I felt glad that I wasn't doing it.
9. Car started and was fine. Nothing else was wrong with it.
10. I paid the guy. For some reason it was less than the online estimate.
11. Better World was very nice about canceling my membership and refunding my money. I was able to do it via email without having to call or argue.

Hopefully, 12 will be to add roadside assistance to my insurance (if it includes battery replacement) since it only costs $15/year.
posted by ignignokt at 7:18 PM on February 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

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