I suck at car, halp.
November 8, 2018 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I keep draining the battery on my car (2015 Subaru Forester) because my daughter or me leave the interior lights on at the end of the day. How can I make this stop? I never notice they are on and never think to check. I can't be the only absentminded, unobservant person to have this problem. Help me.

I'm a programmer with an android phone - I could make something with an Arduino and a light sensor maybe? Something that would text me at say 9pm if the car interior lights are on? But that seems a bit extreme. Ideas, please.
posted by kitcat to Travel & Transportation (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Aren't there 3 positions on the switch: on, off, auto? When they are on automatic, they turn themselves off after you get out of the car.
posted by CathyG at 10:12 AM on November 8, 2018 [25 favorites]

I had this same problem with my daughter and our car -- my solution was to tape the switch on the rear dome light to the door setting and ask her to ask me to turn on the much brighter map light if she needs illumination for buckling up, etc.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:15 AM on November 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a 2011 Subaru Legacy with the 3-position light switch. The middle position is not very obvious if you don't know about it, but it sounds like it's the one you want.
posted by ubiquity at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

what about buying one of those battery-powered led tap lights with a timer?
posted by noloveforned at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why are you turning the lights on?
posted by brainmouse at 10:25 AM on November 8, 2018 [43 favorites]

You can also get a battery with a higher reserve capacity, they can be pricey but generally they can provide greater protection for this situation if it keeps happening.
posted by iamabot at 10:26 AM on November 8, 2018

We had a thing that was kinda like this on the family van. It'll automatically shut off your electrical systems and leave enough juice for the car to start.
posted by sewellcm at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Could be that your battery is degraded because it's getting colder at night. I've had crappy batteries that only last 2-3 years.

Is there any way you can plug your car into a Battery Tender or other trickle charger at night?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:49 AM on November 8, 2018

A fresh battery that's the highest rated that will fit will help but a couple drainings will degrade the battery anyway. Get a couple small reading/flashlights that are kept in the car, lots of clever small led lights these days. Battery monitors that are accurate enough to trigger a signal are subtle and tricky, perhaps better to set an alarm each night and send each of you alternating to check for a month or two.
posted by sammyo at 10:49 AM on November 8, 2018

Set a daily alarm on your phone to go check every night at 9PM (or whenever). If you want, get a cheap webcam with and point it at the car so you don't have to physically get up and check.

These are more expensive options, and probably only worth exploring if you want to get into home automation anyway
* This sensor works with IFTTT.
* Get a SmartThings hub and a light sensor, set it up to notify you.
* Get Automatic, set it up in IFTTT to remind you turn off the light when the engine turns off in your home area
posted by natabat at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

For about $100, you could install a PriorityStart device—it automatically disengages your battery before it discharges too much. I haven't used one personally, but it seems like the most set-it-and-forget-it option, in a situation where forgetting happens.

Alternately, if you want to geek on it, you could get an ODB-II accessory like Automatic. I don't believe that battery health is part of the standard app's dashboard, but their API lets you get the current battery_voltage value, so maybe you could roll your own solution?
posted by mumkin at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are you sure its the lights? My truck was doing that, and it turned out the back wiper motor wasn't turning off properly and was draining battery.
posted by Ftsqg at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ditto on the middle position for the switch. If it's already there, maybe the switch is broken?

Maybe replace the interior bulbs with LED's? They'll draw a lot less current.
posted by Marky at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also for about $100 you can get a portable Jump-starter device, essentially a spare battery that you clip on to your dead battery, providing enough juice for a start.

I second those who are asking why you're turning the light on-- there are plenty of cheap LED lights, lamps, lanterns which you can leave in the car and just change the occasional battery without hazarding your ability to drive when you need it. Thanks to LED tech, they last quite a lot longer than the ol' D-cell driven flashlights my sister and I had as kids, so we could read on dark road-trips.

(If night-lighting is what's needed, consider a red filter for flashlights or whatnot.)
posted by Sunburnt at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2018

Why not just set an alarm called "Check lights in car" every night at 9 p.m.?
posted by Etrigan at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Small help may be to change the dome light bulbs to LED bulbs, as they use less power than the standard incandescent bulbs.

I did this, took two seconds to do. And I was able to start my car after accidentally leaving my dome light on over night.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

I kept doing this with the headlights (had to call for a jump several times), and so pasted a sticky note that said "Lights" on the dashboard. This has worked for me.
posted by Francolin at 11:11 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

This happened to me recently and I turned the switch to "off" for now, so it'll hopefully be obvious if I do need to use the interior lights. Also, if you don't have one, trickle chargers are great (my mom's backup solution).
posted by ldthomps at 11:34 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would probably get a clip-on reading light and make it a rule that your daughter has to use that instead of the car's interior lights. For times when one of you really needs to turn on a light, could you fasten something to a place where you'd have to notice or move it when you turn on the light and transfer that thing to your key chain whenever the light goes on? That's what I did years ago when I had a vehicle that didn't make a warning sound if you left your headlights on. I had an alligator clip attached to the headlight knob and if I turned the headlights on I moved the clip to my keychain, where I couldn't help but notice it when I took the keys out of the ignition. A clip might not work for your interior lights, but maybe you could use a sticky note or piece of tape?
posted by Redstart at 11:39 AM on November 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

Keep a flashlight in the car if you typically need interior lighting. I've seen nifty LED lights that have a magnetic base.

I probably know who disabled the warning sound when the lights are on in my vehicle and the door is open, and this person is already on my shit list, but the note on the wheel that says lights doesn't work for me. I have just painted the knob for the lights blaze orange, but am not confident. I will probably pay a mechanic to fix the warning sound.

Every time you drain your battery, it shortens its life, so it gets expensive, not to mention being a huge hassle.
posted by theora55 at 1:03 PM on November 8, 2018

I had this problem with an older minivan - the kids were the main culprit, playing with the lights while it was parked and so on. I bought some 12v buzzers from Radio Shack when they were around and put them into the light fixtures along with the bulbs. They were small and fit just right.

They screeched horribly whenever the lights were on, but they never got left on again.
posted by jquinby at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think tape and removing bulbs should be the first step while you build a more technologically sophisticated option.

Use electrical or packing tape and tape the switches on dome lights do "door" mode. If you need to turn the light on - open the door. Train yourselves that the doors are the switches. I like the idea of a clip-on book light in the back for the kids if you need light when the car is in motion. That should be safer as the light is lower and less likely to glare in the windows and distract the driver.

If the car is fancy and has map or accessory lights that are only switched, and do not connect to the door switches, then tape them in "off" position or remove the bulbs entirely and put them in a bag in the glove compartment.

That's a $2 solution to the problem. Most car batteries are not made for deep-cycle or deep discharge, so if they are run down to zero they will never charge back up to full capacity.
posted by sol at 1:48 PM on November 8, 2018

One key to building a new habit is anchoring the desired new behavior to another behavior you already do without thinking. (H/t Tiny Habits)

Are you someone who is excellent about always locking their car?
Start thinking in terms of, "I'm locking my car. That means it's time to check my lights to make sure they're all off." Find that habit you already do, no matter how small, when exiting your car. Then tie it to checking your lights. Keep telling yourself you haven't locked your car fully unless you checked your lights.

Also, if your interior lights have an auto setting, use it. This is a life saving (battery saving!) feature for diagnosed ADHD folks like myself, who would kill their battery every night if they were expected to remember to physically turn off their headlights. (Likewise I would probably drive half a mile in the dark before realizing my headlights aren't on... Yep!)
posted by nightrecordings at 3:22 PM on November 8, 2018

Buy a little suction cup and stick it on the light. Whenever someone turns the light on, that person has to take the suction cup and stick it on her phone. It goes back only when she’s switched the light back off.
posted by daisyace at 5:57 PM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had this problem with my old Jetta. My mechanic installed a buzzer that would buzz when the dome light was on and the rest of the car was off. I think it cost me around $60 fifteen years ago.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:31 PM on November 8, 2018

Keep a flashlight in your car, and NEVER turn on those interior lights.
posted by xammerboy at 8:20 PM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I discovered these battery operated lights at some random dollar store or something, and then tracked them down on Amazon because I liked them so much. They are cheap, they have a good level of brightness, and you can stick them anywhere. I use them mostly for closets, hallways, etc, but I think you could also stick them on the car somewhere. (I personally use velcro tape to get them to stick to the wall better, since the adhesive they come with isn't as secure as I might like.)

I personally like this better than a flashlight since it's hands free. I'd recommend sticking a couple of these in your car, and then never turning on the interior car lights.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:43 PM on November 8, 2018

Yup, I used gaffer's tape to stick it into the "off" setting, and used the map lights in front if light was necessary.

Not sure what is causing your interior light to switch on. With our car, we had a sunshade stored in the back. Park/Get home --> unfold sunshade --> place sunshade against windshield. Sometimes unfolding/moving the sunshade would disturb the dome light switch and inadvertently move it from "door" to "on" -- so, after leaving and closing the doors, we'd assume the light would be on "door" and turn off automatically, or even if we stuck around long enough it'd be hard to see the light remained on during the day. I figured out what was happening one evening when I had to use the car again and saw the light still on inside.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 11:42 PM on November 8, 2018

Every time you turn on the interior lights, say out loud, "I am turning on the interior lights."
Also, when you turn off the lights or get out of the car, say, "The interior lights are off."

Vocalizing it at both ends makes it stick in your head and helps you remember to turn them off. I used to do this with my headlights. Now I do it with my car keys so I don’t lock them in the car. Every time I get out of the car I say "My car keys are in my hand (or purse, depending)," and it helps me to NOT leave them in the car.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:02 PM on November 9, 2018

Fallback - get a booster/power/charger pack to leave in your trunk. Whenever this happens, at least you can give yourself a jump to get the car started.
posted by porpoise at 5:09 PM on November 10, 2018

For what it's worth, I'd like to defend you as another Subaru (2017 Forester) owner who has this issue, even though I've never had it with another car. I don't know what about the lights/settings makes it easy to do, but I've run down the battery more than once, and I try hard not to turn the lights on so there's no chance of doing it. It's still happened. This is certainly not my first car and not something I've ever had an issue with, so I feel like there's something off about the way the Subaru handles this situation.

Like porpoise says, I carry a jumpstarter that doesn't require a second car. We have this one, basically because that's what Prime Now carried when I needed to get to work that day and was stranded at home. It's fine though; no complaints.

The last time this happened, though, I learned that the trunk is NOT the place to leave the jump starter. We were keeping it in the storage cubby under the cargo mat, with the first aid kit and other stuff like that, and it just so happened that we'd loaded the car the night prior with some tables and chairs to take to a friend. When the battery is dead, the lift gate on our Forester doesn't operate either. It took a whole bunch of headaches to remove the carseat, flip the back seats, move the stuff in the cargo space, get into the storage compartment and get to the charger to get to a point where I could jump start the battery. We keep the jump starter under the front pasenger seat now. The one we bought is quite compact and fits there just fine, cables and all.
posted by terilou at 7:18 AM on November 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Heh. Yeah, I keep mind in the footwell behind the driver's seat. Now.

My 2008 Outback automatically turns off the headlights if I leave them on. But yeah, batteries sometimes does strange stuff, especially in the cold.
posted by porpoise at 11:57 AM on November 11, 2018

It might be a bug, I've got a much older Forester (1999) and it has some kind of firmware bug where it insists the doors are open sometimes usually waiting till you have gone to sleep to decide this. I have to keep the overhead light in the off position, also the alarm used to alarm so now I keep it permanently in valet mode. It is not any of the door switches, if you disconnect the battery for a while and reconnect it will be fine for a while but than the ghost in the machine comes back.
posted by Pembquist at 10:58 PM on November 11, 2018

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