2018 Toyota Yaris iA problems
February 1, 2021 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I have a 2018 Toyota Yaris iA (which is sold as a Mazda 2 in other markets), automatic, and didn't drive it enough during the pandemic. It's having increasingly severe problems: First it needed to be repeatedly jump started, then maintenance lights on the dash turned on. Now it seems to be having problems shifting gears. My guess is that it needs a new battery, but I'd like to know if there could be something else causing these issues, and if it's something I can fix or if I need a professional.

Starting in March 2020 (for obvious reasons), my wife and I worked from home full time, got our groceries delivered, and pretty much stopped driving anywhere except for maybe once a month. During this time we had some issues with one of the key fobs not working to unlock or start the car, so I went ahead and replaced the batteries in both key fobs, which seemed to fix that issue. A maintenance warning to change oil due to time (not mileage) also came on during this time, but I ignored it since the car takes full synthetic, possibly a bad call?

Mid-December, we took the car on a two super short drives on city streets, less than 5 minutes each way. No issues at this point.

Just before Christmas, it wouldn't start when I pressed the start button. The infotainment system, and lights would turn on when pressing the start button, but the speedometer would only bounce a little bit and the engine would not turn over. After getting a jump start from a family member, we drove the car for about 30 minutes, including highway driving. During that drive a tire pressure warning light turned on.

On Christmas day, the car started without issues. I filled the tires to the correct pressure, and drove about 15 minutes at about 45 MPH to a visit a family member. On the way back it also started without issues.

We didn't try to drive the car again until mid-January (I know), and it wouldn't start, with the same presentation as before. I jump started it with one of those portable battery jump starters that Wirecutter recommends, and my wife drove it for a very short distance, about 5 minutes. She had to use the jump starter again to get it started to come home. I'm assuming that short drive wasn't long enough to charge the battery.

Yesterday, she took the car out to try to get the battery properly charged, which required jumpstarting the car again. When it started, several yellow dash warning lights turned on: Check Engine, Smart City Brake Support (which is the low-speed collision prevention system, with radar or something), Low Washer Fluid, Tire Pressure, and TCS/DSC Indicator (which I think is traction control and brake assist).

When she took it out on the road the automatic transmission didn't want to shift out of first gear. I'm not sure if it ever up-shifted or just took longer than it should have. The car does have a mode where you can control the up-shift and down-shifts as if it is was a manual, and it's possible to accidently put the shifter in that mode if you aren't paying attention. While it's possible that's what happened, when she got home I checked that the shifter was in D (and not M) and we took the car up and down the driveway. It did seem like the automatic transmission wasn't shifting up when it normally would. In other words, the RPMs were higher than expected.

My guess/hope is that the warning lights and the shifting issues were both caused by a bad battery and replacing the battery will fix everything. Should I just go ahead and order one online and replace it myself? Would it make sense to get a cheap OBD reader and try to pull the codes? Is it possible that the car needs a professional to look at it? If so, there's a mechanic close by down the street I could limp the car to, or would it need to be towed?

Thanks, and once we get this fixed we are going to be better about driving it regularly :)

Other random details:
It has just under 24,000 on the odometer.
We bought the car new in April 2018 for a super cheap price, since it had been sitting on the dealer's lot unsold for a while, probably a few months. Maybe this contributed to the bad battery?
I double-checked at several times that the interior lights were off and that there wasn't anything plugged into the USB or cigarette power ports.
posted by arcolz to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
Start with a new battery. I'm not familiar with a lot of relevant details, but you've obviously got charging problems, which can create all sorts of odd symptoms in modern cars. My experience with motorcycles suggests that smaller vehicle batteries are much less tolerant of neglect than larger ones.
posted by jon1270 at 9:27 AM on February 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

I would definitely limp it down the road to get the battery checked*. Checking the charge level of the battery and checking the alternator is putting out enough power to charge the battery are both pretty quick checks and should reveal whether either needs replacing.
*(Assuming you can get it started and it's a safe road to drive in first gear)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:33 AM on February 1, 2021

Your only problem was driving only five minutes each time. Would have been good to drive at least twenty minutes, getting the engine to full temperature, but also fully charge the battery. You should also have a small battery maintainer plugged in or one of those solar kits to keep the battery up. The battery wasn't bad, but you basically haven't charged it in a year and it damages them badly to run them so low you need a jump start.

You are right on the oil, it doesn't really need to be changed. It is not the same as what's in the transmission. I think the jump starts are making the computer angry. Get a new battery and let it be unplugged for a few minutes while you install it. Then keep it charged this time! :)
posted by flimflam at 10:02 AM on February 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I agree with the above replies that your battery is likely the culprit. Your profile lists your location as Atlanta, in which case a 3-year-old battery may very well have reached the end of its useful life. (The image is straight from Toyota's website.) Coupled with the fact that car batteries aren't intended to be constantly discharged and recharged, it should be the first thing to address.
posted by Seeking Direction at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2021

Best answer: Get a new battery first. Consider checking with your regional AAA organization, they will do some battery changes but not others (like our Priuses use expensive AGM starter batteries that are hidden under the hatch, it's a pain and they stopped replacing them in the past year, but I know other people with normal batteries who've gotten then replaced), and if they will do yours join and do that. It's worth having anyway.

After the battery change, see if you have any additional warning indicators. If so get to a mechanic to get a diagnostic.

Schedule 1 hour of driving every other weekend. Put on a podcast, get on a highway for 30 minutes and then come back. Five minute drives on an uncharged battery will do extra damage to your storage capacity.

Three years is all you can assume you will get out of a battery, anything past that is bonus and you should be prepared to replace it. If you get close to 5 years, definitely go ahead and do it, don't wait for it to fail because it'll never be at a convenient time.

Be real careful with the 12v socket jumpers, because you can fry your electrical system. There are rechargeable battery-clamp jump devices that are safer. You should avoid jumping as much as possible in the first place, though, because you're shortening the life of the battery and risking your electrical system every time.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:37 AM on February 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm guessing that the car wouldn't shift out of first because it was in a limp mode and also guessing that it was in a limp mode due to all the warnings due to the battery being low. You could try jumping it and idling it for a LONG time to see if the battery can be saved, otherwise I would invest in a new battery. Occam's razor says this is all electrical, but I don't have specific knowledge of this car so I'd be happy to be corrected.
posted by ftm at 11:30 AM on February 1, 2021

Cars are now huge computers with wheels. They don't turn off when you turn them off. You need to use or at least run it every week. We are having the same problem and Sundays have a recurring alarm on our phones to run the unused car(s).
posted by fritley at 11:33 AM on February 1, 2021

An auto-repair shop should be able to test the battery properly using a separate battery tester. They can usually tell if any of the cells in the battery is malfunctioning just by attaching the two leads (while it's NOT connected to your car). Disconnecting the battery also clears all the "codes" in your car's internal diagnostics.

So yes, start with the battery. If you still get codes or hard starts, it could be other problems, such as a "weak alternator", which can also contribute to your entire electrical system malfunctioning / glitching.

But basically, describe the problem to the advisor / intake, but do not offer opinions. Your first two suspects are battery, and alternator, but don't tell him that.
posted by kschang at 12:14 PM on February 1, 2021

During the period I wasn't using my car much, my rule was 20 minutes uninterrupted driving each week, if possible as the "last leg" of whatever weekend errands I was running. When I left a light on and ran a new battery down, the nice man from the assistance service told me that after the jump start, I had to drive for an hour with all battery drains off (so no radio, A/C, seat heating etc) to get it to full juice again.

Do what I did when the old car died in the winter due to not driving for several weeks: get the mechanic to drive over in his car and jump it from the other engine (for several minutes, to give the battery a bit of a charge), drive along with them to the garage, and have them take out the battery and test whether it still holds its charge at all. If it does, they can charge it in a healthy way and you're golden. If it doesn't, time for a new battery.

Anecdotally, a friend of mine ran through a battery per 10 months. Because his commute was 5 minutes each way and he insisted it had to be by car.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:18 PM on February 1, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Longer and more frequent drives are definitely on the schedule for the future.

For COVID safety, time, and general stress, I'd like to try replacing the battery myself before going to a mechanic. Sounds like the consensus is that a replacement battery is the best bet and to follow up with a professional if that doesn't resolve the issues.

I guess that leads me to trying to figure out which kind of battery I need to get. It looks like I need an AGM Group 35?
  • Amazon has only one battery it claims fit this model
  • Autozone has a few that it claims are "OE Exact Fit" and a few more that are "Alternate Fit"
  • Advance Auto Parts also has a bunch. Some that are "OE Exact Fit" and others that require a bottom or top height adapter.
  • Walmart says they have no batteries that fit 2018 Toyota Yaris iA :P
Any recommendations for what I should get?
posted by arcolz at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2021

Two recommendations once you got it fixed so it won't happen again:

* battery isolator switch -- basically a disconnect. You can't drain a battery that's not connected. The catch is, of course, you need to turn it back on BEFORE you can start the car. Though some "smart" switches use solenoid relays and switches automatically depending on voltage. Obviously a manual one would be cheaper. Technically this would also let you connect an auxiliary battery, but that's probably overkill here.

* battery maintainer, aka float charger -- something that goes between your garage AC plug and your car battery. Pretty much... leave your hood up, and connect this,to your battery in the garage. It will keep the battery charged properly, even for months.
posted by kschang at 12:26 PM on February 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Depending on your COVID concern threshold, Advance will install the battery for you gratis which I assume would confirming you're buying one that's about to fit correctly. I think Autozone does too but I can't find it confirmed on their website.
posted by ftm at 1:32 PM on February 1, 2021

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