Car Wont Start
January 19, 2008 3:00 PM   Subscribe

My Car wont start, It just clicks when i try and eventually stops doing anything!

My wife has a 98 Mustang. He car sat for a few weeks in cold weather while we where out of town. We tried to start it but the battery was completely dead. We then tried to jump it but all we got where loud clicks. I took the battery to the Auto Parts store where they confirmed that it was completely dead, said most likely something was draining it (thanks auto part store guy). They charged it for an hour i brought it home and put it back in the car. Tried to start it and got clicks......then nothing, it was completely dead again (no lights, auto lock, open car door chime even died slowly and painfully) What else could it be? There where no issues trying to start it before?
posted by slowtree to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's probably the alternator.
posted by box at 3:01 PM on January 19, 2008

(But it could also be the starter, or a bad connection--corroded battery terminals, for example.)
posted by box at 3:04 PM on January 19, 2008

(Here is the third Google result for 'clicking start car.')
posted by box at 3:07 PM on January 19, 2008

Response by poster: The terminals look clean but ill check them again......would an alternator or starter drain the batter to dead after trying to start it just a few times? How can i tell if its one or the other?
posted by slowtree at 3:08 PM on January 19, 2008

The battery died. Completely and utterly, that's all. It won't hold a charge after it has been flattened and frosted while flat. It destroys batteries. So it may have been 'fully charged' but discharged itself entirely almost straight away.

It is possible (and there's every chance at this time of year) that there is nothing wrong with the car other than a duff battery. They usually fail when it gets cold as it is the hardest time for them. Don't charge it, buy a new one (don't scrimp on the new one) and try it. Once you get the new battery on, start it up to check and just make sure that nothing stays on when you turn it off (interior lights etc). If all is well and you have a voltmeter, start the car and have someone hold the revs up a bit and see if the battery is charging (the volts should go up from 12ish to 13-14ish). If it doesn, you have fixed the problem.

Either way, the battery is toast, so you can safely replace it. If it doesn't charge after reinstall, change the alternator (after checking all the wiring).
posted by Brockles at 3:11 PM on January 19, 2008

If you've never replaced the battery before, it could simply be that you need a new one. A normal battery generally lives between 4 - 7 years, so if you've never changed it, you should consider yourself fortunate to have gotten as much life out of it as you have. The same thing happened to me about a month ago. Twice in very cold weather I went to start my car only to find it completely dead. The first time there was all sorts of corrosion on one of the terminals, which could have been causing a short and subsequent drain. Even after cleaning it off and getting a jump start I still found it dead on the next brutally cold morning. A new battery (the old one was just over five years old) did the trick and it was fairly inexpensive. Purchase and install cost about $95.00. Good Luck!
posted by Rewind at 3:12 PM on January 19, 2008

If it doesn

To clarify, that should be 'does'. Excuse my sausage fingers.

would an alternator or starter drain the batter to dead after trying to start it just a few times? How can i tell if its one or the other?

In cold weather, the cells collapse and the battery (while able to hold 12 volts for a period) just doesn't have the capacity it should anymore. Imagine the effect of a water bottle that sucks itself flat in cold weather. That's what's happened, I'd be pretty sure.
posted by Brockles at 3:13 PM on January 19, 2008

Response by poster: Ill purchase a new battery, this one is less than a year old but was not a top of the line brand. One question, Even with a completely dead battery shouldnt i still be able to jump the car? When we try we just get the clicks?
posted by slowtree at 3:19 PM on January 19, 2008

+1 Brockles-- A battery can fail in a way that makes it appear to be charged to the battery charger, but the battery will not actually do much of anything.

One way to check before you buy a new battery- turn the headlights on and then try to start the car. If they dim down to almost nothing while it's clicking, the battery is dead. If there is no change, you've got some other problem.
posted by gjc at 3:21 PM on January 19, 2008

YOu should be able to jump it, yes, but it may not be possible to flow enough current with the dead battery still connected. You may need to leave the two cars connected (with the other one running) for a few minutes to get a little bit into the dead battery to cope with the initial drain of turning the car over. It takes a lot of current surge to turn a car over to start it. Few jump leads are fat enough in terms of the wire size, so can't do it without a battery at all with charge on the other car.

If you're worried, swap the battery of one car onto the mustang and start it that way.

Whether or not the battery went flat for some other reason, though, it being flat in cold weather will have kille dit.
posted by Brockles at 3:23 PM on January 19, 2008

Response by poster: Battery it is. We did leave the car connected and running for about 10 minutes initially. They where cheap jumper cables so not enough current could be the culprit. Regardless of it possibly being an alternator issue (or bad terminal connections etc) if the cold kills dead batteries dead permantly ill have t o get another one anyway. Its a place to start.
posted by slowtree at 3:35 PM on January 19, 2008

Ayup, dead battery. What they said. Extremely common in cold weather. You *might* be able to bring back the old one w/ a couple days at room temp and some distilled water in the cells, but probably not. Most people don't know that you should check your battery at least every 6 months and always before winter for fluid levels.
posted by TomMelee at 5:57 PM on January 19, 2008

I'm not sure where you are, but how cold is cold? If it's cold enough to kill off your batteries, consider getting a battery heater if you have to leave the car again.

How cold does it have to be to kill off car batteries, anyway? Around Fairbanks, the usual recommendation is to make sure your car's plugged in if it's 10-20 below 0 fahrenheit, but I tend to plug mine in this time of year even at 10 above because I've occasionally seen it go from there to -35F in the eight hours I spend at work. The coldest place I've lived before the last couple years is Toronto, where it wasn't cold enough to kill our cars (salty enough to rust them to hulks my dad still drove around after 15 years, maybe).
posted by Cricket at 12:39 AM on January 20, 2008

I'm not sure but I'm pretty sure that for lots of non-arctic places, it's sudden extreme drops in temperature. It's normally around 20-40 here during the winter, but in the last couple days it's been closer to 5-10, and LOTS and LOTS of people with poorly maintained batteries are at the stores, same as always, buying all the batteries. It's also maybe possible that when it's extremely cold, your batteries get warm because they're cycling out and in power, and then when you turn it off it's got a ~80 degree temperature change that happens VERY fast. It's also possible that when you've got your rear defroster on, your fan blowing the heater on high, the radio, windshield wipers, and yadda yadda that you're using up power a little faster than the alternator can regen it, and when you park your battery isn't full. Dunno though. I'd like to figure out why my cars gas mileage drops to crap in the extreme cold, even if I don't run the heater.
posted by TomMelee at 6:54 AM on January 20, 2008

Tom: All modern cars have an alternator rated high enough that you can't actually use more power than the alternator can provide (assuming it is functioning correctly). If you left the car idling with all the things on for an extremely long period, you may have an issue, but as long as you get into the more efficient range of the alternator (above 1500-2000rpm) then it is more than capable of keeping up.

For reference, your heater is just another radiator, like you have at the front of the car. Using it has absolutely no additional loading effect on the engine beyond the electricity to run the fan - a tiny amount. The car needs to lose heat produced by the combustion cycle, it doesn't matter to it if it loses it to he inside of the car, or the air outside through the radiator. The extra load of the other electrics will produce a load on the engine almost the same as running an aircon system through loading the alternator. I suspect your fuel economy problems are related to something else.

Where does your temperature gauge sit in cold weather? If your water thermostat is not functioning correctly, it can cause a drop in fuel economy with the car running out of the optimum range for the fuel map.
posted by Brockles at 7:54 AM on January 20, 2008

I had a 2000 Mustang. It had a similar problem last winter. After lots of tries and empty clicking noises and changing batteries and spark plugs and endless hours, it turns out it was my fuel pump. Read your manual. There is a way to figure out if it is in almost every car.
Good luck! Car problems drain the life out of me.
posted by KB.Boston_implant.By way of NY at 3:23 PM on January 20, 2008

See brockles, I thought so, but this car is just plain *weird*. I switch the heater on and my rpm's drop, yes, I said drop, 200 rpm's or so. It's also got the electrically controlled duct routing, so when you change a zone there's a pause, a zzzzzz and the air moves differently. My car really doesn't get the mileage it should anyway, never ever has, and I've never been able to figure out why. It's a 2004 Dodge Stratus SXT with 37k miles on it. I'm threadjacking though, so I'll shaddup. Temp gauge operates no differently in cold weather than warm, for the record.
posted by TomMelee at 5:30 PM on January 20, 2008

Unless your car has one of those odd, US -style systems that always engages the air-con system unless it is pointed to vent, maybe?

But even then, it will only draw the same as an aircon system, so even more reason cold weather shoudl make no difference as compared to your summer consumption. There certainly isn't any more load than an aircon system in there, that's for sure.

There could be a whole host of reasons your car has crappy mileage, though. If the temp gauge doesn't sit bang in the middle, it may have the wrong thermostat in it. I'd do that for starters. It's such a cheap fix, and they fail as they get older anyway, so a pre-emptive strike is always a good thing to do.
posted by Brockles at 6:02 PM on January 20, 2008

That doesn't explain the bad mileage for winter versus summer, though. As the aircon is presumably running in summer as well, so no difference in loading on the engine. One of the specific elements was 'worse economy in teh winter'.

I think it is related to either the actual temp of the engine (thermostat) or perceived temp of the engine (separate, faulty ECU monitoring temp sender) or a faulty Air flow meter that is somehow affected by the cold (resistance changes by temp, air temp is prevalent influence on AFM temp).
posted by Brockles at 5:14 AM on January 21, 2008

Lol, really trying to avoid threadjacking here! I sent brockles a mefimail with more information. When I say "gets worse mileage" in the winter than the summer I mean I drop from ~20mpg city to ~15-18. The car in question is a 2004 Dodge Stratus SXT. There is no "fresh" vent setting, none at all. I've got a hot/cold twist knob, and a recirc ac, fresh ac, heat face, heat feet, heat face/feet, heat feet/defrost, and defrost. Then there's the fan 1-4 twister. That's the extent of the climate control system.

I already had to replace the fan blower resistor when the fan started to only work on setting 4, but that was this past summer and it's done this always. Interestingly, running the AC in summer seems to have very little affect on mileage, but that's likely confirmation bias, since in the summer I do a lot more running around to various fishing spots and thus less point a to point b stuff.

Car runs rich now as it has always, but throws no codes. Don't know if it's an o2 sensor or the EGR or what. The car has a dealer sticker under the hood that says "PCM reflash", which had to happen between 04 and 05, as I got the car in 05. This car's rated at something like 25/35, and the best best best I've ever seen was 30 on a tank of gas I willingly never took the car over 2500 rpm's with. It's a big hulk for a 4 banger, and I know nobody ever hits their EPA ratings. I just feel that for 15mpg I should be driving something 4 wheel drive, lol.
posted by TomMelee at 6:32 AM on January 21, 2008

« Older Will a Pentax lens fit a Canon camera?   |   Laptop with trackpoint and good graphics? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.