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September 28th, 1999 Article
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OK, so the battery is dead but you want to try and deal with it yourself, what SHOULD you do now? Lots of people just run down to the local parts store and buy a new battery, but if you do that you have less than a 25% chance of FIXING your problem.

Ask yourself these questions FIRST:

  1. Is the battery REALLY dead or is the starter not working?
  2. Is the battery dead or is there a bad connection somewhere?
  3. Is the battery dead because it is no good, or is it dead because the alternator hasn't been recharging it?
  4. Is the battery dead or is there a problem in the ignition switch, starter relay or solenoid?
There are many problems that can cause a dead battery, or make a vehicle not start and you need to do a little testing if you don't want to waste money buying parts you don't need.

I will just give you a few checks that you can do, without any testing equipment that will help get you going in the right direction.

First, turn off all accessories and open a window so that you can hear what is going on. (Unless you are in a rain storm or an area with a lot of noise around.)

Turn the key to the start position and see what kind of noise you hear. If you just hear one click as you turn the key, you may not have a battery problem at all.

Turn on the interior lights so that you can watch them as you turn the key to start again and see if the lights go out or go real dim. If the lights don't change a lot, you most likely don't have a battery problem.

If you just get a single click and just a slight blink of the lights when you try to start, you have a problem with the starting system. (Not necessarily the starter.)

However, if you don't hear any noise AT ALL, do the test again with the interior light on as above. If nothing happens, check to make sure the shifter lever is in the park or neutral position or make sure the clutch pedal is pushed all the way to the floor if it is a standard transmission. You should even try moving the gearshift lever between park and neutral a couple of times and try it again. If you vehicle has a clutch, pump the pedal up and down a couple of times.

If you still don't get anything to happen you may have problems in any of the following areas; Neutral safety switch, (Clutch switch if it is a standard.) Ignition switch, Starter relay or solenoid. Needless to say, this testing will only work if there is enough "JUICE" in the battery to make the lights come on. If the battery is "STONE" dead, you will have no lights at all.

So, what if the battery is stone dead?

This is when you need help from a friend or neighbor with jumper cables.

When you get the vehicles hooked together with the jumper cables, being careful that you hook them up correctly, turn on the interior lights BEFORE you try to start the vehicle.

Watch the lights as you start the vehicle and when the cables are disconnected after it starts. The lights SHOULD go a little dim as the vehicle starts, but then they should go full bright as soon as the engines is running and STAY that bright after the jumper cables are disconnected.

If the vehicle will not stay running after the jumpers are taken off, just leave them hooked up for a few minutes, with the other vehicle running, to get a little juice into your battery.

Now try the test again but still keep an eye on the interior light.

If the vehicle starts and stays running now turn on your headlights after the jumpers are taken off and see what happens to the interior lights. They SHOULD stay as bright as they were when the vehicle first started.

If the interior lights go dimmer as you turn on the headlights, turn the blower fan and wipers on to see if they go dimmer yet. If this does make the lights go dimmer, you have a Charging system problem. (Not necessarily the alternator.)

Next week, how to figure things out if all you get is a Rrrrrrring noise and the engine just turns over very slow.

"TOOT" Rick "The Wrench" - September 28, 1999
Copyright of Rick The Wrench, 1999

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