Among the annals of The Battery Genius’ experience, lies the joy of “First Car Ownership”. We all remember the feeling… Saving your babysitting, (or in my case) Lifeguarding, grocery bagger and Lawn-mowing money to own the first piece of real-honest-to-goodness Freedom and a sliver of the bigger American Dream.
I wanted to own a car so bad from the time I was 5 years old. And today at 40, I STILL have those “gonna own someday” rides I want, after all my kids are finished with college. In my youth, I would spend hours gazing up at my poster of the Porsche 944 with a beautiful Blonde on the hood (My mom HATED that poster), or daydreaming of cruising in a 1978 Camaro with T-Tops with Shannon Kenney (totally awesome cute cheerleader), who would most certainly fall in love with me, because of my ultra-cool ride but also because her boyfriend was a total tool – [sigh] But I digress.
Car shopping doesn’t always turn out like we thought, does it? I soon realized the truth of E-Z Financing, Blue Book Value, Insurance Costs, and Maintenance often erase teenage dreams of automobile bliss faster than ocean waves atop sandy footprints.
Nevertheless, I did find a car. And it sucked.
I should have known it would suck for a handful of reasons, not the least of which was because it was a poorly maintained 1974 Audi 100 LS. However, it looked great inside and out, and it had that little VW 1.8 Liter zip about it, so I lived it up when it WOULD start. Most of my common issues with the Audi were battery-related, because the battery was constantly draining.
I bring this up because I got a warranty call today from a customer. He has a battery in a car he doesn’t drive very much and he is convinced it was the battery. However, after a lot of discussion, I discovered his problem resembles the same issue a lot of older cars (like my Audi) AND a lot of NEWER cars have – OPEN CIRCUITS. These are caused by bad design or bad connections, and are ALWAYS ON and ALWAYS putting a drain on your battery.
This customer only drives the car on weekends and paid big bucks for an Optima Yellow Top Battery but can’t figure out why it doesn’t hold a charge. Because a lot of folks experience problems like this so I thought it best to address this issue, and tell you how to avoid these battery problems.
ON OLDER CARS
Older cars are notorious for open circuits. Bad starters, bad voltage regulators, bad alternators, bad Stereo connections – any one or a combination of them, can spell disaster for a battery.
Disconnect the negative battery cable from the battery.
Next, use a test light into the automobile's electrical circuit by placing it between the negative battery cable and the negative terminal of the battery. Connect one lead of the test light to the negative terminal of the battery and the other lead of the test light to the end of the negative battery cable.
Look at the test light bulb. You will see a dim light coming from it, caused by the normal operation of a few systems that draw power at all times, such as the engine's computer chip on a newer car.
Pinpoint the system that is causing the battery drain using the fuses in the fuse panel. Go to the fuse panel and remove fuses one at a time, each time checking the test light as you have it removed. If the bulb of the test light stays lit while you have the fuse removed, then that system is not causing the battery drain. Replace that fuse and move on to the next one, testing the remaining fuses in the same manner.
Identify the system or device in the car that is draining the battery when the bulb in the test light goes out as you remove the fuse for that system from the fuse panel.
ON NEWER CARS
Newer cars are not often at issue if they haven’t any aftermarket accessories.
Aftermarket Alarms, Stereos, Navigation systems, and Entertainment units are often the cause of such failures.
Another possibility is new Proximity Key cars with push-start ignition systems. These newer “keyless” cars use a proximity system (that is always on) that detects an electronic signature from a keychain device to unlock and allow and your car to start.
Also, new “Vehicle Recovery Systems” and “On Demand Help” systems draw power constantly to relay your car’s digital signature to satellite relays… CONSTANTLY. As in, OPEN 24 Hours.
Manufacturer’s SWEAR these units are only “on” when you push a button, or a driver is within certain radius of the car, but try the above test with a Test Light ($3.00 at Autozone) and tell TBG what You discover!
Batteries that sit without the engine running in collector cars, or newer cars with these systems – AND – that do not have auxiliary chargers often come back to battery dealers with very unhappy customers attached.
WHAT TO DO
Get a trickle charger. If you don’t drive your vehicle every day, without a trickle charger, you’re playing with fire. You can get a very inexpensive Charger from Powerstride Battery for around $30. That includes their FREE GROUND SHIPPING!
If you just don’t drive your car for long periods of time (weeks or months) and don’t feel like buying a charger, it's best to disconnect the battery to prevent it from discharging and going dead.
And by the way, my Audi? We found the open circuit in the Car Stereo wiring… Once that was fixed, my car sucked a little less. But only just a little. Still, I miss daydreaming of "First Car" ownership. I hope you've done good for yourself, Shannon Kenney.