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Insurance Guide

Dead battery? Try these handy tips to get your motor running

Published January 22, 2013
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It’s happened to most of us (especially in a deep freeze) and it’s a mighty pain: you hop in your car, start it up and — nothing.

If this happens to you, these tips might get you going:

Turn off electrical accessories, such as air-conditioning, DVD player, etc., before cranking, so all available power is going to the starter.

If totally dead, check the battery terminals for white corrosion, which can prevent current flow. Remove cables from battery, clean contact surfaces, then replace. Try starting again.

If starter barely cranks or just clicks, try boosting it. You and your helper each take one booster cable lead in each hand by the insulated portion. Don’t let the bare metal contacts touch the ground, each other, either vehicle or any person. Don’t lean on or touch either car while making connections, as you might get a jolt. The helper car should be running.

Basically, it’s “Red to the dead battery; then red to the good; black from the good; to under the hood.” That is, make the final connection to a bare metal part of the engine block, frame, or grounding point away from the dead battery itself.

Let it charge for a minute or so, and then try starting. Disconnect cables in reverse order.

If the battery is more than five years old, you’re best off replacing it right away, as the car might not start again after it’s shut off.

If the battery has shorted internally, it might not accept a boost, nor can the vehicle be push-started.

If the battery is fine but the starter isn’t (not cranking, cranking erratically), you may be able to coax one last start out of it, so you can drive to the repair shop.

Basically, one person turns the key while another continually taps on the starter to get it to bypass a flat spot on the internal contacts and start the car. Use a hammer or a long rod, as necessary, to tap lightly on the starter. For safety, keep hands and clothing clear of the serpentine belt and radiator fan.

Stickshift cars can be push-started if the starter motor fails. Turn key to the “on” position and have a helper push to get car moving forward as you use clutch to engage the second gear to start the vehicle. Use reverse gear if rolling backwards (down your driveway, for example).

If you can trace your battery drain to lights or another accessory left on, a good half-hour drive after starting the vehicle should sufficiently charge it to get you started next time. But, if the battery or starter failed due to old age, drive straight to a repair shop to have it checked or fixed. Don’t make any side trips en route as you’ll undoubtedly turn off the key out of habit, and again be stranded. Or, it could be stolen it the engine is left running.

With all suggestions above, proceed at your own risk. If you’re an auto club member, let them deal with it.

wheels@thestar.ca

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