Electrical Problem: Hope it's just dead battery

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  #1  
Old 12-05-15, 12:24 AM
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Electrical Problem: Hope it's just dead battery

The family and I were sitting in our (gas-powered) Ford Escape listening to the radio without the motor running for around thirty minutes and while we were sitting there, a couple of electric windows were used and the doors were opened and closed, triggering the dome lights. When we were ready to leave, we started the car and drove to a store, a distance of about two miles.

When we were done, the motor lazily turned over a few times and then started clicking as one does with a dead battery, so I pulled out the cables and when the person parked in front of us returned to their vehicle, I asked them for a jump.

The car started, but I didn't actually sit there for any period of time as I should have. Instead I just started driving thinking that I'd get everyone home, then let it run in the driveway for a while.

First I noticed as I drove across the parking lot that the headlights may not have been bright. They were obviously on because I tried turning them off and on. I thought it may have been a problem with it being just past dusk, a low battery and a brightly lit parking lot.

Then, we got on the road and within maybe a mile, it was sort of like the car had lost gumption and there may have been some lunging that wasn't discernible to anyone but the driver. After a few seconds of that, as I moved over to the right lane, it was like it got a little second wind, but it didn't really feel right, so I pulled into the next parking lot. All told, I may have driven two miles.

Over the entire two miles, I hadn't noticed before I had gotten onto the road, but none of the dashboard lights were on -- the radio has been dark for months -- there was also a battery indicator that I had never seen lit in a non-starting situation before.

When I got it off the road, the headlights, taillights or none of the other lights worked and the car wouldn't turn over. Though after calling a cab and them calling me back to say it'd be a while, when I tried it again, the starter may have turned over half a turn.

From what I've read, the battery error light means the alternator isn't putting out enough juice to run and recharge. I'm hoping that when I drive over there in the morning and jump it with my wife's truck, it'll start and we can just sit there in the parking lot letting it recharge for half an hour.

My thinking is that sitting listening to the radio with the kids opening and closing the windows a couple of times may have taken a lot of power, then there was the burst for cranking it and not enough time to charge. My concern is that I've never experienced what felt like a lack of get up and go and I've never seen a car without any dashboard or head lights. (I'm also hoping that if I had accidentally hooked the jumper cables backwards in the dark, the car wouldn't have started from the jump. The reason this has crossed my mind are the internet's reference to the main fuse link)

Before I drive back over there in a couple of hours, any thoughts, suggestions, something I should be prepared to check? The battery on this car has never given us any problems, which is why I didn't think anything of sitting with the motor off, listening to the radio.

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks
 
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  #2  
Old 12-05-15, 12:58 AM
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what year is it? seems to have a lot of issues.
the battery light does usually come on for a alternator issue so suspect you may have a bad alternator good chance the battery is bad also but it would need to be charged up before it can be tested.
if you have a voltmeter you could measure battery voltage with the engine off and engine running to see if there is a voltage difference if the alternator was charging any, the voltage will be slightly higher with the engine running.
would be prepared to remove the battery and have it charged up and tested, you may be able to jump start it but you will likely have to have the cables hooked up for awhile to be able to put enough charge back into it to make it anywhere perhaps if you don't have far to go you can make it to a shop or home.
 
  #3  
Old 12-05-15, 01:17 AM
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It's a 2005. It's never had any kind of electrical issues, other than the battery getting replaced a few years ago and before tonight, this one has never needed a jump. The alternator is the original, but again, I've had no issues before. (It's an '05 Escape, so the transmission is a whole other thing)

I have a multimeter. I've never tested a car battery with it, but if it'll do the trick, I could probably figure it out.

Right now the SUV is in a parking lot, so if it'll start, I could let it run for a while. It's about five miles from the house, but there are several long stop lights between here and there. I'd like to get it home, but before I put it on the road, I'd also like to lean toward halfway sure.

I could replace the battery, if that's what's needed. Though I'd also like to forego the expense. There are a couple of chain repair places across the four-lane, on the other side of a light, but unless we're getting into too deep stuff in too cramped of a position, I kind of like to at least start by trying to repair the car myself. Also, we just recently moved to the area, so I haven't yet picked a garage and the two places with exceptionally good online reviews are both closed on weekends. If I have an idea of what to look for, it gives me a couple of days to try.

Thanks

ETA: PS) Can a dead battery affect a vehicle's get-up and go, beyond the start?
(Though it might also had been in my head because the car obviously went)
 
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Old 12-05-15, 03:00 AM
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There are several possibilities and it could be a combination of factors.The charging light being on generally signifies that the alternator is not providing the proper voltage to charge the battery BUT, depending on exactly how the light is engineered/connected in your vehicle it may not be a faulty alternator.

Failure of the drive belt for the alternator is more common than a failure of the alternator itself in my experience. Since the drive belt often (usually) drives the engine coolant pump as well and an overheating engine will lose power, checking the drive belt is a priority. The drive belt may not be broken but it could be slipping and that would cause a low output from the alternator, too low to properly power the lights when running and too low to properly charge the battery.

Yet another thing to check is the connections of the battery wires at both the battery and the other end where the wires connect. Corrosion on the wire terminals can limit the power flow and prevent starting as well as the recharging of the battery.

Finally, the replacement battery that was installed may be an inferior battery that has failed before it should.

You can test the battery with a multimeter but only to a limited degree. Set the meter to read DC volts on a range slightly higher than 12 volts (probably the 50 volt scale) if your meter allows for range setting. If your meter has auto range setting then ignore this part. Press the test probes firmly into the lead posts on the battery, not the wire terminals. You should read at least 12 volts. While holding the probes in placed have someone attempt to start the engine and observe the voltage. If the voltage sags significantly, below 9 volts, then the battery is definitely in need of a charge and maybe replacement. However, if the voltage drops less than two volts the next step is to remove and clean the battery connections.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 05:17 AM
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What year is the vehicle ?? How old is the battery ??

If you are having starting problems and a jump start works then I would say you either have a weak battery or loose/corroded connections.

I'd bet you $20.00 Canadian the battery is shot.
If Iím wrong (and you could put me up for the winter) I would deliver the $20.00 Can. in person.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 07:06 AM
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2005. He told us. Battery is few years old.
OP, clean terminals and both battery and cables, grease with dielectric grease and reset all back in place.
Check belt tensioner. It should have marks on it and ten yo belt may as well be maxed out and needs to be done. 100 000 miles is normal benchmark for belt replacement.
Get a decent charger and charge battery. If she started from uump, it's likely battery. Battery light coming up same time is sort of odd but coincidences happen.
Short trips won't charge squat especially night time, with lights and fan and what not running.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 09:40 AM
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Thanks for all the help. Quick Update, while I grab tools.

Went, let the car charge for ten minutes using cables. It started and I let it run for what I planned to be twenty minutes.

Initially the battery light wasn't on, but then it lit. I revved the engine a bit and it went out for a few minutes, but then it came back on and wouldn't go out. After maybe ten minutes, the car knocked off and wouldn't turn over on its own.

Hooked the cables up, let it charge for about eight minutes, then decided to go back to the house and get my multimeter which I had inadvertently left on the coffee table.

I have this thread open on my phone. Going to do multimeter test when I get back, then rejump it and am planning to try charging with alternator again while my wife runs a couple of errands. After that, unless the alternator/charging tests bad, I'm trying to decide whether to try a new battery. Best we can remember, the Diehard in it is four or five years old.

Thanks for any and all help. I'll try to keep you informed.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 09:45 AM
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Don't. Unless you want to get your wife stranded. Alternator is not charging. I'd presume, it was undercharging initially and you ended with undercharged battery when all this started. then alternator simply went boynk
Turn engine on and while running, measure voltage at cable clamps.
If it's not around 13.6-14.2, your alternator is not doing the job.
CHECK BELT TENSIONER.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 10:04 AM
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I meant she"d run errands while I charge.

Not sure what's the tensioner. Could Google. Belt looks kinda fine, but there could be some uneveness in it's turn.

If it is the battery I can change, but after looking if it' s the alternator it'd be easier for someone else.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 11:25 AM
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Not sure what your engine. But see pic below. That's belt tensioner. It is continuously applying proper tension to the belt. Tensioner housing - it has spring loaded mechanism inside - usually has 3 marks on it. 2 marks on stationary housing part and one mark on moving tensioner part. 2 marks are useful range past which belt needs to be replaced.
Grab belt between index and thumb fingers and try to turn it 180 degrees. SO that it shows ribbed surface. If you can do this, belt needs to be replaced.
If you have voltmeter, checking voltage can be done by 4 yo.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 11:55 AM
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Thanks again for your help and I'll certainly watch the videos.

As an update (from home with the car still in a parking lot across town), after charging for the eight or so minutes before coming home to get my multimeter, the battery checked at 12.51. We started it under it's own volition and initially the battery light was not on. During this time, the battery alternated between 12.05 and 12.07. After maybe two minutes of monitoring, we took off the multimeter. A couple of minutes later, the battery light came on, so we did the multimeter again and the battery checked at something like 11.54 and over the next minute, it continued to drop.

At that time I hadn't seen the map to the tensioner. Watching the white strip on the belt, it really seemed pretty constant. There also was only one belt visible from the top that looked to go between two points. (It doesn't look like your image and there's nothing that looks like an alternator in sight) Because the garages which have great reviews don't open until Monday and are surrounded by fences, I went across the street to the department store auto center attached to the mall. Her computer shows that if it weren't four wheel drive, it'd be a three hour job, but because it is, you have to remove the transfer case and that's more than a seven hour job, which she bills at $102/per. This would be another argument for taking it somewhere and to go to the places with the good reviews about their honesty. Though my experience is that if the computer says seven hours, then it comes down to price-per.

I'll watch your videos in a bit. If there's anything you or anyone would like to add or anything else you'd like to suggest, I'm all ears because a thousand dollars is more than I'd like to spend on a car my wife had been pushing me to sell. I'd kind of be interested in the schematics of where the alternator is actually located. Based on what I can see and the department store computer saying to take out the transfer case, it's not easy to replace and I interpret that to mean the alternator's down deep.

As always, thanks to everyone for all the help.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 12:42 PM
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That alternator job is no thousand and you need to tell us what engine you have - V6 of 4 cyl. Pic posted is for V6 Duratec. Alternator on it is up front at the top and easy access.

I still do not understand, where you measure voltage. With engine running, you need to measure on cable clamps as that's voltage supplied TO the battery FROM alternator. If that is how you measured, then alternator is not providing enough voltage to the battery. Charging voltage should be around 14V.

Watching the white strip on the belt, it really seemed pretty constant.

No idea what this means. Twist belt, if it twists ribs out easy, it's over stretched.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 01:03 PM
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Just had my 2003 Escape V6 alternator replaced. Four wheel drive. They had to remove the front axle and it took 3 hours. The battery was bad also. First time in a long time I had it done at a shop. I was not feeling good and was cold. Cost me $900.00 out the door, wow that hurt being a DYI'er. New alternator not rebuilt. Yup look at those utube video's.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 02:42 PM
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It's a 6 cylinder. I'm not over there. I'm thinking about going when there's less traffic, charging it for a bit and trying to drive it home or to a garage. It looks like I can't find my tow rope -- we recently moved -- and my wife isn't too keen on the idea of us getting stuck in the middle of a big, busy intersection at a light.

When I checked voltage, it was on the post, not the clamps. The battery checked charged, then after a few minutes, the voltage started to drop. I see now that I was checking in the wrong place and to be honest, I usually look at the manual before I start using the multimeter because I don't use it very often. So, I might not have had it set right.

Again, I'm not over there, so I can't take a pic, but what I have is a stem coming out of what I'd call the valve cover and the belt comes off of the pulley on it, then it goes to something down in there. (My wife's old Ranger has the alternator up top, but this belt goes to something that doesn't really look like an alternator and it's way down. I could see where it might be easier to come from below.)

The belt itself doesn't twist or lift. It feels tight. The white spot is an emblem on the belt that I can watch going around and it looks to be steady. I'm not seeing anything I'd call a slip.

My wife is headed over to that part of town, I asked if she could stop by and snap a pic. Right now we're thinking that instead of towing, early in the morning, we might try to drive it to a garage or to the house, or at least to a different parking lot.

(Personally I like to DIY whenever possible, but to be honest, when it comes to big complicated car repair jobs, I have a tendency to get started, then distracted, then I work for a while until I get distracted again. What should take someone a few hours might take me a week)

Edited to Add: Something that bothers me or raises questions is how it suddenly went bad with no warning, coincidentally after we had sat in the car running the radio for so long, draining the battery.
 

Last edited by TryAgain; 12-05-15 at 03:06 PM.
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Old 12-05-15, 03:12 PM
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When I checked voltage, it was on the post, not the clamps.
Did you remove the clamps and clean both the battery posts and the inside of the clamps first? If you did then it shouldn't make any difference if you checked to the posts or the clamps. If you did NOT clean then the problem could be corrosion between the posts and the clamps. This can occur without any corrosion being visible externally.

I'm still concerned about the engine stopping after a period of time. Do you have a temperature gauge on this vehicle? Did you notice if it was running significantly hotter than normal? If yes, then both problems together (battery not charging and overheating) would point to a loose belt, assuming the same belt drives both the alternator and the water pump.

A short story. I had the serpentine belt changed on my Toyota Camry and about a week later it would squeal every time I went around a turn. The same belt powered the water pump, the power steering pump and the alternator. The repair shop had not properly tensioned the belt and it was slipping with the added load of the PS pump while turning. I tensioned the belt myself and all has been good since that time. A too-loose belt may seem okay but the alternator takes quite a bit of power when it is actually "pumping out the amps" so a loose belt most assuredly will keep it from properly charging the battery.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 04:46 PM
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Furd: Thanks for the reply. I didn't disconnect the clamps. I just held the sensor to the top of the posts. I don't see any corrosion and they're weird little clamps, not the standard type. When we did check the posts, the motor had (silently) knocked-off after I had charged and jumped it, then let it run until the motor cut-out. After that happened, my wife came back from a couple of errands, we reconnected her truck to the broken SUV and let it charge off of her vehicle for probably eight minutes, until we decided to go home and get the multimeter and wrenches I had left on the coffee table.

When we got back, maybe a half hour later, we didn't hook the truck to the Escape. Instead we took a reading from the top of the post, turned the key and the car started. We then held the multimeter contacts to the posts for a couple of minutes, the reading stayed steady between 12.05 and 12.07. After we had stopped monitoring, a couple of minutes later, the battery light came on and holding the multimeter in the same position, the reading was 11.54 and dropping. We then turned the motor off and discussed our options, which included an informational trip to the garage in the mall.

ETA: I didn't notice anything about the temperature gauge. I couldn't see it when the car lost gumption on the road because the dashlights were out, but I didn't notice anything when it died in the parking lot as I tried to charge the battery from the alternator and neither time was it hot under the hood, steam didn't come out and there was no overheating smell. The car just silently shut down.

Michael: I don't know your experience, but I've found that my Escape is great when it works, but when it doesn't, it's a costly repair. I'm sure the department store's price was high -- their hourly rate was considerably more than I've heard or expect -- but any way you look at it, if it's the alternator, I guess they have to take out the axle and/or transfer case. (We had to replace the transfer case a couple of years ago, after the transmission was rebuilt twice (once under warranty from the first)


Ukrbyk (and everyone): When the wife got back to the car, it had gotten dark. Below is a picture taken via flashlight. It doesn't really show a lot, it's just the top of the belt (looking in and down), everything else is below and to get to whatever's on the other end, a lot of stuff has to come out.

Name:  belt.jpg
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Last edited by TryAgain; 12-05-15 at 05:14 PM.
  #18  
Old 12-05-15, 07:00 PM
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its not that uncommon for a bad battery to lead to alternator failure happens on a lot of vehicles and modern alternators are often capable of putting out over 100 amps but doing so also builds up heat and is hard on the alternator causing it to fail also.
would probably see a shop and have it diagnosed just to make sure it is the alternator and battery.
 
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Old 12-05-15, 07:12 PM
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I got it on the belt. So it's not belt, good news.
As someone said, WITH ENGINE RUNNING and NO CORROSION between clamp and post, voltage technically is same as charging voltage and it is TOO LOW to charge battery.
With even bad battery and GOOD alternator, engine should be running. With good battery and bad alternator engine dies as soon as battery is depleted.
Just a word of caution. You seriously hope to actually CHARGE a battery with 8 minute charges? Depleted battery takes about 8 hours from a quality charger at 6amp to charge completely.
Anyhow. So far, stars point toward bad alternator.

Alternator Load Test
With the engine running, turn the A/C on, the blower motor on high speed and the headlamps on high beam.
Increase the engine speed to approximately 2,000 rpm. The voltage should increase a minimum of 0.5 volt above the base voltage.
If the voltage does not increase as specified, carry out the Alternator On-Vehicle Tests in this section.
If the voltage increases as specified, the charging system is operating normally.
Alternator On-Vehicle Tests
Turn off all lamps and electrical components.
Place the transmission range selector lever in NEUTRAL and apply the parking brake.
Carry out the Load Test and No-Load Test according to the following component tests:
Load Test
Switch the battery tester to the ammeter function.
Connect the positive and negative leads of the battery tester to the corresponding battery terminals.
Connect the current probe to the generator B+ output terminal, circuit 36 (YE/WH).
With the engine running, turn the A/C on, the blower motor on high speed and the headlamps on high beam.
Increase the engine speed to approximately 2,000 rpm. The voltage should increase a minimum of 0.5 volt above the base voltage.
If the voltage does not increase as specified, carry out the Alternator On-Vehicle Tests. For additional information, refer to Alternator On-Vehicle Tests - No Load Test in this section.
If the voltage increases as specified, the charging system is operating normally.
Adjust the tester load bank to determine the output of the generator. Alternator output should be at least 58 amps.
No Load Test
Switch the battery tester to the voltmeter function.
Connect the voltmeter positive lead to the generator B+ output terminal, circuit 36 (YE/WH) and the negative lead to ground.
Turn all electrical accessories off.
With the engine running at 2,000 rpm, check the generator output voltage. The voltage should be between 13.0 and 15.0 volts.
Battery - Electronic Drains Which Shut Off When The Battery Cable Is Disconnected
Repeat the steps of the battery drain testing.
Make sure all doors are closed and accessories are off. Without starting the engine, turn the ignition switch to RUN for a moment and then OFF. Wait a few minutes for the illuminated entry lamps to turn off if equipped.
Connect the ammeter and read the amperage draw.
The current reading (current drain) should be less than 50 mA (0.05 amp). If the current drain exceeds 50 mA (0.05 amp) after a few minutes, and if this drain did not show in previous tests, the drain is most likely caused by an inoperative electronic component. As in previous tests, remove the fuses from the battery/central junction box one at a time to locate the problem circuit.


And so on:

| Repair Guides | Charging System | Alternator | AutoZone.com

Removal on 4WD looks like one hour job to me:

3.0L Engine

Before servicing the vehicle, refer to the Precautions Section.

Remove or disconnect the following:
Negative battery cable
Right side intermediate axle shaft
Right side splash shield and retainers
Drive belt
Alternator electrical connectors
Alternator. Torque the mounting and adjusting bolts to 35 ft. lbs. (48Nm).
Maybe 1.5 hr. But no 3 hrs and $900.
 
  #20  
Old 12-05-15, 09:44 PM
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Thanks. We'll go over there early in the morning and at least get it through the big intersection before traffic builds. After that, I'll still have a day to try the tests.

The first time, we hooked the cables and drew power from my wife's vehicle for ten minutes. After unhooking the cables, I was letting it run with nothing voluntarily drawing from the electrical system when it shut itself off. Based on what I've said in other parts of this thread, do you think it'll do good to charge it from her running vehicle longer? I'm thinking that it might just break two, if I take her smaller battery and put it in the SUV. Any thoughts?

Three hours on the repair is in line with what Michael said was the case for him. The department store with what I consider an expensive per-hour's computer is what said seven and a half. Though maybe part of it is to discourage me from using them. The clerk said they only have one person on staff qualified to make the repair and they only work three days a week.

As always, thanks for all the help.
 
  #21  
Old 12-06-15, 10:50 AM
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From your tests, it certainly sounds like the alternator. You need to be planning a route to a repair shop. Dealers are generally high priced so look for an independent shop. If you have met your neighbors, maybe they can recommend a place.

Apparently your battery is still holding a charge, so, with your car off, put the jumpers from your wife's battery to yours. Fast idle the wife's car for ten - fifteen minutes. Then start yours, disconnect the cables, and haul tail to the nearest shop - before it dies on the road. It goes without saying, don't use lights, A/C , radio, or anything that will pull power from the battery.
 
  #22  
Old 12-06-15, 03:52 PM
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Thanks Woody - Based on some of the tests suggested above, I decided it's most likely the alternator. I'm still a bit bothered by the coincidence of it coming immediately after me draining the battery so deeply. I kind of wonder whether maybe I took the battery so far down that the alternator couldn't recoup it, but that doesn't make a lot of sense because the alternator should be putting out more than the usage and that doesn't seem to be the case. I guess it's just a weird coincidence.

This morning before traffic, we charged it for ten minutes, then hightailed it across the big intersection, then across the mall parking lot for a distance of probably a mile. The battery light came on at the light and it came on again just before we stopped.

We then charged it for another ten minutes, drove another mile and a half to a garage that gets good online reviews for doing good work and for being reasonable, who also had a place outside their fence where I could stick it until they open in the morning. If for some reason they can't do it or if it looks like their reviews may be wrong, there are two other garages within a half mile with similar reviews, all of which are reasonably close to my house. (I called and left a message that the car would be for repair and that I'd be coming by)

Of course I'm going to let them diagnose it on their own, but I'm going to use the information from above as a measure of what they're saying. As for asking the neighbors, there are a couple of guys down the street who work on their own stuff, but pretty much everyone else sort of gives that "my car is under warranty" vibe. Online reviews aren't perfect, but they're at least a start.

Of course I'd love to DIY it and as you may have seen in that other thread, my last house had a pretty good garage and I have tons of the right tools, but I just have a lot on my plate right now and we're down to having my wife's pickup, so I just have to get it fixed.

Thanks to everyone for the help. If I learn it's something else, I'll let you know and of course if anyone knows of any cautions I should be listening for from the mechanic, I'd appreciate the heads-up.
 
  #23  
Old 12-08-15, 07:19 AM
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Update: We took it to a garage. I told him the same story I've told in this thread. He ran his own tests and came up with the same diagnoses. I wish I could DIY it, but the garage in my new house isn't yet set up for major repairs -- I haven't even unpacked all of my tools -- and I just have a lot on my plate, so they're going to make the repair. The estimate is in line with what @Michael said he paid, in case anyone finds this thread because they have similar problem.

Thanks for the help. I appreciate all that everyone said.
 
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