Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

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azurekep
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Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Fri Aug 25, 2017 6:15 pm

I'm helping someone else with their car and trying to isolate the problem. It likely will have to be towed to a repair shop, but I'd like to narrow down what the problem could be.

I'll leave out the make and model since I'm trying to get generic answers. The plan is to pass the problem on to an expert, but to be semi-informed about it.

Symptoms

1. Key fob doesn't work.

2. Spare key fob doesn't work.

3. Power door locks not working

4. Engine not turning over.

Observations so far:

- Key fob batteries are good. The key fob battery is apparently good since the main and spare fobs died at the same time. I seriously doubt both batteries would die at the same time.

- Unable to reprogram the key fob. The fact that the power door locks aren't working means I couldn't reprogram the key fobs since engaging the power door locks is part of the process.

- Uncertain if door (or other) fuse is involved. If the power door lock fuse is blown, I wouldn't know since there is no easy access to the fuse box (car is in a garage)

- Uncertain if Immobilizer system is involved. As I understand it, the immobilizer system disables the fuel pump but not the starter. The fact that the engine doesn't crank suggests it's not a problem with the immobilizer. Add to this the fact that I tried resetting the immobilzer system per the owner's manual to no avail.

Some cars have a separate anti-theft system that DOES disable the starter, but this car isn't so equipped.

I'm just looking for general ideas here on what could be wrong. I stopped trying to examine things on my own after reading that too much messing around with the ignition or chip-equipped key can result in inadvertant lockouts. That may have already happened with the disabled starter, even though as said before, that shouldn't happen when the immobilizer kicks in.

EDIT: I didn't make it clear in this first post that the original complaint was that the key fob didn't work. That's why I began with that. It wasn't until later that the other problems (nonfunctional door locks, engine not cranking) came to light. Hope that clarifies things and explains why I tried reprogramming the key fob.
Last edited by azurekep on Sun Aug 27, 2017 2:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

BHUser27
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by BHUser27 » Fri Aug 25, 2017 7:16 pm

What is make model & year of car?

The two simplest things to try first:
1) Check all fuses under hood & under dash. Very easy to do with a low cost volt meter. I don't understand why you can't do this in the garage?
2) Pull the negative terminal off the battery for a minute, then reconnect it. This might reset the computer and/or immobilizer in case it is "confused".

azurekep
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Fri Aug 25, 2017 10:03 pm

BHUser27 wrote:
Fri Aug 25, 2017 7:16 pm

1) Check all fuses under hood & under dash. Very easy to do with a low cost volt meter. I don't understand why you can't do this in the garage?
I had a multimeter that died and I never used it that much anyway. A volt meter would actually be better -- more simplistic. Any recommendations on a low cost volt meter?

There are two cars in the garage and it's very cramped. The car in question is next to the wall with little clearance. One can barely squeeze into the driver's seat, let alone bend under the dash with legs hanging out and banging into things.

The garage overhead light recently went out so the garage is dark as well. The ladder, which could be used to fix the light, was borrowed by someone who hasn't returned it.

If there's a likely chance this is just a fuse issue, I'd go out and get a voltmeter. But the fact that absolutely nothing works, not even the engine, suggests there's more to it.

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jabberwockOG
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by jabberwockOG » Fri Aug 25, 2017 10:50 pm

Sounds like you don't have a way to actually troubleshoot the car in the space that it is in. Push the car out of the garage so you have adequate light and access.

First thing to do is test the battery if you have a battery tester, or take the battery out and take it to walmart or pep boys, etc and have it tested. If battery checks out then check all fuses. The problem is almost certainly electrical in nature because doors won't unlock in addition to starter not turning. I'd guess windows open and close very sluggishly if they move at all?

If battery is fine and fuses are fine it may be one or more ECM/ECU's that are faulty especially if the car is more than 10 years old.

Was the car operating fine one day and totally dead the next day - what happened or changed in between to the car? Did someone try jumping the car and damage the electrical system? Did it sit for 2 months? Nearby lightning hit? Were any electronics or other mechanical components modified, repaired, installed recently?

Alternatively pay to have the car towed to local competent repair shop. Check if owner has AAA or towing coverage on their insurance.
Last edited by jabberwockOG on Fri Aug 25, 2017 10:57 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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El Greco
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by El Greco » Fri Aug 25, 2017 10:54 pm

Sounds like a dead car battery

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by bampf » Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:49 am

Battery is the simplest explanation.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by bampf » Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:49 am

Battery is the simplest explanation.

azurekep
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 1:06 am

jabberwockOG wrote:
Fri Aug 25, 2017 10:50 pm

First thing to do is test the battery if you have a battery tester, or take the battery out and take it to walmart or pep boys, etc and have it tested. If battery checks out then check all fuses. The problem is almost certainly electrical in nature because doors won't unlock in addition to starter not turning. I'd guess windows open and close very sluggishly if they move at all?
I do have a portable jump starter. Can I try that even if a dead battery isn't the problem?

The power windows don't move at all though I'm not sure they'd move anyway unless the engine was on. The power door locks, on the other hand, normally operate all the time.
Was the car operating fine one day and totally dead the next day - what happened or changed in between to the car? Did someone try jumping the car and damage the electrical system? Did it sit for 2 months? Nearby lightning hit? Were any electronics or other mechanical components modified, repaired, installed recently?
The car was last used about two weeks ago and ran great at the time. It's the normal workhorse of the two cars, but things were piled on top of the trunk temporarily, so the other car was used during the last two weeks.

The first indication anything was wrong was yesterday when the key fob didn't operate. After being enlisted to help, I read up on key fob batteries, reprogramming, and so on. While trying to reprogram the fob, I learned that the power door lock didn't work as that (lock activation) was part of the reprogramming procedure. I should have stopped there, but I tried reprogramming anyway, and I wonder if I may have messed things up putting the ignition key in and taking it out 11 times per instructions. It was at that time, it became apparent the engine wouldn't crank. The car's owner thinks the engine cranked earlier (while the key fob wasn't working), but couldn't swear to it.

Another thing I did was attempt to reset the vehicle's immobilzer system. Per the owner's manual, it involved several turns of the ignition key. Again, I wonder if I messed anything up if the culprit was NOT the immobilizer.

At any rate, I'm a little confused why this could be a dead car battery (the most popular opinion so far) when the key fobs don't work.

This car, as a matter of fact, had a battery change about a year ago. Granted, the battery could have died in that short span of time, but no lights were left on.

Edit: After thinking about it, I'm agreeing that it's probably a dead battery. The key fob doesn't work because anything attached to it (the trunk, the doors, etc. ) needs at least a little bit of electricity to operate. I've been blinded by the fact that I've never encountered a completely dead battery before and so never encountered a fob that didn't work.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by neilpilot » Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:15 am

A few relevant points to consider:

[1] If the key fob AND power locks are both inoperative, there's a 99=% probability it ISN'T the key fob

[2] Places like harbor freight sell multimeters for under $5, and they often offer that one for free with a coupon. Why would you buy a voltmeter?

[3] Want more room working on the car in your garage. Pull the OTHER car out. :)

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by dbr » Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:41 am

The most obvious and reasonably probable explanation for all these symptoms is that the battery is dead. Multiple fuses don't just blow from sitting for two weeks in a garage.

As far as testing fuses, I would have done it by removing the fuse and using an ohmmeter to test for continuity, aka measure a resistance of zero ohms. I am not sure what only a voltmeter would accomplish distinct from a multimeter with an ohmmeter function. Some fuses can be determined to be blown by visual examination.

Apropos of another thread, wiring has been eaten by rats, possums, or raccoons.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:54 am

Turn on the dome light inside the car. Does it light? No? Dead battery. Likely was on for the entire 2 weeks the car was left.
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just frank
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by just frank » Sat Aug 26, 2017 10:23 am

Dead battery....can def happen 'suddenly' after not sitting for two weeks. How old is the battery?

Yes you can try a portable starter...make sure the portable is well charged first (!) and follow the instructions that came with it. That said, if the battery is very dead, it might not work.

You can also buy **jumper cables** and jump the car from the other car.

If/when you do get the car started....plan on driving it to a shop for a new battery.

And buy a nice flashlight or lantern and put an LED bulb in the garage overhead light!

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Sat Aug 26, 2017 11:20 am

If you do anything with the battery including removal, disconnecting, jumping, etc., be sure to wear eye protection. It is not likely, but sparks can make an auto battery explode ( the inside space above the electrolyte is filled with hydrogen and oxygen).

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by Suman » Sat Aug 26, 2017 11:36 am

The garage overhead light recently went out so the garage is dark as well. The ladder, which could be used to fix the light, was borrowed by someone who hasn't returned it.
Seems like your starts and planets are not aligned properly at this time.

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wander
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by wander » Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:27 pm

1. Key fob doesn't work.

2. Spare key fob doesn't work.

I wonder why you even try to mess with reprogramming the key fob? It has nothing to do with it. Yes, you can attach a portable starter battery with bad or good car battery as long you don't cross over the cables. Other posters have given hint about the battery issue. That's the most probable and your only option since you don't have multi meter. Your other option is to check/clean the battery posts and visual check the fuses and everything else.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by bottlecap » Sat Aug 26, 2017 1:22 pm

This has obviously been solved by previous posters in my mind.

Key fob does not work but batteries are good would make me think of the door lock actuator.

But all door lock actuators going out at the same time AND the car doesn't start? Too much of a coincidence.

If not the battery, then the electrical system.

I hope it's the battery.

JT

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by Kingston73 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:14 pm

If you had a simple multimeter you could check the battery. If the battery is more than maybe 6 or 7 years old it’s due to be replaced. It doesn’t take much to kill an old battery, just a dome light on overnight can do it. Sitting unused will also put a strain on an already weak battery. As everyone else has said, I’d start with that before looking at anything else. Good luck, let us know if/when you find the cure.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by Wakefield1 » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:20 pm

wander wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:27 pm
1. Key fob doesn't work.

2. Spare key fob doesn't work.

I wonder why you even try to mess with reprogramming the key fob? It has nothing to do with it. Yes, you can attach a portable starter battery with bad or good car battery as long you don't cross over the cables. Other posters have given hint about the battery issue. That's the most probable and your only option since you don't have multi meter. Your other option is to check/clean the battery posts and visual check the fuses and everything else.
I hope that the attempts to reprogram the key fobs have not further complicated the situation.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:26 pm

Suman wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 11:36 am
The garage overhead light recently went out so the garage is dark as well. The ladder, which could be used to fix the light, was borrowed by someone who hasn't returned it.
Seems like your starts and planets are not aligned properly at this time.
Dang eclipse. Screws everything up. :P

azurekep
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:33 pm

just frank wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 10:23 am
Dead battery....can def happen 'suddenly' after not sitting for two weeks. How old is the battery?
I spoke (and maybe mispoke) earlier that it was a year old. But that may have been the other car's battery. I'll have to check on that next week.
Yes you can try a portable starter...make sure the portable is well charged first (!) and follow the instructions that came with it. That said, if the battery is very dead, it might not work.
I'm currently reading through all the comments, but this is the one I needed first. I'm the kind of guy who needs to know what NOT to do before actually doing anything. I went to the effort of researching portable jump-starters and feeling smug that I now had one for emergencies. But wouldn't that be ironic if using it on a completely dead battery would blow up the garage? :P Now I can rest easy and know that's something I can try next week.
If/when you do get the car started....plan on driving it to a shop for a new battery.
Yeah, that's the plan assuming it's a battery issue.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:38 pm

Wakefield1 wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:20 pm
wander wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:27 pm
1. Key fob doesn't work.

2. Spare key fob doesn't work.

I wonder why you even try to mess with reprogramming the key fob? It has nothing to do with it. Yes, you can attach a portable starter battery with bad or good car battery as long you don't cross over the cables. Other posters have given hint about the battery issue. That's the most probable and your only option since you don't have multi meter. Your other option is to check/clean the battery posts and visual check the fuses and everything else.
I hope that the attempts to reprogram the key fobs have not further complicated the situation.
That's my big worry. My own car doesn't use a fob and doesn't have any fancy computer-electronics. These more modern cars have multiple layers of security to ensure against theft. If I've inadvertently shut down the system and caused a lock-down, it would probably require a trip to the dealer to reprogram everything. That would cost an arm and a leg.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:53 pm

neilpilot wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:15 am
A few relevant points to consider:

1. If the key fob AND power locks are both inoperative, there's a 99=% probability it ISN'T the key fob
Agree.

These threads are supposed to be instructive for others, so what I found is that instead of just noting that a key fob is inoperative and jumping into looking how to fix it, one should make sure the car itself -- ignition, door locks, etc. -- work. My mistake was in thinking of the fobs as isolated objects when they're actually part of the vehicle system as a whole.
2. Places like harbor freight sell multimeters for under $5, and they often offer that one for free with a coupon. Why would you buy a voltmeter?
I had one of those cheapo multimeters. I only used the voltage part of it and only rarely. I had to read the instructions each time to make sure I was doing it right. (I'm into computers, not electronics. :) ) A voltmeter would be more straightforward to use, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to find one last time I looked.
3. Want more room working on the car in your garage. Pull the OTHER car out. :)
Driver's side (of the disabled car) is next to the wall. :(

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by neilpilot » Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:58 pm

azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:53 pm
3. Want more room working on the car in your garage. Pull the OTHER car out. :)

Driver's side (of the disabled car) is next to the wall. :(
I don't see that matters at all. Just get in on the passenger side and slide over?

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:00 pm

dbr wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:41 am
The most obvious and reasonably probable explanation for all these symptoms is that the battery is dead. Multiple fuses don't just blow from sitting for two weeks in a garage.
Agree.
As far as testing fuses, I would have done it by removing the fuse and using an ohmmeter to test for continuity, aka measure a resistance of zero ohms. I am not sure what only a voltmeter would accomplish distinct from a multimeter with an ohmmeter function.
So it's ohms, not volts? Either way, it wouldn't make sense to get a multimeter if I'd have to pull out all the fuses anyway. I was thinking the multi/volt/ohm/whatever meter would allow for leaving them in while just touching them with the probes.

Granted, there is labeling of the fuses on the fusebox panel. But they aren't descriptive enough. I'd have to pull several... and that's just the under-dash fuses. There are the ones in the engine compartment as well. The owner's manual doesn't bother to map them out like they do in my own car's manual.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:03 pm

neilpilot wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:58 pm
azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:53 pm
3. Want more room working on the car in your garage. Pull the OTHER car out. :)

Driver's side (of the disabled car) is next to the wall. :(
I don't see that matters at all. Just get in on the passenger side and slide over?
Sure I can, but it doesn't buy me much. Once there, I'd still have to hang my legs out the door (banging into things) on the driver's side while crawling under the dash.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by neilpilot » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:06 pm

azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:03 pm
neilpilot wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:58 pm
azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:53 pm
3. Want more room working on the car in your garage. Pull the OTHER car out. :)

Driver's side (of the disabled car) is next to the wall. :(
I don't see that matters at all. Just get in on the passenger side and slide over?
Sure I can, but it doesn't buy me much. Once there, I'd still have to hang my legs out the door (banging into things) on the driver's side while crawling under the dash.
I guess your comment that "There are two cars in the garage and it's very cramped." mislead me into thinking that the other car was creating a problem in working on the disabled car. My bad for reading your comment and assuming that it mattered.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:07 pm

Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:54 am
Turn on the dome light inside the car. Does it light? No? Dead battery. Likely was on for the entire 2 weeks the car was left.
That's a good check because a dome light wouldn't be part of the anti-theft, engine mobilization system.

I'll try that next week. Thanks for the idea.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:09 pm

neilpilot wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:06 pm
azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:03 pm
neilpilot wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:58 pm
azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 2:53 pm
3. Want more room working on the car in your garage. Pull the OTHER car out. :)

Driver's side (of the disabled car) is next to the wall. :(
I don't see that matters at all. Just get in on the passenger side and slide over?
Sure I can, but it doesn't buy me much. Once there, I'd still have to hang my legs out the door (banging into things) on the driver's side while crawling under the dash.
I guess your comment that "There are two cars in the garage and it's very cramped." mislead me into thinking that the other car was creating a problem in working on the disabled car. My bad for reading your comment and assuming that it mattered.
The other car would create a problem once it came to working under the hood. I just hadn't gotten that far. So your assumption wasn't off base.

But the main issue is not only crawling under the dash, but having to keep entering the driver's side to test things. There simply isn't much clearance.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:19 pm

wander wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 12:27 pm
1. Key fob doesn't work.

2. Spare key fob doesn't work.

I wonder why you even try to mess with reprogramming the key fob?
That was the first thing that came up when researching the issue.

The advice was: if your key fob doesn't work, check the fob's battery.

If a dead battery is ruled out, reprogram the fob.

What I may not have made clear is that the key fob was the original problem. The phone call I got was "My key fob doesn't work. Can you take a look at it?" It wasn't until later that the other problems were found.

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just frank
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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by just frank » Sun Aug 27, 2017 8:49 am

azurekep wrote:
Sat Aug 26, 2017 3:19 pm
What I may not have made clear is that the key fob was the original problem. The phone call I got was "My key fob doesn't work. Can you take a look at it?" It wasn't until later that the other problems were found.
Ah. This makes sense. You were diagnosing a problem over the phone through a third party.

Sounds like you have it on the run now....let us know how it works out. :D

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:35 pm

UPDATE:

Problem was indeed a dead battery. Thanks all for your help. It takes a village. :D

Battery is only 9 months old so that's concerning. But it checked out as still good.

I volunteered to do the jump-starting since I wanted to try out my portable jumper. I did the red to red, black to metal as per the instructions. With the exception of triggering a horn once or twice, I got a spark every time I did the black to metal. That's not supposed to happen and could cause a fire/explosion. I got cold feet and called a gas station guy to do the jumping. He used black to black instead of black to metal and successfully jump-started the battery. (A horn blew at some part during his process and he said it indicated the security system was on.)

Any ideas what might have gone wrong? I have a JumpNCarry-660 which is supposed to be one of the better lead-acid-battery-based portable jumpers. It was fully charged.

In the past, I've jump-started batteries using jumper cables and using the black terminal instead of bare metal for the last clamp. Should I go back to that? That's what the gas station guy did.

FWIW, I also had trouble finding good metal under the hood to work with. Guidelines say it should be bare metal, not painted metal. Every metal surface I tried either gave off a spark or caused the horn to blow. If using the black terminal is safe, I'd like to go back to that.

Also, while gas station guy used a hand-held jumper and hovered over the hood during the process (not safe in my book), my JumpNCarry is heavy and I placed it on the floor on a box-like object. Box was tall enough to allow the red cable to just reach the red terminal, but I wondered how firm the connection was since the cable was stretched to its limit. Just curious where others place their heavy portable jumpers when in use.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:28 pm

Whenever you use jumper cables, you are completing the circuit when the last connection is made and this will cause a spark. The reason for connecting to bare metal instead of the battery terminal is to put some distance between the spark and the battery. The farther away the spark is from the battery, the less likely the battery will explode due to ignition of the gasses. In other words, you did not do anything wrong.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:56 pm

sport wrote:
Tue Aug 29, 2017 10:28 pm
Whenever you use jumper cables, you are completing the circuit when the last connection is made and this will cause a spark. The reason for connecting to bare metal instead of the battery terminal is to put some distance between the spark and the battery. The farther away the spark is from the battery, the less likely the battery will explode due to ignition of the gasses. In other words, you did not do anything wrong.
That makes sense, thanks.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by just frank » Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:44 am

I second @sport 's advice.

I personally think the risk of battery 'explosion' is incredibly low, and don't worry about it at all. See how non-chalant your garage guy was, who does this multiple times per day. It can only happen if (1) the battery is fully or overcharged AND (2) there is an open circuit (internal battery defect) where the spark can happen internally. It is hard to imagine both of these happening at the same time. In your case of a battery that is likely dead (no hydrogen expected) and has been sitting for a week or more like that (any hydrogen from the last charging cycle has leaked out) the odds of explosion are ZERO.

That said, safety DOES mandate keeping your sensitive parts away from the battery during the procedure.

The 'feature' where the horn honks when you hook it up....that stinks. It just serves to freak out nervous people. My car honks when you inflate the tires. Makes me jump every time.

Glad its all worked out!

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:46 am

just frank wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:44 am
I second @sport 's advice.

I personally think the risk of battery 'explosion' is incredibly low, and don't worry about it at all. See how non-chalant your garage guy was, who does this multiple times per day. It can only happen if (1) the battery is fully or overcharged AND (2) there is an open circuit (internal battery defect) where the spark can happen internally. It is hard to imagine both of these happening at the same time. In your case of a battery that is likely dead (no hydrogen expected) and has been sitting for a week or more like that (any hydrogen from the last charging cycle has leaked out) the odds of explosion are ZERO.
When I worked in the battery industry, one of my projects was to design flame arresting vent systems to prevent battery explosions. I disagree with your explanation. The risk of explosion is low, but not for the reasons you state. The head space in the battery is filled with hydrogen and oxygen, whether or not the battery is charged. While an open circuit could cause an explosion, that is not the problem when jump starting. If a spark is created external to the battery and that spark comes in contact with a wisp of hydrogen coming from the battery, the hydrogen can be ignited and the flame can travel back into the battery and cause it to explode. The reason the likelihood is low for this to happen is that modern batteries contain flame arrestors to prevent flame from travelling back into the battery. However, when it comes to protecting your eyes, you do not want to depend on such a device being installed and working correctly. It is better to use safe practices. It is true, however, that when a battery is fully charged, the risk is higher (such as when a charger clamp is removed).

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by neilpilot » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:56 am

sport wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:46 am
It is true, however, that when a battery is fully charged, the risk is higher (such as when a charger clamp is removed).
Don't you unplug the charger just prior to removing the clamps? Also, are most risks mitigated when charging the typical modern, i.e. sealed, battery?

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by metrunt » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:07 am

Sparks are normal. Attaching both blacks is fine, but technically a grounded piece of metal away from the battery is better, but how do you know if the metal is grounded?

It's like you walked into your house, flipped the light switch, the light didn't come on, so you started dismantling the light switch. As someone who troubleshoots computers for a living, I see the problem of mis-diagnosing a lot. Before you start fixing something, figure out what the actual problem is.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:31 am

neilpilot wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:56 am
sport wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:46 am
It is true, however, that when a battery is fully charged, the risk is higher (such as when a charger clamp is removed).
Don't you unplug the charger just prior to removing the clamps? Also, are most risks mitigated when charging the typical modern, i.e. sealed, battery?
"Sealed" batteries are not really sealed. They have vents to allow gas to escape. "Sealed" means you cannot open them to add water.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:35 am

metrunt wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:07 am
but how do you know if the metal is grounded?
If the metal is not grounded, nothing will happen. However, since the frame/body of the car is grounded (connected electrically to the negative battery terminal), most everything metal is grounded.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Wed Aug 30, 2017 11:33 am

sport wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:46 am
just frank wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:44 am
I second @sport 's advice.

I personally think the risk of battery 'explosion' is incredibly low, and don't worry about it at all. See how non-chalant your garage guy was, who does this multiple times per day. It can only happen if (1) the battery is fully or overcharged AND (2) there is an open circuit (internal battery defect) where the spark can happen internally. It is hard to imagine both of these happening at the same time. In your case of a battery that is likely dead (no hydrogen expected) and has been sitting for a week or more like that (any hydrogen from the last charging cycle has leaked out) the odds of explosion are ZERO.
When I worked in the battery industry, one of my projects was to design flame arresting vent systems to prevent battery explosions. I disagree with your explanation. The risk of explosion is low, but not for the reasons you state. The head space in the battery is filled with hydrogen and oxygen, whether or not the battery is charged. While an open circuit could cause an explosion, that is not the problem when jump starting. If a spark is created external to the battery and that spark comes in contact with a wisp of hydrogen coming from the battery, the hydrogen can be ignited and the flame can travel back into the battery and cause it to explode. The reason the likelihood is low for this to happen is that modern batteries contain flame arrestors to prevent flame from travelling back into the battery. However, when it comes to protecting your eyes, you do not want to depend on such a device being installed and working correctly. It is better to use safe practices. It is true, however, that when a battery is fully charged, the risk is higher (such as when a charger clamp is removed).
I always use eye protection, but ever since reading about battery safety, I always think of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion when jump-starting. Yeah, liquid hydrogen in spaceflight applications is not the same as the gaseous hydrogen produced by a car battery, but I can't get that explosion image out of my mind.

The reason for my concern this time around was that first, I don't ever remember encountering a spark during a jump-start (just a bad memory?), and second, the sparks were pronounced. I actually felt/heard a buzz and jumped back. Are there normal and abnormal sparks or are all considered equal and relatively safe in the context of a modern battery and a fully/mostly discharged battery?

BTW, this time around I used gloves in the unlikely event of a battery acid spill. (Yes, I've been reading too much about batteries. :mrgreen: ) I used what was available and that was disposable vinyl gloves. Were those appropriate for use during a jump-start or might they be flammable?

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Wed Aug 30, 2017 12:28 pm

azurekep wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 11:33 am
The reason for my concern this time around was that first, I don't ever remember encountering a spark during a jump-start (just a bad memory?), and second, the sparks were pronounced. I actually felt/heard a buzz and jumped back. Are there normal and abnormal sparks or are all considered equal and relatively safe in the context of a modern battery and a fully/mostly discharged battery?

BTW, this time around I used gloves in the unlikely event of a battery acid spill. (Yes, I've been reading too much about batteries. ) I used what was available and that was disposable vinyl gloves. Were those appropriate for use during a jump-start or might they be flammable?
All sparks should be considered to be of the same small hazard. You will not get an acid spill unless you remove the battery, drop it, and it splits open. Gloves are not really necessary. The sulfuric acid in an auto battery is not highly concentrated. If you do get some acid on your hands, it will not cause any significant damage and it can easily be washed off. Just don't rub your eyes.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by Wakefield1 » Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:07 pm

Most of the time connecting a charged battery to a "dead" one will cause a spark because the "good" one feeds current back through the "dead" one,perhaps charging it a little bit. Probably won't charge it enough to start a car however.
"Dead" battery might just be discharged but might instead have something wrong inside it such as a broken connector strap. (Electrically open circuit inside) Or could have a short within a cell but if that is the case it will usually light the dome light dimly and would probably show about 8 or so volts open circuit (instead of the normal bit more than 12)
Batteries can and do frequently have explosive flammable vapors of hydrogen and oxygen in and around them and that is why most authorities tell you to make the final (negative for modern negative ground cars) jumper connection to a grounded part of car metal well away from the battery.
I think old batteries,especially if they have had water added that was not distilled,tend to gas (make explosive vapor) more than newer ones. Batteries on fast charge make lots and lots of gas. Police car that probably had failed voltage regulator greatly overcharging battery had its battery spontaneously explode.
Connecting to car frame however,if the car has some kind of ground problem or disconnected ground,can theoretically cause some kind of grounding back through a computer like part of the car,causing damage.
It is recommended to have safety eyewear such as goggles on while working on or jumping batteries since they may indeed explode,spraying battery juice at your eyes. Always unplug your slow charger before disconnecting it from a battery. Connect it before plugging it in however.

I have indeed experienced having a battery explode,actually only the top cover blew off of it but it did indeed spray my face with juice,I immediately sprayed water from a garden hose on my face and eyes and there seemed to be no damage.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:43 pm

Wakefield1 wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:07 pm
Most of the time connecting a charged battery to a "dead" one will cause a spark because the "good" one feeds current back through the "dead" one,perhaps charging it a little bit. Probably won't charge it enough to start a car however.
"Dead" battery might just be discharged but might instead have something wrong inside it such as a broken connector strap. (Electrically open circuit inside) Or could have a short within a cell but if that is the case it will usually light the dome light dimly and would probably show about 8 or so volts open circuit (instead of the normal bit more than 12)
Batteries can and do frequently have explosive flammable vapors of hydrogen and oxygen in and around them and that is why most authorities tell you to make the final (negative for modern negative ground cars) jumper connection to a grounded part of car metal well away from the battery.
I think old batteries,especially if they have had water added that was not distilled,tend to gas (make explosive vapor) more than newer ones. Batteries on fast charge make lots and lots of gas. Police car that probably had failed voltage regulator greatly overcharging battery had its battery spontaneously explode.
Connecting to car frame however,if the car has some kind of ground problem or disconnected ground,can theoretically cause some kind of grounding back through a computer like part of the car,causing damage.
It is recommended to have safety eyewear such as goggles on while working on or jumping batteries since they may indeed explode,spraying battery juice at your eyes. Always unplug your slow charger before disconnecting it from a battery. Connect it before plugging it in however.

I have indeed experienced having a battery explode,actually only the top cover blew off of it but it did indeed spray my face with juice,I immediately sprayed water from a garden hose on my face and eyes and there seemed to be no damage.
There is a lot of good information here. I have just two minor corrections:
1. You do not need to use distilled water to add to an auto battery. Clean tap water is fine. They do not use distilled water at the battery factory when the original concentrated sulfuric acid is diluted.
2. The major danger from an exploding battery is not the acid. A jagged piece of plastic hitting your eye is much worse. The acid will burn and you will wash it out ASAP. It is not concentrated enough to cause permanent damage. If it is left there for a longer time period, perhaps the tears would not be sufficient and damage might occur. A plastic projectile will cause more damage.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:27 pm

Wakefield1 wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:07 pm
Most of the time connecting a charged battery to a "dead" one will cause a spark because the "good" one feeds current back through the "dead" one,perhaps charging it a little bit. Probably won't charge it enough to start a car however.
That must be how the horn got powered.
Batteries can and do frequently have explosive flammable vapors of hydrogen and oxygen in and around them and that is why most authorities tell you to make the final (negative for modern negative ground cars) jumper connection to a grounded part of car metal well away from the battery.
Would you say the distance from the battery is much more important than making sure the metal is not painted? I was spending a lot of time examining the grey metal surfaces under the hood, trying to figure out which was bare metal and which was painted. I wasn't even sure why I should care, but unpainted metal was one of the guidelines I saw, along with making sure the metal wasn't moving (!).

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by azurekep » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:32 pm

sport wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 1:43 pm
2. The major danger from an exploding battery is not the acid. A jagged piece of plastic hitting your eye is much worse. The acid will burn and you will wash it out ASAP. It is not concentrated enough to cause permanent damage. If it is left there for a longer time period, perhaps the tears would not be sufficient and damage might occur. A plastic projectile will cause more damage.
Interesting about the plastic projectiles. Sounds like I've been planning for the wrong things, but at least the protective eyewear covers all contingencies.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:44 pm

azurekep wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:27 pm
Would you say the distance from the battery is much more important than making sure the metal is not painted? I was spending a lot of time examining the grey metal surfaces under the hood, trying to figure out which was bare metal and which was painted. I wasn't even sure why I should care, but unpainted metal was one of the guidelines I saw, along with making sure the metal wasn't moving (!).
The problem with painted surfaces is that paint is not an electrical conductor. So, if the surface is painted, you may not get an electrical connection, and if so, nothing will happen, i.e. no current will flow. Bare metal will provide a good connection. The distance from the battery is a safety precaution.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by just frank » Thu Aug 31, 2017 6:32 am

Another way to think about battery explosions is NORMAL USE.

When a fully charged car battery is charged (as occurs under normal driving conditions once the starting energy is replaced), the energy all goes into making oxygen and hydrogen. If the battery were sealed, it would actually pressurize, so they have small valves/vents to allow this excess gas to escape. So, think about it....when you are going down the highway (or idling in a parking lot) you battery is full of Hydrogen and oxygen in an explosive mixture, and the engine and various small electric motors are running...how many batteries explode while the car is in normal operation?

When you start the car, you are switching in a large current load. In many cases, the battery is still full of hydrogen, and if there is an electrical fault in the battery, completing the circuit with the starter can make an internal spark and boom. And yet, how many car batteries explode in normal service during starting?

So, car batteries in normal use are actively producing hydrogen compared to ones that have been sitting and/or dead for a few days (giving ample time for any vented hydrogen to disapate), and normal starting puts loads on the battery comparable to jumpstarting....and yet not a lot of explosion reports.

Not clear why I should be so worried about jump starting an undercharged battery...batteries make hydrogen when they are fully charged, and only traces otherwise.

Protecting your eyes during the operation is an easy and sensible precaution...but already represents an abundance of caution over a very minute risk.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by Wakefield1 » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:11 am

Batteries are not 100% efficient,not only do they waste some of the energy used to charge them,even when not yet at full charge,but they also self-discharge to some extent and I think some of that lost energy goes into producing hydrogen and/or oxygen. Also shows up as the battery slowly consuming water. Logically I would expect a battery that only uses minuscule amount of water would be producing less gassing than one that uses lots of water. Using lots of water might be a sign of the battery going bad.
Most modern cars also put some drain (current flows via the battery connections to the car) on the battery even when the car is parked-burglar alarm,radio settings memory,powertrain control and body control "module" memories -so sometimes people disconnect the negative battery cable if the car is to sit a month or more,or possibly pull a fuse. Of course that will cause some systems to lose their memory or require "relearning" for the car to work normally when it gets put back into use.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by neilpilot » Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:29 am

Wakefield1 wrote:
Thu Aug 31, 2017 9:11 am
Batteries are not 100% efficient,not only do they waste some of the energy used to charge them,even when not yet at full charge,but they also self-discharge to some extent and I think some of that lost energy goes into producing hydrogen and/or oxygen.
Unless there's some very unusual lack of continuity internal to the battery, during discharge the sulfuric acid is converted to lead sulfate and water. No H2 and O2 is produced.

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Re: Vehicle Toubleshooting (multiple issues)

Post by sport » Thu Aug 31, 2017 10:12 am

just frank wrote:
Thu Aug 31, 2017 6:32 am
Not clear why I should be so worried about jump starting an undercharged battery...batteries make hydrogen when they are fully charged, and only traces otherwise.

Protecting your eyes during the operation is an easy and sensible precaution...but already represents an abundance of caution over a very minute risk.
The reason is the sparks and hydrogen is an inherently dangerous situation. Also, as you say, eye protection is easy and sensible. Since it is your eyesight we are talking about, there is no reason to tempt fate. Granted the likelihood is small. However, people win lotteries against overwhelming odds. A battery explosion is probably more likely. I believe Larry Swedroe used to say "Don't confuse the unlikely with the impossible." He was not talking about batteries, but the principle is the same.

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