Car battery question.

I’m not sure if my battery issue is because the battery in question has insufficient cold-cranking amps, or because after failure, then jump-starting, I failed to run the vehicle long enough to fully charge the battery.

If it makes a difference, the vehicle in question is a 2001 Mercury Villager Estate with about 150,000 miles on it and I bought it used 18 months ago so have no clue how old or what status the battery and see no sticker or any indication of the age and capabilities of said battery on the visible parts.

Day one: Very cold, about 0 °F (−18 °C). Van did uh-uh-uh but started right up when I jumped it from my truck. I let it run in the driveway for about 15 minutes. An hour later, it started just fine. Five hours later…uh-uh-uh when I turned the key.

Next morning: Same thing, no start, temps still in the single digits… Jumped it, ran fine, drove it around the neighborhood for a good 20 minutes until it was at operating temperature and acting fine.

That night I had agreed to drive a bunch of people to a concert…temps in the mid-20s and stupid van wouldn’t start again. Figured worst case scenario, I have to find someone to jump me. Jumped it, took off with everyone, drove about 45 minutes, parked. Van started just fine after the concert, then started fine the next morning but by then the temps were in the high 30s.

Following morning (this morning) van fired right up, temps above freezing and it started right up this evening too but by now the temps are in the 40s.

So, my questions: If a battery has an insufficient cold-cranking amp rating, does that mean it simply won’t start when the temperature gets too low, but is otherwise fine?

Or, did I fail to warm it up/drive it long enough on the first couple of tries to get it fully charged?

Or, sould I just go buy another battery, or could it be something else and I should just suck it up and get the van and/or battery to a shop?

I understand you are not my mechanic and I am asking for diagnosis by internet and I am getting what I paid for etc. :slight_smile: And I have another vehicle with a one-year-old battery so I’m not stuck; just looking for some clarification.

Classic symptoms of a poor (aged) battery, IMHO. Replace it and you should be fine.

You could make sure the cells of the battery contain enough liquid, if it’s not a “maintenance-free” battery. Look for 2 panels on the top which you can pry off to reveal 6 holes. Get a flashlight and use it to peek into the holes. If liquid is not covering the metal parts within, get some distilled water and a funnel (you can make an adequate funnel with aluminum foil) and add enough water so that the metal parts are covered and then some, but don’t let it overflow.

Running the engine for 30 minutes should be plenty to test the battery.

Many auto parts stores will test your battery for free (no charge (snicker)).

Did you drain the battery somehow causing the initial failure? It can take an alternator quite a while to fully charge a drained/jump started battery. If you didn’t drain it by leaving the headlights on or something, I’d suggest a new battery. Most car parts places will test your old battery and then install the new one for you if needed for no extra charge.

Yeah, sounds like an old battery. As a lead acid battery ages, sulfates build up on the plates, reducing the battery’s ability to store charge. Typically car batteries last for 4-7 years, your car is old enough to be on its second or third.

Ahh! I was overthinking this and also listening to the person who lectured me on cold cranking amps and so on.

Mr Duality, it’s a maintenance-free battery…but yeah, part of me is leery about trusting my locaAuto Zone store. I do have a mechanic I trust though and I have the SDMB to fall back on too. :slight_smile:

CJ, no. Although below-zero temperatures will do that; hard winter is hard on vehicle parts!
Guess I should just suck it up and get another battery. <grumbles>

The answers to your questions are all “possibly, but not necessarily.”

Since it seems the symptom has only appeared in colder weather, it’s a pretty safe bet that the problem is indeed with the battery. Whether it doesn’t have the capacity to crank the starter due to design (CCA rating) or due to deterioration (age/use), the cure is the same – replace the battery with one appropriate for the vehicle.

Of course you can have the battery tested to confirm its ability/inability to perform, and it’s wise to test the charging voltage just to be on the safe side. From what you’ve described, though, I’m pretty sure that the only way to have reliable starting is with a new battery.

Gary T, thanks.

I’ll quit being a cheap beyotch and will get another battery. I’ll run it by the shop that I trust that is also reasonable just to make sure, next week. I’m certainly no expert and maybe I’m off-base but I’m not sure I trust my local Auto Zone (minimum wage/minimally trained) employees to tell me whether I need to spend a buck and a half on a battery I bring in for bench-testing without looking at the rest of the vehicle.

That’s not quite right. If any of the metal substrate is not covered by liquid, it’s too late. The battery will not be reliable and should be replaced. If the liquid is low, then fill it to the bottom of the vent tubes (one per hole) as indicated in this illustration. When the water reaches that level a meniscus will form that changes the appearance of the liquid.

Well, AutoZone experiences will certainly vary. I’d let the car run so you know the battery should be fully charged, then take your mechanic friend with you to AutoZone and have him watch them test it. It’s pretty straightforward, they load-test the battery and it will either pass or fail. It isn’t really something that they can easily deceive you about. I say this assuming that your mechanic friend doesn’t have a load tester, as they are kind of specialized (and expensive).

A key thing you want to avoid is replacing the battery when in fact it’s a bad alternator (or vice versa). AutoZone can usually check both at the same time.

Many battery’s that are replaced are really just under charged. To fully recharge a battery it should be hooked to a good battery charger and charged for 10-12 hours.
When replacing an alternator you will always find information that will tell you to fully recharge your battery before running your new alternator, because your alternator is a battery maintainer. Yes it will charge you up but it also has to provide currant to run everything else.
Now Hails Ants states, testing a battery is pretty straight forward, well to a degree it can be, but in this situation the OP states there is no markings on his troubling battery.
When I check a battery at the parts store where I work part time, I would have to look for what a recommended CCA rating would be if I don’t find a sticker or such and enter say for example, 600 amp into the test tool. If everything tests ok I will get a “Good Battery” message, if not I will get a question, is battery below 32 deg? Or was battery charged? Then I may get a message to recharge battery or Good Battery, or Bad Battery. BUT, I may have put the wrong amperage for the battery into the tester because that info wasn’t provided.
Then, even if I get a Good Battery test result, the battery may still fail if left set 2-3 days even in a disconnected condition.
A recent example,
A contractor purchased a 4 D 30 battery ( think big, bulldoser) and 30 days later he brings it back. Now we have to recharge battery before testing, next day charge is done, test battery, Good, next day, good, day three, good, boss days to call customer next day. Before calling customer on 5th day of recharge I test and " Bad Battery" and I can see the voltage readings during the test and know that battery will fail.
So, it’s more complicated than just quick test.
I tested 2 battery’s just yesterday and got good readings but obviously the owners were having problems and all I can say to them is, your alternator is working and my test said your battery is good, try charging it fully and clean your connections.
Some I tell they need to clean their connection before I can even test.

I owned a 1998 Mercury Villager until a couple of months ago. Great van! It was still running great with 190K miles on it. BTW: The Nissan Quests of the same years is the same car with slightly different trim. But I digress.

There’s an Excellent internet forum for these minivans. That’s the best place to answer these questions.

I am not surprised at so many people advising replacement and so few advising actually testing the electrical component at issue.

Certainly the battery could be bad. So could the connections. So could a cable. It does seem unlikely that it is the alternator as the van started after a long drive with lights on.

How about the starter? The way I read the OP, the battery is cranking the engine " Van did uh-uh-uh… . Five hours later…uh-uh-uh when I turned the key."

An engine that cranks but doesn’t start is not particularly a sign of a dead battery.
The OP has a friend who is a mechanic. maybe he can get a discount for a diagnosis and repair.

Test it. Maybe it’s a $2 cable end and not a $100 battery.

I took that to mean the van cranks very slowly, which could likely pull the battery voltage low enough where the PCM won’t operate. A cable isn’t out of the question but I would doubt that a bad cable would consistently work perfectly after the alternator has had the chance to recharge the battery. Capacity loss is the first sign that a cell/battery has reached the end of its life.

You can usually tell the age of a car battery by codes placed there by the manufacturer (google “car battery age codes”), although you won’t know when it was installed in the car.
My view about car batteries is simple; if it is over 3 years old and it is giving you trouble, replace it immediately. Every time I have done this, it has solved my problem. In my early years, when money was scarce but time and energy were abundant I tried to investigate things more thoroughly, almost always yielding the same result (once I replaced an alternator and suspect that was unnecessary). Mind you, I understand this is an anecdote, not data, but it has saved me a great deal of time over the years. YMMV.
I have never had a car battery fail when it is under 3 years old. If that happened I might be moved to give it a bit more attention. Maybe.

This is a reasonable approach, even though it may seem like an overreaction with a battery that has a 5+ year warranty.

One of my fellow auto repair shop owners routinely suggests that his customers replace their batteries when they’re three years old. The rationale is that, as you say, batteries virtually never fail during those first three years, but after that a certain percentage of them will fail prematurely.

Some of our colleagues, on an auto repair pro forum where this has been discussed, have been vitriolic in denouncing the practice as a ripoff. Of course they’re looking at it from the perspective of not wanting to do what might be considered unnecessary repairs and thus overcharging customers. Customers who hate having their car not start, however, have a different perspective. For some people, the relatively modest additonal expense in buying batteries every three years is well worth it in order to avoid the possibility of being stuck with a car that won’t start due to a battery problem.

Welp I had time today to get the battery to the shop and yep, bad battery, although it was holding a charge. Albeit tenuously. Also there was a sticker on the side with a sold date of 2007, so I was definitely due.

The van has a CCA rating of 475 and the battery I got exceeds that (CCA 525 and I am in Michigan so it does get cold) with a 3-year warranty so hopefully I’m good to go now.

(The last battery I bought for my truck had an 8-year warranty, but I replaced it at almost 10 years old even though it was still cranking just fine…they were predicting a cold winter and as Gary T says, the cost of replacing a battery is modest compared to the cost of being stuck, having it go out late at night while far from home and needing a tow, etc.)

I just got done working on a vehicle whose owner didn’t drive it enough to have the alternator top off the battery. She would sit in her car during work break and read a book with the key turned the wrong way (she was powering the fan motor, the dome light, the fuel pump, the radio, the ignition circuit, etc for 30 minutes a day).
I had to meet her at work one day and jump her. After asking a few questions I learned that she was turning the key the wrong way and over a couple weeks the car began to start with less gusto. To the point that it wouldn’t start at all.
I attached a battery tender to her battery and charged it overnight. This was a couple weeks ago and it’s been starting perfect since. She turns the key to accessory position now. :wink:
The battery was only two years old.

Sometimes a battery just needs a good ol charging.

No doubt!

The van actually started just fine today (uncommonly warm, which helped)…but when the truck battery gave up the ghost I was in Detroit on the freeway late at night, an hour from home, in winter, and it just died on me. It cost me a tow, the battery replacement by a shop at a premium price, plus I had to have someone come all the way down to pick me up that night, then all the way back down the next day to get the truck.

Paying $120 today for the battery was worth it just for peace of mind. :slight_smile:

I just replaced a battery yesterday. Almost 9 years old. The last battery I replaced in my other car (the infamous Mazda 323 from my recent other thread) was also 9 years old.*

I buy the “middle price” batteries and keep the terminals, etc. clean.

I’d say having trouble with a battery 3 years old means there’s likely something else going on. There’s a lot to be said for pulling the battery connectors and giving everything a good cleaning.

*Mrs. FtG’s car, OTOH, just went thru a battery quite quickly. But that was more or less her fault. Well, Toyota’s too for making it too easy to bump a switch that leaves a nearly invisible light on.