Question about a car problem

My car died this morning, as in, nothing in it will do anything at all.

Jumping the thing does no good.

Is there any significance to the fact that nothing in the car will work even when its battery is hooked up to a running car’s battery? As in, should that tell me anything about whether this is just a bad battery or else something more serious?

(I’ve been fortunate enough to basically never have to deal with things like this before… but of course that’s also a misfortune in the sense that now that something happens, I’m pretty clueless.)

If replacing the battery could fix this, I’d like to know that before paying to have the thing taken somewhere and looked at by professionals.

Make sure the ground cable is good. It the black cable running from the battery’s negative post to the car frame is loose (at either end), corroded, damaged, split, broken, missing etc then you have no circuit.

Start there.

One other thing.
When you connect the jumper cables to a running car, make the negative connection on your car to ground. If the car works then, but not when you make the connection directly to your battery that would be symptom of a bad ground cable.

Ah well the problem might be that I did it wrong–I connected the positive end to the dead car’s engine block. I thought this was right because on both cars, the positive side requires more effort to gain access to, with little latches on covers blocking easy access. I was thinking this meant that’s the one you have to be more careful with for whatever reason.

Well, when I get home, I’ll do it the right way.

Should have looked it up rather than relying on memory and reason…

Red jumper wire goes from positive (+ red) battery post on live car to positive (+ red) battery post on dead car.
Black jumper wire goes from negative (- black) battery post on live car to engine block of dead car.

Keep you face outta the way when you hook up the last clip to the block!

Okay, I did do it wrong. But there’s still a problem.

While hooked up to the live battery, the van’s electrical systems will activate. And when I turn the ignition switch, it does begin to sound like it’s just beginning to crank–but after half a second just clicks rapidly instead.

What’s that mean? :slight_smile:

Never mind–after waiting several minutes before trying, the van finally did come on. I thought that was supposed to be instant, I guess not.

But now you need to figure out what killed the battery or if it’s a bad battery.


We couldn’t find any light or any other electrical component that was left on.

We let the car sit for about twenty minutes while turned off, and it still started without a problem.

We’ll see what happens when it’s left off overnight.

If it starts tomorrow morning, I have no idea what could have happened here.

FWIW, most chain auto parts stores will test your battery for free.

BTW - hooking up the cables backwards is really asking for trouble!
You are very lucky. Doing this can result in ruined electronics, melted wiring harness and exploding batteries…

How old is the battery? There is a date code impression stamped on the top of most batteries, and it usually begins with a letter and a number. A=January, B=February, etc…, the second position is the last digit of the year, 2010=0, 2011=1, etc… Most manufacturers use this code, although some will skip I for September and use J to keep from confusing an I with a 1. This is the date of manufacture, not when you purchased it. Most batteries are sold within 3 months of manufacture.

If you don’t know, how old is the car? How long have you owned it?

Batteries usually last 3 to 5 years. Yes, most autoparts stores will test your battery, but a good battery that isn’t fully charged will fail their test. If you are depending on your car’s alternator to charge your battery, well if the alternator is not working well, it will appear you have a bad battery.

For about $15 you can get a 1-2 amp battery charger at WalMart that has a maintainer circuit that will not overcharge your battery. IMHO, all car should come with one wired into the electronics of the car, so all you would have to do is plug it in. If you are going to own a car, you should have one. Charge it up overnight (mine has a LED that tells me if the charger is charging or if the battery is fully charged). Once you know it is fully charged, get it tested.

Alternatively, if you put it on a charger and get it fully charged, and the battery is over 3 years old and it gives you any more trouble, just get a new battery. Chances are, if it is giving you trouble, the battery is bad. If it is the alternator or voltage regulator or some other component, you won’t be able to find out unless you have a fully charged battery to check it out.

From your symptoms, it sounds like you had a discharged battery. It may be bad, or maybe not. Batteries are funny. I’ve had a bad battery that wouldn’t do anything, but if you jumped the car, it would work fine, start again just like nothing was wrong. Next day, maybe two, it would need a jump. Then, it would be like before. After a couple of these, I just replaced the battery. Good as new.

excavating (for a mind)

I did this once and it vaporized a large chunk of the battery terminal. Actually I didn’t do it the person I was helping reversed the cables.

The fact that nothing happened sounds like your battery is so dead it no longer constitutes any kind of circuit. I have had a battery fail so completely that jump starting it with a 1000 amp charger wouldn’t turn it over.

The clicking sound is the starter solenoid struggling to engage. There’s enough power to move it a little bit and then start over.

If the battery is older than 5 years old it’s likely toast. Have it checked at an auto parts store.

Yeah, the only time a fire extinguisher at work ever needed to be used was when this dumbass who claimed to know stuff about cars started a fire by crossing jumper cables on a dead car in the parking lot. Jeez that guy was a moron, and people let him do stuff to their cars, even after that! I thought it was terrifying and warned people their brakes might go out if they let him touch them. Not worth saving a few bucks, IMO.

Frylock, I wonder where you’re located? If you’re in an area that doesn’t normally see so much cold, it could be just that killing your battery if it’s not new.

If I understand what you mean by “hooking up the cables backwards,” I didn’t do that. What I think you mean is, hooking positive to negative and negative to positive. I didn’t do that. I hooked negative to negative, and positive to engine block.

You hooked positve to negative, engine block is negative. Your entire frame and metal body, engine, trans are all the same as negative. I don’t think that combo would have shorted at your alternator as much as it would just burn up your cables.

You created a short. What you did is no different then laying a screwdriver across the battery terminals. You just took a longer route.

The engine block is negative, the negative post is negative, so those are the ‘same’ right. You basically took the jumper cables from the good car and connected them.

If I had to take a guess, I’d guess it would burn the smallest cable the connects one of the battery posts to the rest of the car (on either car). Probably which ever ground strap is the most corroded.

That would have created a dead short on the donor battery. The negative battery connection on your car is grounded to the engine. If this didn’t shower sparks down upon you in a very dangerous welding experiment then your battery ground is bad or you weren’t touching metal. Be grateful this didn’t happen. A small 650 amp battery will easily weld metal.

The reason you connect positive to positive between batteries and negative to ground between cars is because there will be a little sparking when contact is made. Batteries give off hydrogen gas and this sparking could ignite that and blow the battery apart showering you with acid. You want the sparks to be AWAY from the battery.

It sounds to me that you connected everything to ground/negative originally, no?

Negative to negative: Engine block to engine block.

In which case no harm, no foul. Is this correct?