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2001 Passat = Power Draining Beastie!

Aight, just to get it out there, I’m a youth minister, and NOT a car dude, so pardon my technical jargon like “thingy” and “doodad”.

Bought a used Passat with 60k miles on it for my wife to use as a commuter car. Great vehicle, but if it wasn’t driven for a few days, the battery would be dead. Put a new battery in, but after a while, same thing. Put another battery in, same thing. The battery tests “good”, but something is, apparently, steadily and slowly leeching the charge.

Started pulling fuses to try and narrow down the culprit of the drain problem: alarm system, electronic locks, stereo… nothing makes a difference.

Took it to my local mechanic, a personal friend, but after trying all his tricks, he can’t figure it out either.

Took it to a VW dealer where an acquaintance works in the service department. He checks it out thoroughly, keeps it overnight, but can find no evidence of a drain on the battery, which still tests out as good. I set up with him to drop the car off for a week straight. Unfortunately, he is not on duty when I drop it off, and another tech writes the work order up, seemingly uninterested in the history I’m trying to tell him. He calls a few hours later to tell me that they put an authentic Volkswagen battery in the car and it’s working fine. I tell him that the car always works fine with a charged battery, but his head seems to be too far up his tailpipe to hear me. I pick up the car and take it home, and sure enough, my drain issue seems resolved; after 3 days of sitting parked, it still starts just fine.

Then we return from a 9-day mission trip, two months after the new VW battery transplant. The car is currently SO dead that I cannot open the driver’s side door with the key. I can climb into the trunk, but I can’t release the rear fold-down seats from the trunk, so looks like a $40 locksmith charge is in my future.

So short of throwing myself upon the tender mercies of the VW corporation and begging for a replacement car (ROFL), does anyone have any ideas? Besides, that is, pummeling the VW service tech with a set of jumper cables? (Wow, I didn’t even have to use any technical jargon!)

With a BMW, if the battery is so dead that the key won’t open the lock electronically, you can turn the key further to open it mechanically. Possibly a VW is the same, although I’d hate to have you break a key trying it, so you should either ask your dealer or wait for a VW owner to chime in here.

Hehehe, comment taken with due salt grains. I will attempt to safely determine if the key can go a bit further east!

On my '01 Jetta, you can unlock (only) the drivers door and trunk with the key. I’m 98% sure the Passat is the same. There are no other keylocks on the outside of the car.

If the car is locked, windows rolled up, and all lights turned off (including trunk and golvebox), there should be only a very slight drain on the battery, as it sits in a “sleep” mode, waiting for the next unlock command. I’ve left ours sit for lengthy periods (just recently, 2 weeks), and it still has it’s original '01 battery in it (yep, 10 years old).

However, you’d really have to test the alternator to make sure it’s performing as designed. These will run for quite a while on just the battery. When my alternator died, I had no idea it was dead, and there was no indication on the dash it was out. Very wierd, I thought, but I replaced it, and am now good to go.

Good luck,

-no technical jargon there, either :slight_smile:

Battery drain problems usually aren’t intermittent but it kind of sounds like this one is. Normal current drain for most cars is around 20 milliamps when sytems are in the sleep mode. It would be interesting to know the amount of current drain your vehicle has, though it sounds like things change at times. You may need to take the car to a shop that specializes in electrical problems. They should be able to pin down the problem.

You can look at manually opening the hood, requires reaching up from underneath, then charging the battery to get access to the car. Here is a great site for detecting battery drain, posted by a great poster and repeated .

Thanks for the input, folks. The key will not turn further, can not be pushed in or manipulated in any way I can find that will open the door. It is indeed designed with only one keyhole on the car, the driver’s door. For instances like this, the design seems to need rethinking :confused:

I have not been able to find a way to manually unlatch the hood, but will do some more searching online.

I did, however, find a power outlet/cigarette lighter in the trunk. If I can find one of the newfangled in-car charger (outlet to outlet), I could potentially get enough juice in there to open the door. I have also wondered if I could reverse charge it through that outlet by cutting the lighter adapter off of something else, such as a phone charger or light, and hooking it up to a battery charger.

I would probably only fry something. Like ME!

Yes, Good catch…and you’re lucky it’s a VW…that socket is live when the car is turned off. Toyota’s turn all those off (very irritating).

Put a trickle charger on it overnight. You may have to reset a few things, though, if it’s really that completely dead.

If all that fails, either AAA or a locksmith can get you in.


Um, maybe that live all the time socket is your problem? Yeah I think a good electrical shop. You may begin to wonder why the car was traded in. I had a similar problem with my Buick Riv years ago. Intermittant dead battery. Battery tested good so I had to pay for my own battery, but still went dead once in a while. One night I happened to go into the garage and noticed the interior lights were on. Found there was a short on the door handle that turned the lights on when you pushed the door button. Didconnecting the wire took care of it. On another Riv, same problem but I traced that to an intermittant short in the load leveler device under the car by the rear wheel. Somehow, someone is going to have to sleep overnight in it for a couple days and see what if anything is turning on, but you have access to lots of energetic kids.

I went shopping for a “lighter-to-lighter” jump starter today but had no luck. I did find a cord rigged with two male ends, but it was 4’ long, and even pulling alongside the trunk to within an inch wasn’t quite enough. Grrr! But the guy at the shop did ask me if my car had a leveler. He also related a story of a car he had that would go dead. On the day he sold it, he happened to stay in the garage with it longer than usual, and about 15 minutes after parking it, a cooling fan started up in the engine compartment. He tapped the relay for it, and it shut off.

If I can’t find someone with the right kind of charger at church tomorrow, I guess I’ll order one online and keep it in the car.

A buddy suggested that since it’s a slow drain, I buy a solar panel trickle charger and just keep it plugged in and leave it on the dash full time. Hrmmm…

My neighbor charged up a portable charger he had that has a 12-volt end on it. Hooked it into the power supply outlet in the trunk. Got enough juice through it to get the lock on the door open. Then jumped the car off of another vehicle.

Will be picking up a portable jump starter with a 12-volt attachment and keeping it in the trunk!

Now to find someone who can figure out what’s sapping the battery!!

That’s a parasitic load test. Any good mechanic can do it for you. Call around and ask. They should be able to tell you if they can, and most likely find at least the circuit that’s causing it within an hour. Just measure the voltage being used, and pull fuses until you find the one that’s causing it.

Actually fixing that circuit may take a while longer.

I don’t know if this is even relevant information anymore, but I had a similar thing happen to me. This was in a 1970’s era VW beetle - my dad bought it new, and it had the “innovative” automatic stick shift design (my mom couldn’t drive a manual transmission). We would be able to drive away to someplace - like the market - and come out after shopping and the car would be deader than a doornail. The car would start with a jump. Other times it would be just fine - no way to predict. Eventually, we figured out that it was the generator (like an alternator) - the brushes were wearing and so it would only work some of the time. When it didn’t work, the battery wouldn’t be charged while the car was running, and it would drain while the car was being driven. Our fix? My dad taught us where to poke the generator with the reverse end of a artist’s paint brush to make sure the generator ran every time the car did…until we could finally get the part replaced.

So - I’m thinking it is an intermittent problem with your alternator - but, that’s just a guess based on a past experience that may have no meaning with a more modern car.