96 Ford Explorer battery drain

Hello, all – I’m trying to decide whether to finally put by 1996 Ford Explorer to rest or to try to fix it. I’ve put a lot of money into it lately, but the latest round of problems are electrical. The result is a vehicle that often won’t start without a jump. My mechanic said electrical problems can be tough and may take $200-300 just to diagnose. He won’t even wager an estimate on the cost to fix the problem w/o diagnostics. (There was a bit of diagnosis by my more general mechanic who does the simple stuff like brakes and batteries – his guess, from messing with the battery and fuses, is that the instrument cluster panel is draining the battery while it is turned off – the problem is beyond his scope of service. He suggested the dealer. I have another mechanic that does the harder stuff – he’s the one that said electrical problems are tough and expensive.)

I’m not above spending money on this vehicle because I really like it, but I’m starting to lose trust in it. It seems like its age might mean a lot of stuff may go haywire. (The mileage is just a little over 100,000 – so it’s an age rather than mileage issue.) I travel for business and am often driving home from the airport late at night.

Is it time to say RIP? Or should I spring at least for the diagnostics.

thanks for your advice!

While your mechanic is telling you the truth, there are several easy to check things that are cheap and should be checked first.

I would ask around locally and find a trusted mechanic.

Try to see if you can find the problem. Do the brake lights stay on after turning off the car? Are the door locks locking, maybe a stuck door switch. Does the radio or anything that is not supposed to work work after you turn it off? Is there a light in the glove box, or somewhere that is staying on? Is the wiring going to the doors exposed, and possibly shorting out? Is there an inverter in the back seat for the kids computer left on, GPS unplugged? Don’t be afraid to check other mechanic prices as Joseph said. good luck.

If you can find a shop that specializes in electrical work, this might be your best bet. If you want to tackle the problem yourself, obtain a wiring diagram. Study the diagram for possible places where the current drain might occur. Any circuit that is not live when the key is off is not a suspect. Look for the circuits that are always hot. One crude way to proceed is to remove the negative battery cable, then scratch it against the negative post to see if you get a spark. Remove the fuse from one of the circuits in question and strike the terminal against the post again. If you get no spark or a very weak spark, you’ve located the problem.

If you have the correct tools to work with and the understanding knowledge to work on these kind of issues then finding the trouble usually doesn’t take too long. Having a good wiring diagram is a must, along with an ammeter. If the trouble is inside the instrument panel then pulling the connection to it should kill the excessive current. One would have to make sure that the trouble is really inside the panel before saying it is bad though. There could be a path to the trouble that just runs through the panel and back out to the trouble. Since most things in the panel are turned on with the ignition circuit the trouble may not be in that area.

Here is a link to a site that explains how finding trouble like this is done.