Acura starting problems

Hi Car Guys,
This sweet ride is an Acura Integra 1998 with 399,000 of the best miles all mine. You don’t get that far without some effort and the car is well maintained. I know my service writer and my mechanics name at the dealership. I tell my friends we’re on the way back from the moon.

So the problem is it is losing battery power every morning. The alternator was replaced about 2 years ago, not from loss of power but noting indicator light on dash while driving.

Mid-summer the car doesn’t start two days in a row, jumped and taken in to dealership, they find nothing.

I observe very faint battery power on dash the first morning but hear no clicking. After the first jump I drive the car for 40 minutes. Note: I was also charging the cell phone. I think, well I left something on and drained the battery. I proceed with the day’s events.

After driving 30 miles with several stops and starts while taking my 90 year old Mum out to lunch. On the way home I realize the cell phone isn’t charging and the AC is a faint whisper on high. So while idling in the mall parking lot waiting to get the cell phone sorted there is a great whirring sound and smoke! Smoke!

The great thing about waiting for tow trucks is you have time to call and text people for advice and think the thing through. Was the AC on? With the hood open I restarted the car. After 3 minutes more smoke and whirring. The smoke is coming from the driver’s side were the belts are located. Turned car off.
More time to wait. 30 minutes go by and start the engine again. This time no smoke and I idle the car for a good 40 minutes with AC off. Stop the engine. I trying driving the car around the mall, all is good. I stop the engine. I cancel the tow truck. (Don’t blame them the Chinese Pres. was in town.) I will try driving home about 5-6 miles, all is good. I keep going and gas up the car. It starts up again. I make it home. I plan to take into the dealership the next day.

As a proactive measure I got up at 3:00am to check the battery and the car started fine and the dash board was lite up. I Idled for about 3- 5minutes. But at 8am the car doesn’t start and the dash board is completely dark. Call for another jump start but now the car will not start with a jump.

Car was towed 10 miles to not my regular dealership. Note: tow truck pulled up with smoke coming from one set of tires. I point this out to the driver and his response ‘it’s an old truck’ and shrugs his shoulders. We finish up our discussion while the tires continue to smoke. He walks casually back to the truck, finds the extinguisher and put out the fire. Maybe I am over reacting to smoke.

At the dealership they diagnosis starter motor and replace it. Interesting the Acura part will take a day to arrive and cost $1400 an after market is available today and will cost $700. I go with the aftermarket.

The car runs fine, with several stops and starts, no AC running

As you have already guessed the car doesn’t start this morning. The dash is completely dark, no alarm light, no clicking.

Is there a direction I should check out? As I type this my thinking is perhaps a wire is loose or broken. It might explain it starts, it doesn’t start. What are your thoughts on the matter? Thank you for considering this problem.


I’m not an expert, but as an engineer, here is my take on this:

First. I’d go back to the dealer and get my money back, first thing. If the dash lights are out, it’s not a starter problem. And, a starter costs about $80.

The obvious answer is the battery. If that is OK, then the battery cables are the next suspect. Loose, or corroded internally or corroded connection. Don’t forget the ground cable. This you can check with a voltmeter.

Don’t forget, each time you run the battery totally down, it is damaged. Do that a few times and the battery is dead.

I’d be looking at the alternator. It’s located where the drive belts are. When the battery drains while the car is on and smoke is coming from the region of the alternator, then the signs point to the alternator.

In add’n to the above good ideas, you may have something you are not aware of which is draining the battery when the engine is off and the key is removed from the ignition switch. Possibilities include

  • Glove compartment light
  • Trunk light
  • Engine compartment light
  • Bad diode in alternator
  • Frayed wiring causing short circuit

A shop has a fairly simple method to measure to see if this is indeed happening, but it has to be happen at the time they measure it. And if it is happening, they’ll have a way to isolate what circuit the drain is occurring on.

Guys your well thought out suggestions are appreciated. Thank you so much!

They have replaced the battery and it starts up, but I had them keep the car over the next two days to see if starts up on Monday.

Hopefully the shop has checked the charging system for a problem. If that is okay then you either have a wiring problem from the battery or there is an excessive current drain on the battery while the car is parked. Normal current draw should be less than 30 milliamps, for most cars at least.

I’m not sure why the shop replaced the starter since your description of the trouble clearly indicates a power problem and not with the starter circuit. The starter may have been in need of replacement anyways. It’s too bad you had to pay so much for that repair. The smoke issue may mean there is a problem with the AC compressor or the alternator possibly. Smoke from under the hood or the rear wheels is not a good thing and is an indication of a severe problem, but you probably already know that.

Thanks guys for all the suggestions!

Finally the car is back from the shop. I feel I really had to push them to consider the cables and connections. AC relay was replaced yesterday, but I made them keep the car over night to make sure it started this morning.

Parting thoughts: It seems easy for a mechanic to go to battery, starter motor or alternator as the first tier fixes for cars that don’t start. Add to that the service writer doesn’t have time to share with the mechanic the complex history of when the car would start or not, let alone whirring noises and where the smoke was coming from. Second when it comes to electrical or starting problems have them keep the car over night.

Glad you got it fixed. One idea, if you want to get your message to the mechanic who’s actually working on the car, leave a note with what you want to tell them on the seat when you drop the car off to be fixed.

The method that works best for me is that the customer tells me to my face what his concern is

service writers have been known to write up the customer’s complaint in such a way, that’s very vague, or just plain wrong

Both are great ideas! Trust me I will edit the note down to just the facts, but this is Car Talk and you are allowed a little fun. I can imagine telling a long lost Magliozzi brother to his face, :slight_smile: but how does one get pass the service writer to the inner sanctum of the service bay?

Sorry to burst your bubble @spke , but I doubt that it is really fixed, if all they did was replace the AC relay.
What about the charging problem…the smoke…and the whirring sound.

I noted that you had the AC on when you started it and there was smoke coming from under the hood. Then with the AC off you were able to drive around the mall without a problem.
I think everyone else here missed that point.

I think you have two problems.
I think that the AC Pump Clutch is bad and binding or frozen. This would explain the smoke as the belt burns while being forced over a bound up pulley on the AC.
But you did not burn through the belt as I would imagine.

Because you also were having charging issues…with having to jump the car and problems charging even your cel phone…I would think that you may have a very weak belt tensioner.
A weak tensioner could allow the belt to slip enough that not only is it slipping over the AC pulley freely, but over the alternator pulley also.

If the tensioner was good you would have burned through the belt completely within a minute.

Something was making that smoke!!!

I’d have them loosen the serpentine belt and check that everything is spinning freely…and check the charging system.

As another thought. Glad that you have maintained your car so well to get this many miles on the odometer, but why in the world would you still be visiting the dealer.
Unless you are still under some warranty, there is no reason that you cannot go to any independent mechanic for your work and save a boat load of money.

At the price of $1400 dollars for a starter at the dealer, an independent could get you a brand new top quality starter for less than $150 and charge less than $200 to install it.

This means that you could have saved $1050 just on one repair. A few repairs like that and you could have a real nice down payment for your next car.

In the life of this car, you could have saved enough by now to pay cash for a new car.

Don’t accept their BS that only a dealership can do this work. They want that extra $1050 too for they’re boat payment.


As far as that boat payment goes . . .

If a mechanic is working at the dealership, he’s just about the last guy getting rich at that place

From that $1400, he’s getting chump change

I’ve known very few mechanics working at a dealer, who raked in so much dough, that they literally did have a boat payment

Most of the guys had a very average lifestyle, and many of them were struggling financially, usually through no fault of their own

But there are always exceptions

Yosemite, you’ve come late to the party and after all the hard work, thinking and spending has been done. Some people live to burst bubbles; it stimulates some part of the brain’s amygdala, probably not the case for you. There are many psychosocial reasons for how people come to their purchasing decisions and nobody can ride on another’s tires. Remember this is Car Talk where there are jokes a plenty and the advice is easy and fun. Keep listening and you’ll get the hang of it.

He’s trying to tell you that the car is not likely to actually be fixed. Letting it sit unattended for a few days is not going to make a bad alternator give itself away. You have to drive it around long enough for the battery to drain.

He’s also trying to give you some sound advice. You’d do well to read the advice given to you by a longtime regular here rather than sniping at him. There is almost never a good reason to take a car that’s out of warranty to a dealership for any work at all. All you’re doing is spending more money than you have to spend to get the exact same work done. “Psychosocial reasons” do not apply, this is a strict economic decision, and you’re throwing money away unnecessarily.

Oh my goodness shadowfax, there so are many reasons that inform an individual’s decision to use an authorized dealership or an unauthorized mechanic for car services. Here are a few that come quickly to mind.
• Time vs. money ratio, your short on time and have money to spend.
• The availability of a free loaner car while they work on your car.
• A calm well kept waiting area that is contusive to opening your tablet or laptop and getting some work done as you wait for an oil change.
• Convenience for running errands to the post office, bank etc.
• Location, proximity to your home, office, school or alternative transportation.
• History of pervious good experiences with the seller of goods or services.
• A relative or friend might work at a store or service department.
They may not inform your decisions. Fine, but you have put yourself in an impossible position to successfully dictate to others how they spend their money.

spke, IF it goes dead again, have the dealer replace the battery. A battery can develop an internal short, and it can be intermittent. When that happens, you get the exact symptoms you have had, and of course, the battery will be good every time the mechanic checks it. It can be very frustrating for everyone involved.

BTW, shadowfax and Yosemite are long time contributors that have a reputation for giving good advice.

Thanks Keith for the thoughtful reply. I haven’t let down my guard regarding the Acura’s starting problems. I originally asked for ideas regarding the starting problem. The unsolicited editorials on dealership service departments and how I spend my money are off topic and reflect the sender’s own bias. I can distinguish good advice from bias and will winnow out the chaff