Bad Battery, and....something else?

Ok, so I will try to make the long story a little bit shorter, but I make no promises. I have a 99 Ford Escort ZX2.

So, two nights ago I head to my local Wal-Mart at 9pm to get some groceries. Everything was hunky dory. 9:45, I’m leaving, everything seems fine, put the ignition into ON, and the lights went out in Georgia. No click, no nothing, no signs of life anymore. I was able to get someone to try to jump start my car, but unfortunately it wouldn’t take the charge. For five minutes, I had the same issue. Whatever charge was given was immediately drained away when I tried to start. So, I call a cab and go home to sleep on it.

After work yesterday, I head back to said Wal-Mart and was able to get one of their automotive technicians to bring out a battery tester and a portable jump starter to my car. He tested the battery, and said he believed there had to be a bad cell in it since it would not read more than 9V of power from it, plus it could not detect any CCA available. He hooked up the portable jump starter, and amazingly I was able to crank the car. However, the car died three seconds after it cranked. He hooked it up again, I started it, and when the RPMs dropped to nothing I floored it and it managed to kick start in. But, it would do this every three seconds: RPMs drop to 0, push accelerator, and it would come back to life. If I didn’t push the accelerator, it stayed dead. The timing interval was in almost perfect harmony.

Since I was in a pretty crowded parking lot, I was afraid to try to move the car with it dying out like that. Since I would have to keep the RPMs very high, I wasn’t sure that I could keep the car under adequate control to not hurt anyone if they walked in front of me. My main question is, would that be caused by the bad battery? Or would that be a symptom of something else being wrong? Where would you go from here?

The battery that’s in my car is right at the 3 year mark, and the alternator is about 2 years old. The starter I have never replaced in the 5 years I’ve owned the car.

Start with a new battery, that may be the only problem.

A bad battery can confuse the car’s electronic controls and computer. The computer needs a reasonably stable voltage for the sensors to work properly, even though the voltage is regulated, and a good battery helps keep the voltage regulated as well. If the voltage is unstable, the computer ‘sees’ changing values for sensor inputs that aren’t really changing, and these phantom readings wreak havoc.

I would make sure that you have good connections between the battery and cables, based on your description of the problem. But it does sound as though replacing the battery will solve your problems.

…but bear in mind that a failing battery can kill the alternator over the course of the battery’s progression toward death. You may well need to replace the alternator also.

I would make sure that you have good connections between the battery and cables, based on your description of the problem.

I would also check the other ends of those cables.

It sounds to me that the technician is correct about the bad (shorted) cell in the battery. The battery can’t hold a proper charge to run the electrical system since a cell is bad. The alternator will be severely stressed to try and charge the bad battery. After a fully charged replacement battery has been installed it would be a good idea to have the charging system checked out doing a load test on the system to make sure no damage has been caused to it.

Thank you all for the responses. I really appreciated it.

After a little ordeal with conflicting information from the auto techs, we were able to get the car to their service area of the store. They tested the alternator before and after replacing the battery, and said that it seemed to be the battery was indeed all it was. The engine dying so rhythmically when we tried to jump start it yesterday had me fearing the worst, as that was never anything I had ran into before.

Heh, as it turns out, the car seems to be running smoother than before, although that might be a side effect of the ECM being reset.

Thanks for the update and it’s nice to hear you are running ok now.