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Car sometimes starts

Hi All,

Current Problems:

Car starts normally sometimes. Other times it will not start at all (it sounds like the battery is dead) or it will struggle to start and once it does start the electronics in the car seem to not be getting any power.

While driving the car “clunks” into gear and the car lurches while shifting.


I was driving down the freeway and then suddenly, it seemed as I was in forced into neutral. Immediately got off the freeway and examined the situation. The situation was I no longer had reverse, drive or overdrive. I had gears 1 and 2 though.

Brought the car to the local mechanic and had a used transmission installed. After installing the transmission, the car now lurches when it goes into gear, especially when it goes into drive (around 45 mph). The plan was to bring it back to the mechanic as soon as I would have time, however before that happened, my car started to struggle to start. Finally the battery died completely and I had to jump start it. After that it got a little more strange… sometimes I would have to jump start it, sometimes it would start fine, and sometimes it would start, but the car would not have enough electric power to power all the electronics in the car fully. The headlights would be dim, the interior lights would be dim, etc… Oddly enough, I could let the car sit for 30 minutes and it would start normally again.

Before bringing it back to the mechanic I would like to be more informed as to what could possibly be going on. Do I just need a new battery and all will be fine with starting? And the fact the trouble with starting is only coincidental with bringing it to the mechanic? (Note, the battery did die while it was at the mechanic). And what should I make of the transmission problem, do they need to install a different one?

Thanks for all you help!

Also, ironically, when the transmission went out on the freeway I was listening to a car talk podcast…

And… my car is a 2000 Toyota Echo with automatic transmission, 120,000 miles. Battery is >5 years old.

Sounds like you have a charging system issue. Either your batt terminals are dirty and corroded…or your alternator is dead or dying or the batt is on its way out. Start with cleaning your batt terminals…see what you get. Then measure voltage before you try to start the car…and also after is has started. You SHOULD see 12V at rest and up to 13.7 ish while running. Do all the above and let us know what you get. The battery itself could have bad cells in it and is now not allowing a charge to be held…in that case the batt needs to go. You have some homework to do at present however so get to it…report back and we go from there. If you see 12v at rest…round 13.7 while running…AND THEN…12V after you shut down…you should be in good shape…methinks you will not see some of these values during your voltmeter tests. Let us know…but do everything in the order I listed…and see what we have


Great starting point! Note, the terminals are clean. Regardless, I will begin the testing of the voltage when I get home.

Okay got the test results:

Battery disconnect from car: 10 V
Battery on running car: 7.6 V (electrical components of car do not have enough power, and engines runs “funny”, as in, it sounds like it is miss firing.
After 10 min of running: 7.9 V
After 20 min of running 8.0 V
After 25 min of running 8.2 V

~took a break from sitting in the car, came back to it, and all electric components appeared to have full power~

Tested battery: 10V
Drove around town: 11V

While driving around town, I purchased a new battery, which I will install later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Note: This morning I tried starting the car, and it did not start. Eventually, I got the “clicking” sound. Took the battery out of the car, went to work, came home and tested the batter (that’s when I got the 10 V reading), re-attached the battery, and it started the car!?! Grant it it struggled to start the car, and the electrical components did not have enough power, but it did start.

It looks like your battery is done. I’m surprise you could get the car to crank. Good idea to purchase a new battery. This problem is occuring all over the country, as the temperature drop, batteries which are on the verge of dying anyway, with cold morning temperture, finally give up the ghost.

The way mechanics determine if a battery is good or not is the “load test”. Most people don’t have this capability at home. In the future, when you have a question about your battery status, take it to a big box auto parts retail store. Most of them will do a load test on your battery for free.

The battery appears to be the culprit. Although, this morning the car started just fine (Battery was at 10V prior to starting, 13.8 while runnning, and 12 after I got to work, which is a 5 minute drive).

I will put in the new battery this afternoon. Thanks for everyone’s help on this. Next the transmission issue… which I will put in another post.

(Battery was at 10V prior to starting, 13.8 while runnning, and 12 after I got to work, which is a 5 minute drive).

Your 5 year old battery may indeed be your problem, but this comment about your drive to work may be a hint at the root cause - it’s possible that you don’t regularly drive enough to keep your battery fully charged. If that accurately describes your driving pattern, then you might consider buying a battery minder, a tiny and inexpensive battery charger to simply keep your battery fully charged. Harbor Freight Tools sells them for about ten dollars…much cheaper than just running the engine to charge the battery. Replacing a 5 year old battery is probably a good precaution, but the same problem might affect the new battery eventually too.