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Car stopped working completely, could be anti-theft -- issue for a dealer? Or private mechanic OK?

Hi CarTalk! This is a pretty simple question, but I don’t know anyone who knows cars. I was driving my F2007 Ford Focus and all the lights on the dash went on and then all the power went off and the car stopped. Once it stopped, there was no way to get the power on and I couldn’t switched gears. I guess I shifted into park once the car started freaking out and now it’s impossible to switch to neutral. The only light on the dash that works is the anti-theft symbol, which seems to go on for a second when I turn the ignition on. It doesn’t stay on solid.

From what I’ve googled, it seems like the car’s computer got tripped into activating the car’s anti-theft locking system? I’m not really sure. (I was driving the car while this happened – scary!) But AAA towed the car to a random auto repair shop near my house. Should I be having a Ford dealership look at this? Or is it fine in the hands of a private repair shop? Timing couldn’t be worse – I was going to drive my car across country for a new job in two days, so I’m hoping this can be sorted quickly and my car will be safe to drive by then. Thanks in advance!

If the body shop can’t handle this call AAA for a tow to the nearest Ford dealer. It seems AAA made the decision on towing it to a body shop, so the tow to Ford dealer should be covered without costing you anything.

I guess my question is, should I be trusting a shop that does not specialize in Ford cars to deal with this? Or is this something that a dealer really needs to address? I mean, this happened while I was driving the car. I’m very lucky this happened on a road while no one was behind me and not while I was on the highway. I am going to be driving on long stretches on highway across the country for my move, so if this happens then, it could be extremely dangerous. I’m scared. :frowning:

No, this is not an issue that a body shop is dedicated to handling. You’re more likely to have success with a mechanic who knows these cars or with the dealer. Body shops handle problems related to body work, usually from collisions. Your problem is related to the engine or the electrical system.

First, try your second ignition key…Then, measure the voltage of your battery with a voltmeter. If it’s under 11.5 volts, install a new battery and see if that cures it. If it’s 12.0-12.8 volts tow the car to a Ford dealer…

It sounds like your battery is dead. Are you sure the car was towed to a body shop? I would hope a tow truck driver would know the difference between a collision and a no start condition.

OK, so an update. The mechanic just called me. He said the cable to my battery was loose and when he tightened it, my car started. His explanation was that because it’s a super hot day today in Boston, the heat exacerbated the bad connection. He asked if I noticed any lights going on and off, radio presets/clock defaulting and I haven’t. He said he tightened it, but I’m really worried – if this happens on a highway it could be very dangerous. I asked if the cable should be replaced and he said no, he tightened it and the car worked fine. He said the battery itself was at 95% and just fine. Any thoughts? Could it be this simple? Still scared.

Thank you everyone for responses. (Also, I think it’s just an auto repair shop. Not a collision shop. My apologies, will edit.)

I wouldn’t worry. If the battery cable was loose, that’s entirely consistent with all of your symptoms. Now that it’s tight, you should be fine.

Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind was to check the battery connections. It sounded like you’d lost power. You should be fine now.

The mechanic you ended up with is an honest fellow. He could have screwed you good with this one. I suggest that you tip him for his honesty and begin to patronize him for your service.

Thanks guys. The guy at the auto shop was really a very nice man. I expressed how scared I was of it happening again on a highway and he double checked things for me. Although $87 for a loose cable seems like a lot (I assume that cost is for the tests they performed) I think the same mountainbike makes a good point that he could’ve given me a bogus list of work I needed done. I will leave him a nice review online. :slight_smile:

I am wondering why your battery cable was loose. It wasn’t loose because it is hot in Boston, I hope he was just making conversation. Was your battery recently replaced? Was your car in for repair recently?

I think he was saying that it was loose, and the heat exacerbated it. That’s certainly plausible.

Yeah, he didn’t say it was loose because of the heat. He said the heat made the weak connection from the loose cable even weaker. He said electricity works better when it’s colder and it doesn’t work as well when it’s hot. He said my battery was at 95%.

I got in a car accident about one year ago and they messed up the door beep system so I accidentally left my lights on a couple times and needed my car jump started twice I think. At least once. I don’t remember if the body shop did anything related to my battery. The damage to my car was on the driver’s side doors.

Other than that, I took the car in for an inspection a couple months ago because I kept hearing a thumping sound when I braked. Turned out, a screw just got loose and was rolling around in my car and was causing the sound. They definitely tested my battery, so I’m not sure if they were sloppy somehow. But this instance also goes to show stuff has come loose in my car before.

I would check for a Ford service bulletin or recall notice for this problem. As it is potentially life threatening and a defect I would push Ford to cover the repair cost. Worth checking this out on the Web and phoning Ford corporate customer service (and not the people at the dealer who are often clueless).