Dead Car

. Bought used from CarMax and have had continual problems that car goes dead and can’t be jump started. Have towed to CarMax 8 times, 3 new batteries, new radio…but car still goes dead for no reason. They can’t find the problem. Any suggestions. We can’t sell knowing about this problem and can trust driving it.

You need to start with more info - especially what “goes dead” refers to. Does it die while driving and won’t restart? Or is it that you sometimes get in and it won’t start? When it won’t start what does it do? Crank weakly and fade away? No crank at all, just a click? No noise at all? Dash lights on or not? Etc. Were the batteries getting killed? Has the whole charging system been tested? Has anyone checked for parasitic battery drain. You gotta figure you have a bunch of people who can actually put their hands on the car and can’t fix it. So you need to say a bit more than you have.

You should also include the year, make, model, mileage

“Goes dead”…we go out to start the car and it will not start or even attempt to turn over. No headlight, no dashlights. No noise from the engine. When this first started, we thought it was the battery so we replaced it. Shortly afterward, it was dead again and we towed to the dealership. They “said” it needed a new battery, although the current battery was just a couple of months old. Since then, they have put two more batteries in. They told us we needed a new $500 radio because that was draining the battery but soon afterward, we had to tow it back to dealer. They kept the car for one month saying they had a computer? reading the electrical system to see if there were any changes but they reported none. What is a parasitic battery drain? (I’m a woman so I need to talk to shop like I know a little bit.) When we picked the car up last week, the mechanic asked us about the key. We have a standard key///not one with a security chip or a “clicker” to open the doors. I asked him why he was asking about the key and he said Chrysler has had some problems with the chips in their keys. Are you aware of any such problem with the Toyota Camry? This is a 2001 LE Camry with 94,000. (We have only put 5000 miles in two years because it has been in the shop or sitting dead in garage more days than it’s been driven.)

Will CarMax take back the car and put the money towards a different car? You didn’t say how long ago the purchase was made, but CarMax seems to have been working with you to resolve the problem.

I’d ask CarMax to take the car back and allow you to pick out another “equivalent” value car. If no go on this have them replace the battery cables, both positive and negative. One of the cables and/or connectors could be defective.

We did ask for them to replace with equivalent car but they only offered $5000 towards another car. We paid $9400 plus taxes and processing fees (bringing total to around $11,000) We purchased it a little less than 2 years ago. Car Max has been great to continually check the car out even after the warranty expireda as they are aware it has been a problem since we purchased it. They have even sent it to Toyota to have them check it out and they can’t find the problem. During the month they had the car it never went dead. We picked it up 9 days ago and within 7 days, it’s dead again. Now it’s sitting in the garage again and we don’t know if it’s worth towing it back to Car Max yet again.

A battery drain (parasitic if that is what they want to call it) is simply something that is not turning off when the car is shut off. The computers in a car don’t completely shut off, but rather go into standby mode. This is because they use volatile memory, meaning that they forget what they know when you disconnect the battery. That is why the radio forgets its presets, the seat forgets your favorite position, and the engine computer looses its error codes when the battery is disconnected. These computers and the clock draw a little bit of current all the time.

Electrical flow is measured in Amperes. Battery drain is very small so it is measured in thousandths of amperes, or milliamps. The computers and clock in your car should draw no more than 25-30 milliamps when the car is turned off. At that drain rate, a good battery can sit for nearly a year and still start your car.

If you have a defective part that is causing a computer not to go into hibernation mode, or if you have a light that is not turning off (trunk, underhood, console, glove box) or any one of dozens of other electrical problems, you can have a drain that is large enough to cause the car to ‘go dead’ after several days. These drains are not difficult to find unless they are intermittent. You may have to go to a shop that specializes in auto electric repair (or find a fairly handy friend) to track it down for you.

The way to find the problem is to take a volt-ohm meter and set it to the ammeter setting and put it in series between the battery and battery cable end. Remember that when you disconnect the battery cable and then reconnect it through the ammeter, all the computers will ‘wake up’ and it will take a while (perhaps 10 min) for the computers to go back to ‘sleep’ and drain to go down to normal level. If the long-term drain is 50 mA or more, start pulling fuses and disconnecting electrical loads until the drain goes away. When it goes away, you found the problem.

On my daughter’s car, I discovered that the aftermarket CD player in her trunk is turned on all the time, and draws about 75 mA, so she has to unplug it if she is going to leave the car parked for more than a couple of weeks.

They may be nice and willing to check it all the time but they aren’t being very effective and finding the problem. I agree, an auto electric shop is the place to go. This is not an unsolvable problem with investigative work.

I’ve had a couple intermittant problems like this with my Buicks. One would go dead once in a while and replaced the battery etc. One night I went out in the garage and saw the interior lights on. Traced it to a bad door switch that thought the door button was being pushed and turned the lights on and drained the battery. Another time I had a fried electronic sensor for the leveling system. Disconnected that and all has been fine. Just a trunk or glove box light going on or shorting out will do it. Just gotta be persistant and best to use a test light and disconnect one fuse at a time finding which circuit turns the light out.