CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Just a splash

My 2001 Saab convertible won’t turn over. It happens once or twice a day and only when the car has been running for a while. If I pour a half bottle of water on the area directly beneath, but not on, the battery the car starts. This little trick works 100% of the time. I’ve had two mechanics scoff that this is just coincidence. They want to blame the starter. What is the cause of this? Not the scoffing mechanics … the car starting after getting splashed.

What makes you splash water under the battery? What in the world made you try that to begin with?.
You may have a bad connection or something like that. The water bridges the connection - conjecture because splashing water on stuff to make it work is not a very technical way of fixing anything besides maybe repairing a defective duck afraid of water.

I take it it the starter doesn’t turn, then? Hook a 12V test light or multimeter up to the fat terminal of the starter and ground - like a large beefy metal part of the engine. It should have 12V all the time. Move the wire to the thin wire on the starter. It should have 12V on it when you try to start it.
Report back with the results.

This is a good one for Tom and Ray! Why not call the show & see if they’ll answer this one.

I can hear them now: “Doesn’t anybody screen these calls?” … lol

LOL! That would be a good one.
@Snapshot1, call in next Saturday!

Actually, Tom & Ray fielded this one, maybe a year ago.

Their reasoning made perfect sense. The starter gets overheated. Pouring water on it cools it down. Now it works.

As for you, snapshot1, I suspect you knew this all along. Or maybe your advisor did when he told you the water trick. Why else would you resort to pouring water to start your car, aiming exactly where it was needed? Anyhoo, replace the starter and drink the water.

I had an old beater car once that had cornering lights. The drivers’ side one was rusted in place and not worth repairing. It would only work when it was raining or very damp out. You might have a similar problem, assuming your trick isn’t just coincidence. Either way, I foresee the day coming soon when it just won’t start no matter what you do. I’d get it looked at before that day arrives.

Has anyone bothered to clean the contacts on the battery and both ends of all the cables?

I’ll give it a try. I pour the water beneath the battery not on it. Seems to have plenty of power. Turns and starts easily when cold. Only happens when engine is warm.

I got the idea for the water from a post on line. The poster said pour water in that area, and if your car starts its the neutral safety switch. However the car wouldn’t turn over even in neutral so I’m a bit leery about that. Also a quick search for parts didn’t turn up a neutral safety switch, there was a gear selector switch (same thing?). The junkyard had no interest in selling me a neutral safety switch or even looking to find one. I got the impression its not easy to get at. My regular mechanic poopoo’ed the idea that the water was cooling down an overheated part because there really wasn’t much water being poured. maybe 6 oz’s. He also suggested the water was conducting current. But wasn’t sure about where to start. Start with the starter? NS switch?

What exactly are you pouring the water ON? What is getting wet? Be precise. Watch where the water goes. Use a good light to see every place the water reaches. Is it touching anything electrical? If you truly believe the water is making a change, whatever gets wet is where the repair needs to be made.

Or maybe the water is a red herring. What if you do all the same steps, get out of the car, open the hood, look at the battery and the “target zone”, go get the water, but pour it on the rear tire? Try that and see if it also solves the problem the way your water treatment has done thus far.

PS: Have you considered Joseph’s good advice to check ALL the battery connections? It may be that in the process of leaning into the engine compartment to pour this restorative water, you are putting pressure on one or more wires, probably a battery cable, just enough to move something and temporarily restore a tenuous connection. If the battery and starter do seem strong, then it’s not the battery or starter, but rather a problem with conductivity. Try Joseph’s suggestion. It won’t cost you a dime.