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Simple Battery Issue?

Hey folks. 2000 Olds Silhouette. (143K or so). I think I just happen to have a battery that had a sudden failure. I just haven’t had one fail in quite this way before so I thought I’d run it by the board.

First, I unfortunately don’t know the battery’s age. I know its the one that was in there when I bought the van about 2.5 yrs/40K miles ago.

It has shown no signs of any issues and this following a reasonably cold winter for my area (we don’t get below zero but we’ve had plenty of teens).

On Saturday the van started without issue and was driven about 30 miles to my daughter’s soccer game. I wasn’t there. My wife called at the end saying the van was dead. Some friends had jumper cables on it for about 10mins. About 2 mins into our conversation it started. She drove home without incident.

When she got home I put a meter on the battery. With the van off it was right around 13V. With the van running it was doing just fine at 14V & change. I put my daughter in it to turn on as many things as possible while I watched the meter. No problem; no glitches. I checked battery voltage again (van off) the next morning & it was at 12.8V Seemed good to me.

I chalked the non-start up to that stupid GM PassLock system. The van’s been driven plenty over the last couple of days without issue.

This afternoon it started as normal and my wife took it to work (about 15 miles). At the end of work she called with a dead van. She promises that nothing was left on, but the van eventually turns off things like interior lights anyway. This time I went to get her. The battery is at 6 - yes that’s 6 Volts. I did pull the cables, which I keep clean & tight, and checked directly on the battery. I did not jump it as I’d rather not kill my alternator.

Anyway, I have just never had an “intermittent” battery failure - but I presume they happen. The part that bothers me is that it has one of those ridiculous little color-coded “eyes” on top: green for good, clear for needs charge, red for bad. Mine is still green though I couldn’t say why.

At the moment the van sits at my wife’s work & I just plan to rescue it from there tomorrow with a new battery. But I just wish the stupid eye was red rather than green. I also wish it had just died once and for all - rather than briefly coming back to what seemed to be good health. I am still assuming this is as simple as battery death.

But if anyone can think of anything else I should be worried about I’d be happy to have it on my mind.

It is possible for a battery to die suddenly and intermittently. This happened recently on my brother’s Jeep Cherokee. The battery was starting the truck just fine, he drove it to work and it wouldn’t crank when he was ready to leave. A jump start got it going, although it was a difficult jump, took a while for it to take a charge from the donor vehicle. It continued to start fine until he went and got a new battery for it a couple days later, and has had no problems since.

You may also consider replacing your battery cables when you change the battery. Those side post cables are notorious for harboring corrosion in places you can’t see, which can also cause a multitude of problems.

This doesn’t sound like a Passlock problem to me. If it were a Passlock problem, you would have a crank but no start problem.

The eye only shows the condition of one of the 6 cells, give the battery a physical jolt and see if it changes color.Your van was made at a time that the original battery it would have come with was problematic. The problem is they would leak at the postive terminal and the acid could damage the cable and in extreme cases wick down the cable and damage the starter. There also was a problem that affected many GM vehicles from the year 2000 (and other years) where the big nut holding the big cable to the starter solenoid would be loose of have come loose,you should make sure your cables were not damaged from the original battery and that the cable is tight at the starter.

Thanks folks. I’m sure it is as simple as this. The new battery is in my car awaiting me to have time to go put it in later today. I kind of figured the green eye couldn’t really be checking the overall condition of the battery. Thanks for the info oldschool. Given that it works that way it seems to me to be fairly useless.

For now I need to get it out of the parking lot. I’ll pull & inspect the cables over the weekend.

As batteries age, deposits build up on the plates. In the old days, the deposits would get thick enough over time to short out the cell(s). New batteries have a barrier between the plates to keep this from happening, but the deposits can flake off near the tops and bottom of the plates and get around the barrier.

If you had a battery with removable caps, you could see these flakes laying on top of the plates, if it is an old battery that is. Since the flakes can float around, they can cause an intermittent drain.

When I have a battery that is over 4 years old and it goes dead without an external reason (lights left on etc), I replace it immediately. It will not be long for this world. You made the right decision to replace the battery.

You don’t have to worry about frying your alternator while jump starting another vehicle unless you rev you engine up high to get more juice to the dead battery. If you hook up correctly and let your alternator (at idle) put a charge on the dead battery for about two minutes, then start the dead vehicle, you will not endanger your alternator.

What damages the alternator is when too much current is pulled through the diodes in the alternator. There are two things that control the amount of current being pulled through the diodes, RPM and load. Jumping a dead battery is a huge load for the alternator, but at low RPM, the alternator cannot satisfy the requirements for this load. As a result, the output voltage drops from the alternator and less current is being provided for the load.

If you let the engine idle for a couple of minutes, the current being supplied will begin to charge up the dead battery, increasing its resistance to incoming current. As this resistance increases, less voltage will be dropped across the internal resistance of the alternator and the alternators output voltage will rise up to where the regulator takes over to control the voltage.

You can decrease the time needed for the dead battery to take on a charge by increasing your engine RPM, But this increases the alternators voltage and therefore the current supplied to the dead battery. Going to 12-1500 RPM will usually not overload the alternator, but anything above that could cause the diodes to overheat and melt. Staying at idle is usually the safest bet.