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Solved, and you'll never guess! HELP! Dead battery and funny smell. VSC and check engine lights on and off. Charging system and battery good

I have a 2007 Camry currently sitting at a shop, while I’m stuck 8 hours from home, and I’m getting no answers…

Last Thursday my VSC, maintenance, skid, and check engine lights came on. Then they went off when I got gas that night. I read that can be a common false alarm in my car car, so the next day I left for an 8 hour trip. 1.5 hours into my trip I stopped to get gas. The light came back on. 2 hours after that I stopped to get coffee, but didn’t turn the car off as I had a passenger in it. But there were no smells, etc. Then when I arrived at my destination about 4 hours later, as soon as I turned my car off I noticed a horrible smell in the cab, and outside, near the hood. It had almost a chemical smell to me. My friend described it as smelling hot. Then, when getting things out of the trunk, I heard what sounded like popping/cracking sounds that seemed to run the length of my car. The next morning, when I went to get in my car, it was dead. As in no power of any kind. It did jump start easily. The only wanting light that appeared after that was the check engine. However, we didn’t drive it, and no mechanics were open until the next Monday. A couple hours later it started up just fine. I didn’t drive it, though. Then a few hours later, it wouldn’t start at all. It’s worth noting that the car has a battery and altanator that are under 18 months old, but I do travel quite a bit.

When I went to take it to the mechanic the following day, it had to be jump started again. The battery only holds a charge for a very short time. Also, all the warning lights were off, including the check engine.

When I called the mechanic earlier today he says they had found nothing wrong, and my charging system was good.

So what’s going on?!? Spark plugs? Ignition coils? But what about the smell? Could a plugged catalytic converter be burning up my plugs, and in turn draining my battery?!?

Probably not related, but I’ll mention anyway… my brakes and rotors were replaced about 6 weeks ago. My steering seems to have an occasional rough/grinding feeling when turning. Which I can feel in my gas pedal. Fluids are good. And, last week somebody else drove my car and said it felt like my rotors where going bad. But, they are new! I haven’t noticed this, but maybe I’m just used to it? I do think I can feel a difference in how smoothly my car drives from day to day. Oh! And, on occasion, I feel like it’s slow to accelerate from a stop.

No. Even if the catalytic converter somehow wrecked your spark plugs (itself exceedingly unlikely), the spark plugs would not drain the battery because they don’t use any power unless the car is running.

Describe the smell more - lots of things have a “chemical” smell. In fact, if you want to be annoyingly pedantic, everything is a chemical and so everything has a chemical smell! :wink:

Did the smell maybe smell a little like a cross between roasted marshmallows and melting wire insulation? If so, look hard at your alternator.

With the exception of the smell everything you’re saying sounds like bad grounds to me. When cars lose their grounds, all sorts of bizarre stuff can happen.

The smell has almost a nail polish remover smell to me? I’ve smelled burning brakes, oil, the last time my alternator went out, hot electric/wires… it wasn’t like any of those. At least that was my impression of it.

The mechanic is saying just to pick it up and take it home (8 hours with 3 kids, and no reception a majority of the way), because he can’t find anything wrong. I don’t feel super excited about that prospect, lol.

He said he drove it about 5 minutes, and its behaving completely normal, and maintained a charge. He said he still suspects the alternator, but that its acting normally now. And, like I said, the battery and alternator were replaced just over a year ago…

It just doesn’t have the same feel… or smell, lol… as it did last year, when my alternator was failing.

Nail polish remover is acetone, a common solvent, with perfume added.

Right. But what would cause all of these symptoms, including the smell?

A failing alternator can get hot and give off an odor like melting plastic. What were the engine light fault codes?

You stated he drove the car for 5 minutes? I drive them for 30 to 45 minutes when searching for a problem.

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It didn’t smell like burning plastic to me… or like it did last time my alternator went out. But, I wouldn’t rule it out.

And I’m not the least bit impressed with this mechanic. I’m in a tiny town on the Washington peninsula, so options are limited, to say the least. 5 minutes didn’t seem like a thorough test to me, either.

Regardless, he says all my charging system looks good, and my car is “behaving normally”. Which doesn’t give me much confidence, obviously.

The only code he said showed up, was the VSC.

The lights on my dash were initially the VSC, mainance, engine, and slip indicator. Which came on and off. Then, after the first jump start, just the engine. And after the last jump, none.

There are no Diagnostic Trouble Codes that are as general as “engine”.
You need to find out–specifically–what Diagnostic Trouble Codes were found, and to zero-in on that basis.

If there is a DTC related to your engine, the VSC, traction control, and cruise control will be automatically disabled. Resolve the engine-related problem, and you will almost surely resolve the other problems.

If it were the grounds, what would be the best way to go about testing this?

I understand there is no code as simple as “engine”. But in speaking to the mechanic, he said the ONLY code that showed, was for the VSC. I can ask specificky for the code number when I pick it up, if he even kept it.

I obviously have extremely limited car knowledge, but I did think it produced a code each time a warning light, etc. came on. And that a check engine light (which did come on) would certainly result in a code…

The memory in the engine controler may have been lost when the battery went dead. The common fault in the ABS/VSC controler when the check engine light is on is C1201, Engine control system malfunction. That doesn’t indicate what the engine problem was.

Right. The VSC is a symptom of the the larger issue. But as of now, I have no other codes.

The VSC light often comes on b/c of other problems, and is seldom helpful to diagnose the actual cause. The VSC light is a symptom in other words. This problem needs to be diagnosed by a mechanic who’s standing in front the of the engine compartment, not somebody like me on the internet. But if you are looking for ideas, my first guess is the odor you are smelling is wiring overheating somewhere. What with the popping/crackling sounds, I’d focus on a problem with the starter motor. It may be turning on and off by itself for some reason. The high current contacts in a starter motor can fail and the high resistance heats up the contacts & causes odors. The popping noise could be the starter motor trying to engage when it shouldn’t, due again to the failing contacts.

The mechanic gave up, so I was determined to figure it out on my own, and I did!

When I got my car back, I started checking all the electronics, accessories, etc. in the car. I discovered the speakers weren’t working. So I added that to the list of symptoms and went from there…

Long story short, we’ve been traveling a lot the last couple of weeks, with a full truck. My full trunk resulted in a bar in the trunk bending and touching where the speaker wires are soldered to the speaker, which shorted out my amp (the popping and the smell), and the damaged amp was draining my battery!

I closed my boyfriend in the trunk with a flashlight to confirm, and bingo! We bent the bar back, removed the fuse, disconnected the amp, and problem solved!

Pretty proud of myself, lol. And not impressed with toyotas design flaw.

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Interesting and good detective work. I’m not sure I would trust someone to lock me in the trunk though.

Lol, me either. That’s why I had him get in :wink:

Shorted speaker wiring can cause an amplifier to no shut down and drain the battery? Possible but I have not experienced this. It seems you should have noticed some audio system problems while driving unless the radio was off during the trip.

There is still the question of the check engine light and faults, it seems doubtful an amplifier fault would interfere with the engine controler.

And if the audio system were turned off, the shorted wires should have no effect. And usually when the engine is turned off and key removed, the audio system is off.