The Disappearing Electrical Failure

After spending a day in the mountains, I was driving my car on the freeway back home (I live in Los Angeles). Suddenly, my car starts to have an electrical failure. My lights begin to dim, the auxiliary items (fan) stop working. Then suddenly the air bag light comes on. Fortunately, I made it off the freeways as my car started to sputter, and eventually died.

So I pull over, open the hood and take a look. Then only thing I can see that looks wrong, is that the battery is no longer level. Apparently a bump on the mountain road had dislodged it (which occurred about 30 min. prior). So I set the battery back to level, get it, and my car starts fine. All the lights work at full brightness and all the accessories work fine. The problem seeming disappeared.

My question is, can a tilted battery create a complete electrical failure, or is something more serious going on? Am I safe to keep driving the car? (I am actually buying a new car next week, so it only has to last a few days).

Yes, it could. If the battery positive terminal hits the hood this can ground out the battery and cause a power loss. This is all assuming the battery has a top post that is unprotected by a rubber shield.

If it’s very tilted, then some of the plates could be not covered by the acid.
You should check to see if any acid leaked out. If it did, you need to neutralize it ASAP, as it will be damaging your car. You should also check and top up the battery if it is the kind that can be refilled.

In any event, batteries should always be secured such that bumps can’t cause them to move. You need to fix whatever is supposed to hold the battery down. If you are unlucky, the battery could bounce up and hit the hood. It might explode when it shorts out on the hood.

The other possibility or combination with the loose battery is that the actual battery connections are weak, loose, or corroded.