(What is inside a car battery? What are the symptoms of a bad battery? Image source: Best Car Audio)
One of the main things during the lockdown that I never failed to do is to start up the car every 2 – 3 days and let the engine running for a few minutes. Sometimes I drive around the neighbourhood till the engine had warmed up enough for me to park it back at the house.
For grocery shopping, I often use my wife’s car instead of my car as it had more fuel than my car. Further, it is rarely used since schools have been shut down and we rarely have any excuse to use that car.
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What Happened in the Morning?
However when CMCO was announced, for a change, I was thinking of going back to the office to work instead of working from home. On Tuesday morning, I woke earlier than usual, took shower and ironed my office shirt and even packed food for lunch. I said good-bye to the family, got into my car and cranked the key to start the car. The engine was dead and the power was weak – a clear sign that the car battery was dead.
The problem is, however, this car battery was less than a year old and I never had car batteries dying so early. Usually, it comes to 2 years of using, I usually starting preparing to change the car battery and get it checked every time I go to service my car. One or two times, it had died unexpectedly before the 2 years was up and I had to call for a battery replacement.
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Usual Signs of Weak Battery
(A dead battery is not the only reason why a car cannot start but there are some symptoms that you can take note. Image source: How A Car Works)
Before I jump into my situation and what happened next, let’s run through the symptoms of a problematic car battery.
Slow Engine Crank
When you attempt to start the vehicle, the cranking of the engine is sluggish and takes longer than normal to start.
Check Engine Light
The check engine light sometimes appears when your battery power is weak.
Low Battery Fluid Level
Car batteries typically have a part of the casing that’s translucent so you can always keep an eye on your battery’s fluid level. If the fluid level is below the lead plates : (energy conductor:) inside, it’s time to have the battery and charging system tested.
Swelling, Bloating Battery Case
If your battery casing looks like this you can blame excessive heat for causing your battery case to swell, decreasing your battery life.
Leaking also causes corrosion around the posts : (where the + and – cable connections are located.: ) The gunk may need to be removed; otherwise, your car may not start.
Your battery can last well beyond three years but, at the very least, have its current condition inspected on a yearly basis when it reaches the three-year mark.
Despite my past experience with dead car batteries including one at my office basement, unfortunately, there were no symptoms before I found the battery dead this morning. No slow engine crank, warning lights or even battery leaks.
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Immediate Option for the Dead Battery
(Nowadays jump-starting a car is even easier – you can buy portable jumpstart power banks. Image source: www.towtruckservicedc.com)
Just to be sure that there are no loose wires, I pop open the engine bay and double-checked if there are any loose wires. There was none but I noticed a small trace of corrosion on the battery terminals. It was obvious that I need to change the battery and my plan to go to the office needs to be cancelled.
On the internet, there are plenty of suppliers of car batteries who not only sells car batteries but also provide free installation service right at your home. For me, I only opted for The Battery Shop (they also have an app called CARPUT) because I think they were one of the first to provide this service and I have used their services a few times before including for car battery replacement for my wife’s care.
It was morning rush hour so I did expect some delays for the technician to come over to my house. It took him about 30 minutes after I confirmed the details and the order. The replacement cost for a DIN55R battery was RM295 and it came with the standard 12 months warranty.
Right on the dot, the technician parked his van in front of my house and started to check on the dead battery. He confirmed that the problem was the battery itself – there was no problem with the alternator. He took out the new battery from his van but then stopped when I told him that the battery was replaced for less than 12 months.
Now since the battery went dead before the lapse of the 12 warranty, the technician suggested this to me:-
- He will assist to jump-start the car for me
- Without shutting down the engine, I need to drive to the car service centre where I changed the battery last year. Since it is under warranty, I should get a new battery replacement for free.
- If the service centre is closed or they refused to honour the warranty, the technician asked me to call him immediately and he will replace with a new battery for me.
Why pay almost RM300 for a new battery when I get a new battery from the service centre for free, right?
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Faulty Battery Terminals?
(This is one case of very bad corrosion of the battery terminals but mine was not so bad as this. However, it is an important factor to consider when battery power is low. Image source: Mechanic Base)
As the technician from The Battery Shop was jump-starting my car, I quickly called up the service centre to check if they were open. I told the lady on the other end of the phone about my problem and she asked me to come over.
I quickly drove over and soon the mechanic was checking the readings from the battery. Somehow the battery reading shows that the battery was still working. I told the mechanic on what had happened in the morning and that made the situation more confusing. Since the reading shows that the battery is still good, he suspected that it may be due to the bad battery terminals. He suggested that I replace it with a copper-based terminal which I can get for a cheap price at a car accessories shop which was just 5 minutes drive from the service centre. This I got it replaced for RM20 for a set and another RM10 for the installation.
Once replaced, I headed back to the service centre where the mechanic took another battery reading. This time it showed a better reading and it was decided that the issue has been solved although I had my doubts. There was no charged for the services.
We started the car several times and the battery was good on all occasions so I too decided that the problem has been solved. I went back home and in the evening, I decided to park the car inside the porch. I started the car and once again, nothing clicked – the battery was dead. This time I was rather pissed off and after a very angry phone call to the service centre, the mechanic who worked on my car and his colleague came to my house since it was near.
They brought another battery but I noticed it was smaller and was not the type suited for my car. Apologising to me, they said that they did not have the right battery with them and they will put on the smaller battery for my temporary use until they get the correct replacement. They assured me that using a smaller capacity battery is fine for a short period. My research on the internet shows otherwise – it may blow some fuses.
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Same Faulty Battery Returned
A day after, I dropped by the service centre as they informed that they have gotten a new stock of battery but I then noticed although the battery make was the same, the model number of different. I highlight it to the mechanic who then double-checked again with his records. True enough, it was for the wrong model. It was another screw-up from the mechanic.
Having no other choice, I continued using the car on a smaller battery for another 2 days until I got a message from the service centre that they have sent the faulty battery to the battery vendor. It was confirmed that the problem was indeed the battery and not the battery terminal as earlier suspected. The battery vendor had simply recharged the same faulty battery and returned it to the same service centre.
Not to waste my time again, the mechanic came to my house to install the same recharged battery and took several readings to ensure it was working. One thing I noticed immediately was that the cranking of the engine was slower than normal. Obviously the battery that was “fixed” was not perfect and it still needs to be replaced – something that I probably should have done in the first place without wasting my time and money.
The battery still works but the start of the car is still slower than usual. However considering my car service is due in the coming days, I have decided to change the car battery for once and for all but this time at another authorised service centre. No more wasting time this time.