10 Common Q&A’s: Why Won’t My Car Start; Is the Car Battery Dead?

by | Dec 17, 2013 | Auto Questions, Car Problems & Repairs

(This is part two of a two-part series around the questions/symptoms that car owners experience when they think they have a dead battery.  Here, in part two, we focus on understanding the causes of some of the symptoms related to a dead battery.)

Last week, we posted descriptions for several common terms related to battery failure.  Now that you are up to speed on what the terms mean, here are answers to ten of the most common battery related questions we receive.

1. Why is my battery dead AGAIN?  I hear this so often. This is because the first thing most people do when they experience a dead battery is change the battery without checking to find out why the battery is dead. Yes it can be that the battery needs changing, but more often than not there is another reason for the problem. That’s why an inspection and a diagnostic check should be performed to check the check the whole system, connections, potential drains, charging system etc.

2. My car will not turn over. I turn my key and nothing happens.  Why won’t it start? Well this could be a battery needing replacement, but it may be an electrical problem connected to the electrical part of the ignition switch and the related wiring circuit. The only way to find out is to do some testing.

3. My car started perfectly just a short while ago, why is it dead now? How is that possible?  This can happen when a battery fails unexpectedly. Typically this happens when one cell of the battery shorts out. This is why battery service checks should be performed regularly. At every 15k service period (15k, 30k, 45k, etc.) we check your battery. We run the battery through a number of tests that give us an idea of its condition. If it fails any of the tests, we recommend a new battery.

4. I charged up my battery overnight and drove it to work. Then when I came out from work it was dead again.  Why? A drain on the system is the most likely cause for this type of problem — something left on like the light in the glove box or something more complicated like an electronic module staying live. Checking for a drain on the system requires measuring the drain. If it is found to be outside of the normal level then an auto technician should proceed with the diagnostic checks.

5. I turn the key, and it just clicks. What does the click mean?  I turn the key, and I hear many rapid clicks. Why is it clicking and not starting? Either of these is related to a battery that is not completely dead but has enough energy to try and engage the starter. That’s the clicking sound you hear. This problem is addressed by replacing the battery.

6. My friend tried to jump start my car. Now even with a new battery it will not start.  Why won’t the new battery work? Jump starting a car the wrong way can cause a lot of expensive damage which can cause the car not to start. Only experienced people should jump start a car. One wrong connection can damage sensitive electronics systems. If you are not 100% sure how to jump start your car, have the vehicle towed. In fact, having your vehicle towed is the best option to take, even versus having emergency road service personnel replace or service the battery. Emergency road services like AAA offer battery service, however we have even seen issues with their service.  For example, we have seen cases where AAA service personnel haven’t put in the proper battery or haven’t gotten to the real issue of why the battery went dead in the first place.

7. AAA installed a new battery and now my radio will not come on, they say I need a battery code.  What’s that?
If the battery is completely dead, i.e. you open the door and the interior light is not coming on, then you will have to find the radio code that was provided to the car owner. If there is some energy left then the radio code and the engine’s electronically learned setting can be saved by attaching a small battery to save this memory, before a new battery is installed.

8. I installed a new battery in my BMW and now I am told it has to be programmed to match the car. Is this true? The only way to avoid reprogramming following a new battery installation is to have the work performed at an independent shop that has the proper software which allows the auto technician to save the settings/information and avoid reprogramming.

9. I was told my car has a drain on my electrical system causing the battery to go dead.  What’s draining the battery? If your auto technician tells you that have a drain on your battery it is because the system has been checked and a drain was discovered. This is good because it shows your car is being looked at carefully.  A diagnosis is required to discover what’s actually causing the drain, as it could be a number of different items as noted in #4 above.

10. I was told I have an intermittent parasitic drain on my battery.  How is a parasitic drain different from just an electrical system drain? When you experience an intermittent parasitic drain, it’s just that, intermittent.  This means it isn’t occurring all the time.  This makes it more difficult to diagnose and therefore poses a big challenge for the auto repair shop as well as the customer. Tracking down this problem can require time and money.  But, on the plus side, a customer can be a great help in diagnosing the problem when they can remember something associated with the drain. Here are some examples of occasions when car owners might be experiencing a parasitic drain:

• “When I turn off my car I hear something running.”
• “The interior lights are not working like they used to.”
• “I was told my brake lights were on all the time, but they are working ok now”
• “My radio used to turn off when I open the door”
• “The antenna is not retracting” (that’s an old one!!)
• “It is only an issue when I go on a long trip” (This turned out to be caused by an overfilled trunk. There was so much in the trunk that it wasn’t shutting fully and the trunk light switch was damaged).

Yes, the list is long and the answers can be easy or complex.

Do you think you are in need of battery maintenance or service?  If you’re near the Columbia, MD or Ellicott City, MD area give us a call or make an appointment online.


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About the Author

About Brian England

Brian England, the current president of BA Auto Care (formerly British American Auto Care), got his start with an auto apprenticeship in a small town in northwest of London. He came to the U.S. in 1972 to work for a Land Rover dealer in Rockville, MD. A few years later, he started British American Auto Care with his wife, Jennifer. Brian is a big believe in preventative maintenance, and his philosophy is to encourage and educate drivers on the benefits of a regular maintenance plan.