How Important Is Your Car’s Battery?

by Don Elliott on April 14, 2011

My father is a pretty smart guy. He is 85 years old and still drives his 2004 Ford Taurus. When the car is working properly, I suppose it is okay that he is out on the road, particularly when he stays close to home. When his used car is not working properly and his auto repair shop can’t fix the problem, his next call is to me.

I have been in and around cars most of my life. Generally, I can make a pretty good guess at a problem, even from 300 miles away. In the case of his latest problem, we were all stumped. Periodically the Taurus would run rough and sometimes even stop running, if only for a second or two. For an 85 year-old guy, this was not an acceptable situation.

After unsuccessful stops at two independent automotive repair shops and the Ford dealership, I checked in with Chuck, the service manager at my local car auction. This particular auto auction repair facility accepts retail customers along with service work for cars being prepped for auction sale. Repairs for auto auction cars are generally limited to the minimum requirements to make the car run properly without spending a bunch of money.

Frankly, Chuck has seen it all; repossessed cars, modified engines, fancy sound systems, security alarms and all kinds of mechanical problems. I described our problem with the Taurus. After a few minutes, Chuck asked about the car’s battery. How old was it? Had we checked its output? Was the car battery the correct one for the car? I reminded him that it was the engine that was the problem, not the car battery.

Chuck pointed out that all cars have at least one 12-volt rechargeable car battery. (He had a Mercedes in the shop that had two batteries, one in the normal location and one in the truck area.) The car battery powers everything electrical: the car’s computer, the ignition system, the headlights, the sound system, the climate control and plenty more. The car’s alternator and the voltage regulator keep the battery properly charged while the car is running. Failure of the alternator or a broken alternator belt will prevent the battery from receiving its charge and eventually cause the car battery to loose enough power to stop the car.

“I get it, Chuck,” I said. “But this only happens once in a while. Besides, we had had the alternator and voltage regulator checked and both were performing to spec.” Without hesitation, Chuck told us to spend $75 or so on a good battery matched to the car and the problem would probably be fixed.

Apparently batteries aren’t just ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In the case of my Dad’s battery, it had a bad cell. Sometimes the battery performed as intended. At other times, the battery generated less amperage than was required for the car’s computer. Auto repair technicians had checked the car when the car battery was performing correctly and, therefore, they were unable to find the problem.

Happily, for the cost of a new car battery, the Taurus is now running just fine. Thanks, Chuck!

Have you had an experience with your cars electrical system that your automotive repair shop was unable to find? We’d like to hear about it. Send us a comment.

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