How to Diagnose Car Battery and Starter Problems

Watch more How to Make Simple Car Repairs videos: Use these tips to diagnose your car's battery and starter problems. Step 1: Turn on your ignition Turn on your ignition if your car engine won't turn over. Listen carefully to any sound produced. Step 2: Consider a dead battery Consider the possibility of a dead battery. If trying to start the engine only produces a "click" sound, this may be the case. If you left your car lights on the night before, the battery could have gone dead, and you'll need to have the battery jump-started. If the battery is very old you may have to get a new one. Tip Car batteries typically only last 3 to 5 years. Step 3: Consider a possible alternator problem Consider a possible alternator problem if turning on the ignition produces a whining sound, but you have a newer battery. If the alternator is bad, it will not charge the battery when you drive the car. You can use jumper cables and another battery to start the car, but the same problem will occur again. Have the alternator checked and replaced if necessary. Step 4: Consider a possible starter problem Consider a possible starter problem. If you hear a click when you turn on the ignition and the problem is not due to your battery, the starter's solenoid may have a weak spot inside. If so, the starter will not be able to produce enough current to start your engine, and you will have to have it replaced. Step 5: Visit a mechanic Visit a mechanic if you're having trouble determining the sound your car is making. It's always better to be safe than sorry! Did You Know? The Oxford Electric Bell, a battery-powered bell at the University of Oxford in England, has been ringing almost continuously since 1840.

More Videos...

How to Test an Alternator
Watch more How to Take Care of Your Car videos: Your vehicle's alternator is a vital component because it assists in charging your battery. Test your alternator to make sure your battery will continue to charge. Step 1: Find the battery Locate your car's battery, usually located on the left side of the engine if you're facing the front of the car. If it's not there, check the right side. Some cars even have their batteries under a seat in the middle of the car. Tip Consult the owner's manual for your vehicle if you can't find the battery. Step 2: Connect at the voltmeter Connect the voltmeter to the battery while the car is off. Connect the red positive wire on the meter to the positive battery terminal, and connect the black wire on the meter to a bare metal grounding source, such as a nut or bolt on your car's frame. Step 3: Read the battery's voltage Read the voltage on the meter to determine how many volts your battery is producing. Twelve is average, and if goes much lower than 11, you need a replacement. Step 4: Turn the engine on Disconnect all wires and turn the engine on and reconnect the meter to the battery. Step 5: Read the voltage Read the voltage on the meter as the car is running. If the voltage with the car running is higher than the voltage when the engine is off, then the alternator is fine. If it's lower, your alternator needs to be repaired or replaced. Did You Know? Americans buy almost 3 billion dry-cell batteries every year.

How to Jump-Start Your Car
Watch more Driving & Car Safety videos: There’s nothing more frustrating than getting into your car, turning the key, and—nothing. The good news is that a quick jump-start is just a jumper cable away. Warning Never attempt to jump-start a battery that is frozen, cracked, or damaged in any way. It could explode when connected to another battery. Step 1: Position cars Position the working car as close to the 'dead' car as possible. Ideally, that means hood to hood with a few inches in between. Step 2: Turn off both engines Turn off both engines. Tip Never light a match or smoke near a car battery. The battery contains hydrogen, a highly explosive gas. Step 3: Open hoods of both cars Open the hoods of both cars. Step 4: Identify terminals on car batteries Identify the positive and negatives terminals on both car batteries. They will be labeled with a plus sign for positive and minus sign for negative. Step 5: Connect red clamp to dead battery Connect one of the red clamps on the jumper cables to the positive terminal on the dead battery. Step 6: Connect red clamp to working battery Connect the other red clamp to the positive terminal on the working car’s battery. Step 7: Connect black clamp to working battery Connect the black clamp on the jumper cables to the negative terminal on the working car’s battery. Step 8: Clip black clamp to dead car's engine Clip the remaining black clamp to a clean metal part of the dead car’s engine to ground the circuit. Step 9: Attempt to start dead car Attempt to start the dead car. If it doesn't start, disconnect the jumper cables in the reverse order: first the black clamps (starting with the once-dead car), then the red clamps (starting with the working car). Start the engine of the working car and allow it to run for about five minutes to Boost its battery. Step 10: Attempt to start again Turn off the working car and again attempt to jump the dead car by connecting the cables -- in order -- and starting the ignition. Step 11: Disconnect jumper cables Once the car starts, disconnect all the clamps in the reverse order. Step 12: Charge battery or go to repair shop If you’re confident that your dead battery was just drained by accident, keep your car running to charge it back up -- otherwise, go directly to a repair shop without shutting off the engine, or you risk having the battery die on you again. Did You Know? Contrary to popular belief, heat -- not cold -- is the most common cause of car battery breakdowns.

How to Fix a Car Starter
Watch more How to Make Simple Car Repairs videos: Before you look under the hood, check out these tips for fixing a faulty car starter. Warning Working with jacks and electrical motors can be dangerous. To avoid injury, use caution and make sure the vehicle is stable before you work on it. Step 1: Rule out other causes Rule out other possible causes of the problem first, such as a faulty battery, gears, or the key connection. Tip If you hear the starter motor working well when you turn the key, the problem probably lies elsewhere. But a click, grind, silence, or weak sound may indicate a faulty starter. Step 2: Get to the starter Locate the starter either under the hood or from underneath. If you need to jack up the car to get to it, secure the car high up enough to slide under it and work. Step 3: Tap it Gently tap the starter cylinder with a wrench and test the ignition system to see if that solves the problem. Step 4: Label wires Label both sides of the wires connecting to the starter with masking tape, so you can put it back together properly later. Tip Consult the detailed repair manual for your car for tips on getting to and removing the starter. Step 5: Remove starter Remove the starter motor by unhooking the cables that connect to the battery and removing the bolts from the top and bottom with a ratchet and wrench set. Tip Most auto parts stores can test the starter at little or no cost to confirm your diagnosis. Step 6: Inspect the starter Inspect the starter for obvious damage to help determine whether the problem is in the motor or with the piece that is supposed to engage the flywheel. Step 7: Clean and reattach Fix any apparent problems, such as a jam or loose cable; then reattach the starter. If it still does not work, you probably need to buy a new one to replace it with. Either way, your vehicle will thank you. Did You Know? The first electrical starter system for cars was invented in 1911 by Charles Kettering.

How to Clean Car Battery Terminals
Watch more How to Take Care of Your Car videos: If your car battery is corroded, not enough electricity can be passed to the terminals and through the cables to power your car's electrical system for optimum performance. You can clean away corrosion with a few simple steps. Step 1: Rinse and scrub the terminals Rinse the battery terminals with a solution of one heaping tablespoon baking soda to 1 pint water, and then thoroughly scrub the terminals and around the base of the posts with an old toothbrush. Step 2: Dry the battery Dry the battery and terminals with a clean towel, making sure to wipe away residue and corrosion around the terminals. Step 3: Remove battery terminals Loosen the nut on each cable clamp and remove the terminals from the posts by twisting and pulling them off. Tip Remove the terminal from the negative post, marked with a minus sign, first. Then remove the terminal from the positive post, marked with a plus sign. Step 4: Inspect the cables and clamps Inspect the cables for excessive wear and corrosion, and inspect the battery and terminals for damage. If there is excessive damage, replace the parts or the battery to avoid future problems. Step 5: Clean the terminals Insert the end of the battery brush into the terminals and rotate it back and forth until the inside of each terminal is uniformly shiny and all of the grease, dirt, and corrosion is scrubbed away. Tip Since battery brushes are conical and terminals are different sizes, you may have to flip the terminal over to effectively clean the other side. Step 6: Clean the posts Push the open end of the battery brush over each post and rotate it back and forth for about a minute, or until the posts are uniformly shiny and all of the grease, dirt, and corrosion is brushed away. Step 7: Clean the battery Pour more of the baking soda and water solution over the top of the battery, wipe it down with a clean rag, and then dry it off with the towel. Then reattach the terminals to the posts, starting with the positive cable. Step 8: Perform regular maintenance Perform regular battery maintenance, checking for corrosion several times a year, to ensure your electrical system stays in good working order and you don't get stranded. Did You Know? A car battery contains 18 pounds of lead and one pound of sulfuric acid.