Recently I received a call from my mother-in-law and it seems her next door neighbor has been having some serious electrical car troubles. He owns a 2001 Dodge Durango and it has had several trips not only to the local dealer, but other mechanic shops in hopes of finding the mysterious problem. While driving, turning, or just starting out, there never appears to be a pattern to when this vehicle might just shut off. All the mechanics who have encountered this vehicle, could never really recreate the issue. But after the car owner is asked to pick the vehicle up, it seems to happen not long after taking possession of this driving ghost.
All the shops have insured the owner that they have checked everything, from the computer to the wiring. But still nothing is detected. Yet while driving it himself, that ghost appears, the engine just shuts off without warning and again he is stranded. Often times the vehicle will start right back up and other times, he must wait for 10 to 15 minutes. The engine will crank, but not start. One shop felt that it might be the computer, so that was replaced, $1,500.00 dollars later. The owner, thinking the problem has been solved, drives off only to have the car stall a block from his house. Yes when the shops perform a test drive, it drives perfect, no stalling. Can you imagine his frustration? I can, it is like going to the doctor with an aliment and then when you arrive for your appointment, it seems to have disappeared making you feel like an idiot.
Having been a mechanic for over 40 years, I have come across such situations and after all, why would someone want to spend money trying to fix something if it really wasn’t present. So what do you do?
Electrical problems are many times hard to solve. They can be like a needle in a hay stack. In this case, the car owner followed the lead of which ever shop the car might have been at. To make matters worse, they also found other problems such as; the transmission needed replacing, new transfer case, complete new rear end, and front hubs, well the list goes on. After it is all said and done, this poor guy ended up spending up words in the amount of $9,000.00. But the engine shut problem still existed.
His one last ditch effort was to have the computer replaced again, under warranty in hopes of it curing the issue. The owner once again, hopped into his Durango and off he went. It seemed to perform perfectly, until one day, it happened again. That was it, he was through with this vehicle and that is how I entered the picture. My husband and I were offered this vehicle for $500.00. I am not a Dodge fan, but for $500.00 who could say no. Just think of all the money poured into this vehicle and it was in relatively good condition. Nice paint, loaded model, mileage not too bad, good tires and leather interior.
We loaded up on our car trailer and took it home. I am always up for a good challenge so I obtained a temporary permit to drive the car and began my test runs. I put some 250 miles on it and it never missed a lick. I had suspected the battery from the beginning, but the preliminary tests showed good, I was still not convinced. I really wanted it to fail so I could jump out with my meter and test the voltage at the battery.
One morning I started up the Durango put it in drive, went about 5 feet and it stalled. All the dash lights went out, and then came back on, I restarted the car and it started right up. So I drove into town and it never missed a beat. Humm. Then three days later my husband and I went into town for a party that evening, it drove in and back just fine. I like to back my vehicles into the garage, so as I placed the transmission into reverse, the car died. I tried to restart it and it seemed as if it wanted to, but it just wouldn’t. I jumped out, popped open the hood and checked the battery voltage, it was 10.2. Ok now we are getting somewhere. After driving all that way home, the battery should be at least 13 or so volts, which tells me either the alternator is not putting out or the battery is failing.
Since it would not restart, we had to push it into the garage. The next morning I rechecked the battery voltage and it had climbed above 12.4 volts. This is acceptable for now. I still have my doubts. The car started right up, I pulled it out on to the driveway and it died. This time, no power at all, everything was dead. This battery was at the end of its life. The battery had one dead cell, causing low voltage to other sensors in the engine, which in turn would make the car stall. So this fix cost $98.00 dollars for a new battery, problem solved. The moral to this story is, always check the basics first and never assume the worse. Good basic mechanics is where a mechanic should start with and not go replacing things unless you are certain.
Be sure to read my article on How a Battery Works to understand the inner workings of one. It could save you some hard earned cash.