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Dead Battery? Bad Alternator?


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This story has a happy and simple ending so bear with me and maybe it will save you some money some day.

This morning I borrowed my wife's '96 LS400 and went to the office. Fifteen minutes later I had to go to a meeting and tried to start the car. Nothing. After about 15 tries the dash lit up and it started perfectly. But, I was concerned that the battery might be dead or headed that way so after the meeting (it started up fine again) I drove straight to Sears and asked them to check the battery.

The guy came back and said the battery was fine, but the alternator needed to be replaced. I asked him "Why?" and he said that the alternator wasn't working all the time and it didn't charge the battery enough. That didn't sound quite right to me (although I'm not the least bit mechanically minded), so I asked him if the alternator was "putting out enough" (technical term) when it was running. His answer was somewhat nonresponsive, so I began to wonder whether he really had diagnosed the problem. In the meantime, the saleslady was checking the price for a replacement (NAPA) and came up with the total of $502.00 installed for a new alternator. Now, in my opinion Sears is a good place to buy tires and batteries, but I don't want any serious mechanical repairs done there so I thanked them, got a jump to get it started, and went down the road to an auto electric shop I'd done business with 20 years ago.

Asked them to check the alternator and the battery. They did, said both were OK although the battery needed charging. Then he checked the connections, found one of them loose, tightened it, charged me $5.00 and sent me on my way. While working on it, he said that I would be amazed at the number of cars that were towed to his shop when the only problem was a loose connection.

Lesson learned. Always check the connection first.

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Thanks Canopy,

How true and very astute of you. Well done!!. The connectors are always the first thing to diagnose, especially in summer, after winter, due to expansion and contraction during seasonal changes.

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