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Car Electrical Problem? It May Not Be the Battery

April 25th, 2013 by
A comprehensive test of your battery and electrical system can show you where the real problem is.

A comprehensive test of your battery and electrical system can show you where the real problem is.

I wrote this post mostly for the auto technician, but if you’re a customer battling a weak car battery, you may want to read it, too. Often what we think is a battery problem isn’t the battery at all.

Gale Kimbrough, Interstate Batteries' manager of engineering and technical services.

Gale Kimbrough, Interstate Batteries’ manager of engineering and technical services.

My dad, a long-time shop owner, always told me that battery testing is not rocket science. But, if it is not conducted correctly, it can sure cost a lot of people time and money. Dad was right! Let’s take a look.

Customer: The engine won’t turn over, but it started immediately with a jump. Must be the battery.

Hold it right there! There are a number of tests I need to run on this vehicle before I’ll know if it is the battery or not. To service this customer properly, I will need to inspect and/or test:

  • The battery
  • Starting system
  • Charging system
  • Key-off drain (parasitic draw)
  • Voltage drops
  • Loose cables, connections
  • Belt or belts
  • Safety switches
  • Computer codes

I’ve already started the troubleshooting process in my mind before I ever reach the vehicle. After conducting a quick visual inspection of the engine, I think about starting with a battery test.

Testing the battery is a key to ensuring that other tests you conduct offer good information. If the battery is discharged, it can negatively affect the outcome of the charging, starting, voltage drop and key-off drain testing. So, what does it take to ensure you test the battery correctly?

Battery Testing

Interstate Batteries distributors test batteries regularly.

Interstate Batteries distributors test batteries regularly.

The Six Steps of Conductance Testing

  1. Battery visual inspection
  2. Ensure good battery connection
  3. Follow tester’s prompts correctly
  4. Test battery’s temperature
  5. Battery state of charge
  6. Evaluate results

Testing and/or qualifying a battery incorrectly can result in customer dissatisfaction, a lot of effort without qualifiable results and lost revenue. Be sure to combine the correct, calibrated equipment, as well as your knowledge, to get accurate results.

The Four Steps of Load Testing

  • Battery visual inspection
  • Determine state of charge
  • Load test
  • Evaluate results

Load Testing: Do’s

  • Do use a calibrated voltmeter and load tester.
  • Do use a variable carbon pile load tester.
  • Do verify the CCA rating of the battery by checking the battery label or the Interstate application guide.
  • Do test the battery’s state of charge.
  • Do check the electrolyte level if or when applicable.
  • Do load test the battery at ½ CCA for 15 seconds.
  • Do make sure the resulting voltage @ ½ CCA load coincides with the battery minimum.

Load Testing: Don’ts

  • Do not use a toaster-type load tester (75-95 amp load) on a battery rated above 200 CCA.
  • Do not guess at the CCA rating.
  • Do not assume your load tester is applying the correct amount of current or that the voltmeter is accurate unless it has been calibrated within the last year.
  • Do not load test a battery with a charge level below 75 percent (see charts No. 1 and 2).

Did You Know?

50% to 70%  of all warranty-returned batteries are simply discharged. They are good batteries!

Know What’s Really Going On

The Interstate Batteries ProClinic team.

The Interstate Batteries ProClinic team.

Auto techs: Automotive electrical systems have become more complex. Make sure your skills are current by attending a ProClinic® seminar from Interstate Batteries®. Our certified Technical Services Team gives you hands-on training in diagnosing and solving vehicle electrical problems. They stay ahead of automotive electrical technology and regularly conduct research and development on batteries and testing equipment. Contact your local Interstate Batteries Distributor to find ProClinics in your area.

Consumers: A battery failure may be a sign of a bigger electrical problem in your car. Visit an Interstate Batteries dealer or Interstate All Battery Center for a comprehensive test of your vehicle’s electrical system.


By Gale Kimbrough (11 Posts)

As Manager of Interstate Batteries’ Engineering and Technical Services Group, Gale Kimbrough oversees technical training, product engineering, testing and validating electrical/electronic components.

Posted in All Battery, Automotive, ED-18, Maintenance, Tips
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About The Outrageously Dependable Blog

Interstate Batteries® sells more than 16,000 kinds of batteries—from AA alkalines and automotive batteries to critical power solutions, and everything in between. Combine professional battery services, recycling programs and the largest battery distribution network in North America, and you’ll find Interstate has EVERY BATTERY FOR EVERY NEED®. Learn more about Interstate Batteries or shop online!

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