The 240 Saga Continues. Dead Battery? Or...?

Discussion in 'Volvo 240' started by Patricia Butler, Jul 1, 2007.

  1. Okay, I was here recently asking about my mechanics advice to take
    care of a rusty flange by replacing my entire catalytic converter for
    around $900. I also knew I was in need of new brakes, which would
    cost about $300-$400. After getting feedback from you, I ended up
    taking the car to a local Midas shop. They took a look and said that
    while the flange is rusty, what was causing the noise was a gasket
    inside that needed replacing, which they did for me for a cost of $12
    (which they ultimately forgot to charge me for). They said it could
    be another six months to three years before the converter needs to be
    replaced. They also took care of the brakes for me (which ended up
    need new calipers, if I'm spelling that right?) for a total cost of
    $515. That was Friday. The car now sounds and brakes great.

    I spent Saturday running all over the place doing errands all over
    town. Finally put the car in the garage around 6 p.m. I pulled it
    out again because I wanted to move something around in the garage.
    When I got back in the car to pull it in again, the car was completely
    dead. The seatbelt light did the ding-ding-ding sound when I put the
    key in, but, otherwise -- nothing. Turned the key -- nothing. 6:05
    p.m. on a Saturday. So I got all panicky until someone reminded me I
    have a motor club and I called them. They sent someone out who
    attached a charger to the battery and it started right up. He took
    the charger off, and, after about a minute, the motor died and would
    turn over again. He attached the charger again and it started up. He
    recommended I keep it running for about 20 minutes to recharge the
    battery. So I asked him to wait while I pulled the car into the
    garage, in case it died again, and then I sat in the garage with the
    motor running (and garage doors open!) for the next 20 minutes, during
    which time I had to reset the radio as it had gone to CODE after the
    disconnection of power. After 20 minutes I shut off the motor, then
    tried to start the car again. Nothing.

    So, my new question is: Does this sound like just a new battery? Or
    something more sinister? I just put $515 in the car and can't really
    afford another big hit this month. I explained to the auto club guy
    the work I'd just had done to the car and asked if any of that sounded
    like it could be causing the problem, and he said no. Anyone disagree
    with that? And is it worth me (walking to) Home Depot and buying a
    battery starter or booster or whatever for $40-$50 so I can start the
    car myself tomorrow? Of should I have the motor club do it again and
    drive it right to the service station? If I was sure it just needed a
    new battery, then I'd sooner have the motor club start the car and put
    that $40-$50 toward the new battery. But if it's something more than
    a dead battery causing the problem, maybe a self-charger is a good
    idea. Yikes! I'd love your feedback and advice. The car's sitting
    in the garage now, but I'm going to have to figure this out pretty
    quickly tomorrow as I'm facing a busy week and really need the car.

    Patricia Butler, Jul 1, 2007
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  2. Patricia Butler

    c.fiedler Guest

    On Sun, 01 Jul 2007 03:07:12 -0700, Patricia Butler

    Sounds like a battery problem but any good service station can do a
    quick analysis to see that your alternator and regulator are working
    well. I don't see much point in investing in a charger.

    Chuck Fiedler
    c.fiedler, Jul 1, 2007
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  3. It sounds like a bad battery. I never even saw this sort of failure before
    about 1980, but since then I've seen a bunch. The symptoms (if I'm
    understanding yours right) are caused by a broken internal connection at one
    terminal of the battery. The shadetree test - that's what I use most of the
    time - is to turn on the headlights and watch them inbetween whacking the
    battery posts with a hammer. No kidding! A modest whack, like cracking a
    Brazil nut, will often jam the connection together. Being made of lead and
    kept out of the air, the connection temporarily welds itself together
    because of the headlight current and the lights come on. A better check is
    to measure the actual voltage on the battery posts while doing the same
    tests - any rise, even a volt, means a broken connection in the battery.
    Hammering on a good battery doesn't make the voltage rise :)

    The other possibility is that the alternator is not charging. I imagine the
    "battery" light has not come on. That leads to a quick test for the most
    likely (and one of the least expensive) alternator failures: worn out
    brushes. Turn the ignition switch to the "run" position so the warning
    lights come on. The battery light should also be on. If not, the brushes are
    not making contact. Brushes usually last about 150K miles - I don't know
    what your odometer is. The brushes are part of a regulator assembly that
    screws to the back of the alternator, making the repair quick and easy. I
    paid $35 about ten years ago for a replacement regulator assembly so I
    imagine they are $50 now. lists the brush set (p/n GB299 by
    Standard Motor Products) individually for $2.13, but the brush set can be
    hard to find locally.

    In any event, rather than buying a charger that - God willing - you probably
    won't use again, most auto parts stores will check the battery and charging
    system operation for free. I'd be inclined to replace the battery anyway
    because if it is not intermittent (replace battery anyway) it has been
    completely discharged a few times. Car batteries don't survive that very

    Michael Pardee, Jul 1, 2007
  4. Patricia Butler

    James Sweet Guest

    Well the battery is probably bad at this point too, but I would definitely
    look at the charging system. Anyone with a volt meter can easily tell you if
    that's working, if it's not, usually the brush pack/regulator in the
    alternator is shot, the brushes do wear down over time.
    James Sweet, Jul 1, 2007
  5. Whatkind of worst case/best case scenario do you all think I'm looking
    at, financially? Keep in mind that I'm not a do-it-yourselfer when it
    comes to cars, so we're talking taking it to the shop no matter what
    the problem is.

    Thanks. I'm appreciating all your input.

    Patricia Butler, Jul 1, 2007
  6. Worst case:

    1. New Battery - $60 - $70 (you may have a pro-rated warranty refund to
    lower this cost)
    2. Regulator Assembly with brushes - around $50 plus about 1/2 hour labor
    (my guess) to remove the old regulator and install the new one. This work
    does not need to be done at Volvo dealer service, but I would recommend that
    you choose a mechanic that has been around Volvo 240s. The alternator belt
    tensioner is very straightforward, if you've been around these before, but
    your local Bluto's Garage may be a little heavy-handed and may damage some
    parts, running up your costs to replace.
    3. Ask your mechanic to double check the cable to the starter: good solid
    terminal connections without any corrosion, and cable length appearance good
    with no frayed or worn insulation. Likewise have all the Ground cables
    double checked. If these are loose or corroded, it can gradually drain your
    battery and recharging system. New cables are under $20.

    In the worst case, this is a relatively small cost problem, but you should
    add a bottle of excedrin to the parts list because chasing down electrical
    problems are a common pet peeve.
    Pat Quadlander, Jul 2, 2007
  7. Thanks. And I did decide to spring for a portable charger today as
    well ($40). I figure not only will it get the car started to get me
    to the service station without having to place a call to my auto club,
    it's also probably just a good thing to have around, just in case.
    The charger I bought says it needs an initial 48 hour charge, though I
    see that the green "full" light is already on, even though I just
    plugged it in about 8 1/2 hours ago. Even so, I think I'll just ride
    my bike to the office tomorrow and deal with the car Tuesday.
    Weather's nice, and the office is only a mile away, so nothing really
    to lose by waiting a day.

    Thanks again for everyone's great input. I'll let you know how things
    turn out.

    Patricia Butler, Jul 2, 2007
  8. Patricia Butler

    Peter Adler Guest


    I know you're not a mechanic, but you may feel a little more comfortable
    about driving if you can deal with emergency situations. First off, you need
    a set of jumper cables. The longer the better. They'll let you get a jump
    start from a friendly passerby when you need one, or turn you into a
    ministering angel when you see someone else with a flat battery. You can
    also do nifty diagnostics with them.

    Batteries store electric charge supplied by the alternator. The electrons
    get pushed out one end of the alternator, travel through a wire, do some
    chemistry inside the battery, and go back into the alternator through
    another wire to repeat their cycle. Often the car's metal bits are used as
    part of the circuit. A flat battery indicates a fault that could be anywhere
    in that system -- battery, alternator, wires, or the connections between

    You can check most of your circuit with your jumper cable. Not an ideal way
    of doing it, but better than nothing. Start the car and leave it idling. If
    all is well, it should be charging the battery. Turn your headlights on low
    beam. Even at idling, the alternator should be able to keep up with the
    demand. If the headlights start to dim, you know there's a problem
    somewhere. Let's start with the fat cable that connects between alternator
    and positive battery terminal. Hold one of the jumper clamps onto the top of
    the battery post (it's only 12-14 volts and won't bite you) at the same time
    holding the other end away from the car. (If you touch the cable to any
    metallic part of the car while it's connected to the battery, you'll get
    quite spectacular sparks and may even damage your battery.) We're using only
    one lead for this test, either the red or the black. At the back of the
    alternator there's a short threaded rod and a nut that attaches the cable
    that goes to the positive battery terminal. There should be a plastic
    protector over this which you can push off with a screwdriver or nail file.
    Now make good contact between the jumper clamp and the alternator connector,
    at the same time pushing the other clamp firmly onto the positive battery
    post. Watch your headlights. If they brighten, you've identified a problem

    Do the same thing between the negative battery post and any solid piece of
    metal that bolts to the engine. Again, brightening lights indicate that
    you've identified a problem area.

    If the battery wires are the problem, start by turning off the engine. Try
    to twist the connectors off the battery posts with your fingers. You
    shouldn't be able to. If you can, clean the post with a metal brush,
    metallic pot scrubber or sandpaper, and clean the inside of the connector in
    whatever way you can. A small sharp knife works well. Slacken off the nut
    that tightens the connector and push the connector hard onto the post. Then
    tighten the nut. (You do have a set of wrenches, don't you?) Don't hammer
    the battery post; the inside of a lead-acid battery is somewhat fragile, and
    gets more so with age.

    Tighten the connections at the back of the alternator and at the end of the
    wire or woven strap that goes between the battery negative post and the
    engine or chassis. Also make sure that the wires are held firmly in the
    battery terminal connectors and haven't corroded away under the insulation
    near the connector (you'll see it quite clearly if they have).

    Purists put silicone jelly inside battery and alternator connections. It
    tends to prevent corrosion. However, right now, we're more interested in
    getting you going.

    Start the engine and see what success you've had so far. If all's well, you
    should be good for many more miles. If not, and you've eliminated the
    connections and cables as culprits, we need to check the alternator. Three

    1. Does the battery light on your instrument cluster light up when you turn
    on the ignition? This light is critical; the current flowing through it
    creates a small electromagnetic field inside the alternator which enables it
    to start producing current -- kind of a bootstrap operation. No light, no
    current. And if there's no light, you'll need to get it fixed.

    2. Before the problems started, did you notice an increase in static in
    your radio, perhaps accompanied by crackle when you went over a bump? That's
    the sound the alternator brushes make when they're worn to the point where
    they're barely making contact, and a sure sign that replacement is just
    around the corner. If someone you know is handy with a soldering iron -- and
    has done this kind of job before -- s/he can replace the brushes without
    replacing the regulator board on which they're mounted. That'll save you $40
    or thereabouts. The regulator itself is pretty hefty and rarely gives

    3. With the engine running and the hood up, can you hear the alternator
    from more than a few feet away? (Think, grinding howl.) If so, that probably
    means new bearings or, more practically, a rebuilt alternator for around

    If you can lay your hand on a multimeter (dirt cheap and perfectly
    serviceable from places like Harbor Freight) you should check the output
    voltage from the alternator across the battery terminals. 14V is the target
    but it needn't be spot-on. A multimeter also lets you check for voltage drop
    across connections -- a much better method than using jumper cables but
    beyond the scope of these get-you-home diagnostics.

    Finally, before blaming your battery, do a quick check for abnormal current
    drain -- shorted wires, courtesy lights left in the On position, that sort
    of thing. A fairly reliable check is simply to switch everything off,
    disconnect the negative battery lead and check for voltage/current between
    it and the battery. A multimeter is the ideal tool, but you can also use a
    small flashlight bulb. The only flow should be through a radio alarm circuit
    or some such other device that is constantly on.

    Good luck!

    Pete (fP)

    Peter Adler, Jul 2, 2007
  9. Thanks for putting so much effort into such a detailed response,
    Pete. I do appreciate it. Unfortunately, after the first couple of
    sentences, everything I read went in through my eyes and, in my brain,
    turned into that noise you hear on Peanuts cartoons when the adults
    are speaking -- mwa mwa, mwa mwa mwa mwa... etc. You may just as well
    try to teach someone's grandmother how to set the timer on her VCR as
    try to get me to be comfortable fiddling around under the hood of my
    car. But, again, I do appreciate the tips. If nothing else it will
    help me sound a bit less stupid when conversing with the mechanic over
    possible problems and solutions.

    (The girl with the sore bum from suddenly being force to ride a bike
    after several years of sitting comfortably in my cushy Volvo seat!)
    Patricia Butler, Jul 2, 2007
  10. Patricia Butler

    clay Guest

    Did anyone suggest cleaning the terminals? Corruption builds up between
    the post and clamp that prevents charging (and discharging) the battery.
    Car will jump start because the jumpers are on the clamps. Soon as you
    remove them, car tries to run on the battery and gets nothing...

    I didn't see anyone suggest checking the electrolyte level in the battery..?
    Even 'Maintenance free' batteries have the water evaporate out sometimes.
    If you pry the (look like they're not supposed to come off, but they do)
    caps off and peek down in with a flashlight, see if the water is above
    the plates. *do not use a bic lighter or open flame* There's explosive
    gases coming out of the battery.
    Distilled water is best to top it off but tap water will work in a pinch
    and get you going until you replace the battery.
    clay, Jul 2, 2007
  11. I knew I was in trouble when I got a watch that was smarter than I was!

    Michael Pardee, Jul 3, 2007
  12. Well, I found out that when the portable charger I bought over the
    weekend says it needs 48 hours for the initial charge, it means 48
    hours. I tried to use it this morning -- 8 hours shy of the 48 hour
    mark -- and nothing. I ended up calling the auto club to have them
    start the car for me. Charger's going back Home Depot tonight!

    So the battery was replaced for $145 ($125 batter/$20 labor). I hope
    that sounds about right (keeping in mind that I'm not the do-it-
    yourself kind of girl when it comes to automobiles).

    To put things in perspective, I remind myself that with the new brakes/
    calipers, new gasket in the cat converter, and new battery, the total
    is still about $300 less than what my usual mechanic quoted me for
    just changing the converter (which, as it turned out, didn't really
    need to be done). So unless the entire thing blows up as I drive it
    home tonight, I'd say I'm still pretty far ahead of the game -- and
    with a car now totally roadworthy (considering the four new tires I
    had put on in April) for a few weekend trips out of state.

    Thanks for all your help!

    Patricia Butler, Jul 3, 2007
  13. Patricia Butler

    Allen Guest

    Wow, $145 for putting in a battery seems a little steep. Where are you and
    who did you use?

    Allen, Jul 3, 2007
  14. Why did I know that someone was going to say that to me?

    I'm in Evanston, IL. I used Warren's Shell on Chicago Avenue. They
    installed an Interstate battery -- MTP-91 - Mega-Tron Plus - 85 Months
    - 700 CCA.

    Patricia Butler, Jul 3, 2007
  15. Patricia Butler

    Brian V Guest

    Thats a great battery, Interstate is top of the line if you ask me. They
    are expensive. You can feel better, they did not take advantage of you too
    much, I would suspect that is a standard price in a service station. I sure
    hope they checked your charging system as part of the install otherwise the
    battery can be dead in a very short time if their is a problem with the
    FYI, in the future you can go to most of the auto parts stores, autozone
    etc and they will install the battery for free for you in most of them, same
    with most of the smaller parts, wiper blades etc.
    Brian V, Jul 3, 2007
  16. Patricia Butler

    Allen Guest

    They didn't do you any favors. Interstates website show this for "list"
    $123.95, "suggested retail" $103.95. Most places will charge less than
    suggested retail and will install the battery for free if you buy it from
    them. Are you a regular customer of theirs?

    Allen, Jul 3, 2007
  17. They've done a couple of things for me, including my new tires
    recently, but they're not my regular mechnics, no. Then again, my
    regular mechanics were going to charge me $900 to fix a noisy
    exhaust. What Warren's has in their favor is that they're within easy
    walking distance of my office. That may sound stupid, but it has to
    be a consideration when I need to hoof it back and forth when I drop
    off my car.
    Patricia Butler, Jul 3, 2007
  18. Thanks. I don't know if they did check the charging system, but
    rather doubt it. Perhaps I can now take it to my regular mechanic and
    ask them to do a check. Is the charging system something that can be
    checked for problems when there isn't a problem actually manifesting
    itself at the moment (i.e., dead battery)? Or will I actually have to
    wait until there's a problem before anyone will be able to spot the

    Fingers crossed the battery was the beginning and ending of the
    problem. I have a feeling the battery that was replaced was actually
    the car's original battery. 14 years of service ain't bad!
    Patricia Butler, Jul 3, 2007
  19. Why did I know that someone was going to say that to me?

    I'm in Evanston, IL. I used Warren's Shell on Chicago Avenue. They
    installed an Interstate battery -- MTP-91 - Mega-Tron Plus - 85 Months
    - 700 CCA.

    Patricia Butler, Jul 3, 2007
  20. Patricia Butler

    Allen Guest

    Convenience has a value! You did OK. I am not a big Shell fan; it seems
    here in Texas they are always first to raise their fuel prices, go up the
    largest amount, and are the last to lower them.

    Just my opinion.

    Allen, Jul 3, 2007
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