#1 Posted by hippocrit (236 posts) -

Hello fellow bombers,

I have a 2009 Rav 4 that won't start. Here's what's happening:

  • The radio and indicator lights work fine
  • When I turn the key the engine makes a noise like it wants to turn over one time
  • The turn over noise stops and a rapid clicking replaces it
  • During the rapid clicking the oil light and battery light fade in and out.

Here are the conditions:

  • On Monday the car started and drove fine. Outside temp was about 35 degrees.
  • Overnight into Tuesday the temperature dropped to 0, with an effective temp of -6.
  • Tuesday morning the car exhibited the above behavior; temp remained around -6 all of Tuesday.
  • Today the car still wouldn't start and a jump start failed. Temp is around 20, effective 5.

Do I have a battery so weak it can't be jumped? I can't be sure, but it looks like the original battery is still in the car. Any help is appreciated!

#2 Edited by MB (11969 posts) -

You're at about the end of that battery's life, they tend to be good for 4-5 years. Sounds like you need a replacement, but the charging system does need to be checked as well. Could be the alternator. Most auto supply stores will do a charging system check for free if you can get the car there.

The weather probably has something to do with it. Batteries put out less voltage when very cold, couple that with oil becoming thicker at lower temperatures so not only is your battery weaker, it has to work harder to turn the engine over.

The rapid clicking you hear is your starter solenoid trying to operate. What that does is takes the signal from you turning the key and sends voltage to the starter in order to turn the engine over. The clicking is the solenoid pushing on the starter engagement gear but not actually turning the starter.

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#3 Posted by Video_Game_King (35993 posts) -

Knowledgeable on CARS, yes?

#4 Edited by mosespippy (4032 posts) -

Same thing happened with my truck over the weekend. We were able to jump it but it took a good half hour to charge enough to be able to jump.

#5 Edited by Chaser324 (6325 posts) -

Yep, you're at about the right time for the battery to die on you.

A jump is only going to serve you well if you still have a functional battery that can be charged by the alternator. At a certain point though (typically after ~4-5 years), one or more cells in your battery are going to stop functioning and force you to replace it.

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#6 Edited by flippyandnod (369 posts) -

It's either your battery or alternator. It can be tough to tell without test equipment. Even though the cold would indicate it must be the battery.

In general (not always), jumping is more likely to help a car with an alternator/voltage regulator (drain/charging) problem (or one where you just left the lights on) than one with a poor battery. So the idea of a bad battery that doesn't respond to jumping is not weird at all.

Some stores will load test your battery for you. You can also do a poor mans (not as good) version of a load test yourself with a volt meter by attaching the volt meter to the battery (be careful!) and measuring the DC voltage when the car is off, on (but not running) and running.

A car with a good battery and good alternator will be 13V or higher at the battery with the car off and on but not running (slightly lower when on but not running) and will be at or above 14.4V when running. It will be a little lower when on but not running than when off.

A car with a bad battery but good alternator will be lower than when the car is on but not running and may even be below 13V when off. The running voltage may be unchanged (14.4V).

A car with a bad alternator will not increase voltage at the battery to 13.8V or higher when the car is running. The other voltages will generally be lower too, but that's really just because the battery isn't getting a charge.

Finally, note that if you run with a bad alternator for weeks, your battery will be permanently damaged too because lead-acid batteries do not like to be left less than fully charged for more than a day or two.

If you can't be bothered to do any testing, then you are rolling the dice. If you roll the dice, just replace the battery. There's an 80% chance given the conditions that this is your battery. Make sure to trade your old battery in, it can cut the cost of the new one in half and with the lead content of car batteries it's difficult to dispose of them legally anyway.

Additional notes: swapping your own battery is often very easy if you can get access to it. It will have clamps bolted to the terminals (Frankenstein-style) and it WILL be bolted down to the car (it is not just sitting in there). Car batteries are very heavy, unless you are in shape you will be tired just from carrying it across a parking lot. If you decide to swap your own battery, check into whether your car radio has anti-theft protection. Many of these radios will deactivate if removed from power and require you to enter some sequence to unlock it. Even if you have a shop change your battery, you likely will have to figure out how to unlock your radio afterwards.

#7 Posted by hippocrit (236 posts) -

Wow everyone- thank you! This is some great info. I'll work with these suggestions over the next couple days and update then.

#8 Edited by flippyandnod (369 posts) -

Oh, I forgot to mention, it can be your starter too. You can't tell the difference between bad alternator and starter using my tests I lists. You have to measure during cranking to discover that. But no worry, the signs of good alternator (high voltage when running) and bad battery (low voltage when off and when on but not running) still work. Basically, if it doesn't look like any of the above, maybe it's your starter. You'll need some real testing at that point.

Since it's probably your battery, probably won't come up.

#9 Posted by Xeiphyer (5594 posts) -

I read the thread as "Help from knowledgeable car bombers please". Hahaha.

#10 Posted by Brendan (7687 posts) -

You probably need to replace the battery, same thing recently happened to me. They only last so long. Mine actually lasted 8 years which is surprisingly good.