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RocketSquid's avatar

What did my car just do?

Asked by RocketSquid (3470points) February 22nd, 2010

During my lunch I stopped at a gas station. Turned it off, went inside, and when I came back out I tried to turn it on. However, nothing happened when I turned the key. No lights, no click, nothing. It was like the battery was completely dead.

I checked the fuses quick, and all of them looked fine. Just for grins I tried the key again, and the car started up normally (I’d almost say it was running smoother than normal). The only indication that anything was wrong was that the dashboard clock was set to 1:00, it was about 4:10 when I turned it off.

This all happened within a span of a few minutes. I didn’t even touch the battery, and even if the battery went out I’d imagine the clock would show the time it lost power as usual instead of reverting to 1:00.

I’m driving a 1990 Honda Civic DX 1.5l, if that helps.

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12 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

Check your battery terminals for a good contact with the wires. this happens if the terminals are loose or have dirt and grime on them.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

Could it be the alternator? If that goes, your car will be fine as long as it’s in forward motion. Once you stop, though, it goes dead.

missingbite's avatar

Like @john65pennington said and to add, If they do have corrosion on the terminal posts, pour a little coke on them and then touch dry them with a towel. With the motor off, obviously.

njnyjobs's avatar

Definitely battery terminal needs to be checked/cleaned/tightened. If battery is more than 5 years old consider getting it replaced as most batteries have a life span of 60–72 months. Winter weather also affects the cranking power of batteries. The digital clock on your car reverted back to 1:00 because it doesn’t have a battery back-up like digital alarm clocks that you may be familiar with. If you had an anolog clock, then the time would just continue where it left off when the power went out.

@Dr_Dredd if an alternator goes bad, you can only drive a vehicle to such distance that the battery’s charge will feed the ignition system. If you’re driving with headlights, radio, A/C on, that will hasten the power drain of the battery. It would then be best to use the remaining battery power to drive the vehicle to a safe location or a service facility.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@njnyjobs On my last car, the alternator died three times over an 18 month period. I got very good at trying to coax the damn car to reach the nearest gas station. Once I made it to within half a block before having to stop at a red light. That did it, though….

BoBo1946's avatar

@john65pennington think John “hit the nail on the head!”

filmfann's avatar

Check the battery cables for corrosion (a green/blue/white powder on the connector).
Check the battery for proper water level.
If both are fine, you may have a battery lead that, when the cables heat up, open their contact. You may have to replace them.

njnyjobs's avatar

@filmfann… water level, really? most batteries sold in the market today are of the sealed type, especially for a 1990 Honda Civic…. plus that factor would not explain the phenomenon brought up here by OP. . . . And what is this thing about battery lead opening up contact when cable heats up, how are we suppose to check for that? This may be good information that I have not yet learned. . . . who knows, it may come in handy one of this days.

augustlan's avatar

If your battery contacts are good, you may have a “dead spot” on your starter. I’ve had that happen to me before, and it was exactly as you described – except the clock part.

filmfann's avatar

@njnyjobs I had this issue just a few weeks ago, and it was the water level in the battery. Maybe I just buy cheap ones, but the ones I get are not factory sealed. You need to occasionally fill them (especially when they have gotten hot)

LuckyGuy's avatar

Either a loose or corroded battery terminal connection or a loose connection on the starter. This is a very easy fix.

jerv's avatar

@njnyjobs It’s true; not all batteries sold today are maintenance-free, not even some of the ones that say that they are. Also, I highly doubt that a ‘90 Civic has it’s original OEM battery, and there is a good chance that it’s not even an OEM replacement. Personally, I use Duralast Gold.

I have had similar things happen for a variety of reasons over the years. Sometimes it’s been a battery on Death’s doorstep. Letting it sit for a bit lets it build up a “surface charge” whigh might be enough to actually do something. This is often accompanied by a clock showing either 12:00 or 1:00 since digital clockd do lose time. If you have an analog clock then undervoltage (like letting the car sit, running the clock off of a 10.2v battery instead of a 12 v it should get) may cause it to run slow. The clock can tell you a bit about the battery is you read it right.

Sometimes it’s been a loose wire or a semi-busted ignition switch. If the dash lights didn’t even try to come on, then maybe the car didn’t register that you were trying to start it.

Sometimes it is a battery terminal that looks like cauliflower. I got my inlaw’s Buick started that way once; two minutes with a wrench and wire brush.

Sometimes it is a fault in the anti-theft system. I don’t know if you have one, but I have seen a car (my wife’s) immobilized by that before, so I figured I’d mention it.

There are too many little unknowns here to pinpoint an exact cause, but if my first Corolla is any clue then I would get the battery checked.


Two other asides from personal experience. I had two Civics; a ‘90 and a ‘91, and got to know the D15 and D16 engine better than I ever wanted to.

1) Get your timing belt replaced religiously. I lost both of mine that way, and I’ve heard that they do eat timing belts.

2) Keep a spare igniter module handy. It’s little blocky thing that lives in the bottom of the distributor. It’s fairly easy to replace if you know where it is and how to use a screwdriver, even if you don’t know about cars.
Both of my Hondas blew that $100 part. One was immobilized and the other had to limp 20 miles to civilization without hitting/exceeding 1500 RPM which pretty much precluded the possibility of using the gas pedal. If your car acts funny at high RPMs, then the igniter is on it’s way out

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