A woman came in yesterday with this problem: her car continually has an issue starting after she’s left it for awhile, she gets a jump and she’s fine until the next time she leaves it for a few days. The most common repair for something like this is either a new battery or alternator or even, in rare cases, both. I had her bring the car over and wait while we did an initial inspection so we could check whether her alternator was charging and it was. We also checked to see if her battery would hold a charge and it did that as well. At this point we needed to track down what was causing the drain on the battery. After investigating we found the problem to be in a door switch that was staying on even when the car was off.

I tell this story because there are many, many garages (more than I care to even know about) who would have simply charged her for a new battery and alternator (which wouldn’t have fixed the problem) even after they found the real culprit.

So now we are at the heart of what you the consumer can do to assure that this doesn’t happen to you. The first thing I’d do is insist that they show you, on the meter, that the alternator is not charging properly, the meter clearly states charging and not charging, (see photo).

I’d like for you to look yourself at the battery and see what the date is that is stamped on it because they have a warranty (the first year is usually a free swap and after that it’s pro-rated). Every battery has a date code stamped onto it. We sell Interstate’s and they stamp the code on the side. See in this photo how the numbers start with 9L, etc (there’s a stamp on the battery as well as this sticker).


The 9 stands for the year, so 2009, and the L stands for the month i.e. L is the 12th letter of the alphabet and the 12th month is Dec so this battery was manufactured in Dec of 2009. If your battery is within 12 months of that date you would get a free one and beyond that they are pro-rated. You would have to make sure you swap it with the correct battery dealer, so if it is an Interstate but your mechanic doesn’t sell those then you can go online and find someone who does and swap it with them. Also make sure any new battery you buy has a new date on it and has not been sitting on the mechanic’s shelf for too long. The next time you go to your car, open the hood (do I have to teach how to do that? I hope not) and look at your battery and find that date so you can know how long you’ve had it in the car. It’s a good start to taking control.

I know a few of you are groaning at all this involvement but trust me, once you start you might just end up getting hooked.



About dontgetwrenched

Elayne Kling, was the owner of a downtown Manhattan auto repair shop for 25 years and recently in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Elayne knows the particular ins and outs of the auto repair world and keeps up her blog because people will always need help navigating the potential pitfalls of that world. Due to the crazy NYC real estate market she has since closed down her shop and started a new business called Projects Unlimited Inc., helping other small businesses.
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