It has been my experience that similar repairs come in waves. As of late it has been cars towed in for no start conditions where the owner is adamant that a starter motor, alternator or similar electrical item has failed. One notable recent example was a 1982 Ferrari 308 GTS where the owner believed the ignition switch failed. There were few symptoms other than the car failed to restart after the owner returned from dinner. For some reason he concluded the ignition switch was no longer doing any switching. I was skeptical.
When a vehicle comes in for a no-crank situation I immediately and directly examine the battery. As I was hooking the alligator clips of the battery tester to the terminals, I realized the vehicle’s battery terminals were loose. I retrieved the appropriate wrench, snugged up the terminal bolts and then turned the ignition key. The car roared to life. The inconvenience of the breakdown and the cost of flatbed towing a Ferrari into the shop made for a bad day for the owner of this beautiful car, especially when it was something so simple.
Why am I telling you this? Out of the five vehicles recently towed in to my shop for no starts only one required an actual repair. Four of them only required attention to the battery terminals or a new battery itself.
Almost all the customers assumed that because the car still had functioning electrical features such as lights and radio that the problem was not the battery. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that any vehicle requires at least 200 amps of electrical current to engage the starter motor and get the engine cranking over. Features such the radio and lights require less than five amps. A vehicle may exhibit a functioning battery, but just doesn’t have sufficient reserves to energize the starter motor.
Boosting one’s own battery is becoming a lost DIY skill as many younger drivers are afraid that they are going to do something wrong and the battery is going to explode or they are going to mess up their car’s electronics. When I say younger drivers, I don’t necessary mean teenagers, I’m talking about even those in their 30s. How about we agree to not let this become a dead skill? Parents get out there with your young drivers and show them how to use booster cables. And before you tow your car in for a suspected ignition switch, starter or alternator think twice.
I believe that when a battery has its fifth birthday it owes you nothing and is on bonus time. If your car is more than five years old and you have no recollection of ever replacing the battery it might be time to have it checked at your next service. It might be fine, but you might just save yourself a pile of inconvenience, especially now that the cold months are only moments away.
Your automotive questions answered
Hi Lou, Here’s my story.
I was a lifelong Mercedes-Benz driver until last February when my 2018 E-Class did something strange. I started it from a cold start and within a moment or two all the engine oil leaked out. Apparently, the issue was a crack in the engine oil filter housing. Mercedes told me the engine warranty was only good up to 80,000 kilometres, but I was at 81,500. They also told me the damage caused by the leak.
I turned the car off within a minute and drove no more than 100 metres resulting in a catastrophic failure of both my engine and Twin Turbos. Needless to say, I was not impressed. I wrote to my dealership; they did not offer any help. I wrote to customer service and the president of Mercedes-Benz Canada; they reinforced the earlier message from the dealer.
I’ve been trying to find a solution through arbitration, but the arbitrator sided with Mercedes-Benz stating that my warranty expired, and the cost of a complete engine replacement would be upon me. At this point, I made the switch to an electric vehicle. Given my heavy driving schedule, I should’ve probably bought a Tesla Model S, but the curves of the Porsche Taycan persuaded me. On April 1, 2021 I picked up a new Taycan. Over the past year, I have driven 42,000 kilometres. I tend to keep my cars for about five to six years, at which point they’ve hit 200,000-plus kilometres. I opted for the two-year extended warranty on my Porsche, which provides coverage for up to six years and unlimited kilometres. Once I’m nearing that point, I’m curious to see what my battery charge capacity will be. If it no longer meets the metrics that Porsche has laid out, I’m hoping the company will honour their warranty and replace the battery. On the other hand, if the battery continues as it is, I would be happy to keep the car for another four to five years or potentially even longer.
The extended warranty on my Porsche cost me $4,000. Given the customer service disaster I experienced with Mercedes-Benz, I essentially have no ceiling on what I would pay for an extended warranty, perhaps up to 5 per cent of the cost of the vehicle. The single biggest issue I have with EVs, is the drop in battery performance with extremely cold weather. I will often drive from Toronto to Bancroft in the depths of winter when we’re dealing with temperatures in the -30 territory. I noticed that my battery efficiency will go down by 30 per cent, sometimes even more in such circumstances.
I’ll be honest, something doesn’t make sense to me with the details of the Mercedes-Benz engine failure. I am going to assume that I must be missing a huge part of the story as I can’t imagine an engine and both turbos failing from a leaking oil filter housing.
However, I am in 100-per-cent agreement with your extended warranty viewpoint for any high-tech product, especially when it’s from the European car market.
Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail email@example.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.