Auto Doc: 'Parasitic' drain causes battery problems

A 2007-2009 Acura MDX photographed in College Park,

A 2007-2009 Acura MDX photographed in College Park, Maryland, March 26, 2009. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Doctor: I have 2009 Acura MDX with 34,000 miles and I'm now on my fourth battery, which has been replaced by the dealer. I was told the Bluetooth and the remote start were drawing too much charge from the battery. They replaced the Bluetooth unit and I had the installer of the remote unit reset it. As soon as the temperature drops into the teens it will not start without being jumped. I am a volunteer fireman and need my car to start when responding to emergencies. Please advise. -- Carl

Dear Carl: Late model cars, especially vehicles with lots of electronics, have higher amounts of "parasitic" drain. The parasitic drain current draw will vary slightly on different vehicles. The average draw is 50-70 mili amps. Anything over will kill the battery in one to three days, depending on the battery state of charge. Have your technician check Alldata and Identifix for the correct way to check the vehicle. Batteries need to be close to a full charge -- especially in cold weather. -- Doctor

Dear Doctor: My grandpa bought a used 2003 Toyota Camry about a year ago. It is in great condition, however, when he starts the car, he hears what he calls "500 birds chirping." He has the fan going when he starts the car. I think it's one of the belts, but he swears it is not. What could be causing this weird noise? -- Dan


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Dear Dan: Belt noise is usually heard in the morning when the engine is first started, which sometimes goes away within the first five minutes of operation. Another belt noise can come on when the a/c or defroster is on. Bring the car to the shop and leave it overnight so the technician can start it in the morning and hear the noise. -- Doctor

Dear Doctor: You mentioned in a previous column to use a battery backup connected to the ALDL connector when changing the battery in order to prevent computer information loss. Is there a stand alone device that works or would I have to purchase a scan tool with that feature? Also, could you please give me a recommendation on a scan tool suitable for a do-it-yourselfer? I realize that there is much more to solving problems than getting a problem code, but a scan tool has become a necessity. What would be suitable for a mid-level, shade tree mechanic? -- Tom

Dear Tom: I recommend a "battery jump pack" and a cable that connects from the jump pack to the ALDL connector under the dash. Make sure the ignition key is off and all the accessories are also off. On the scan tool, there are many on the market for a DIY priced under $200. You can go to any large auto part store and make your selection. All you need is a code reader and data display. The next level will include ABS, then airbag and ABS. These scan tools will not scan 1995 and older, unless it is specified on the label. -- Doctor

Dear Doctor: I brought my 2010 Honda Pilot with 45,000 miles to the local tire shop for a tire rotation and oil change. The manager tells me that I need a flush and refill of my power steering fluid. He and the tech tell me that the fluid smells "burnt" and should be replaced. I have owned numerous vehicles over the past 45 years and used to do most maintenance myself. I never had to change the power steering fluid, or "flush" the system. What are your thoughts? -- Ross

Dear Ross: This is an "up sell" from the shop. If you want to change the fluid, then you can buy a turkey baste and suck out as much fluid as possible and replace it yourself. The same for the brake fluid. However, do not use the same turkey baste for the brake fluid -- anything other than brake fluid in the system will cause major damage to the hydraulic system. -- Doctor

Dear Doctor: I just bought a 2009 Chrysler Town & Country minivan with a Flex Fuel Engine. I am a believer of fuel additives. What can be used in a flex fuel engine without ruining something? And, what makes a flex fuel engine so different? -- Alan

Dear Alan: A lot of today's vehicle engines are flex fuel, which means it can run on the different fuels and additives that the gasoline is made up with. The main differences in the flex fuel engines are the fuel injectors, inline fuel sensors in the fuel rail and a computer that has a different calibration that can make the needed fuel and timing adjustments. You can still use whatever off-the-shelf additive you want to. -- Doctor

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