Dr. Gizmo Solves Your Car Problems - Pt. 3

December 7, 2009

Normal Process Raises Battery Concern

Question 1

For the first time since I have owned my car, I checked the battery water level.  My battery is three years old.  When I removed the caps from the battery, I found three of the six cells had hard crystals at the bottom of the openings.  I did some research on the internet and found that the crystals are the result of sulfation.

I filled all of the cells with water to the bottom of the openings.  What causes the sulfation?  Is there anything I can do such as take a long drive to remove the sulfation?  Is the formation of the deposits caused by a low water level?  Will this affect the battery during the winter?  R.G., Bolingbrook, IL.

Answer 1

Oh, there is nothing like the formation of sulfate crystals to stir interest in a battery.  Actually, it is a natural chemical process that slowly degrades the negative and positive plates within the cells of the battery.  After all, the plates bathe in sulfuric acid.  Eventually, the sediment created by the process causes a short circuit between the plates.  Since the reaction between the sulfuric acid and plates creates and stores electricity, when the sediment shorts one or two cells, the battery no longer stores a full charge. 

To slow the process down, the alternator that pumps electricity into the battery causes crystals that form on the battery plates to fall to the bottom of the case where there is space not to interfere and short the plates.

Since your battery is three years old, it is getting close to the end of its service life, which is about four years.  Adding water will not reverse the process.  It will increase the ability of the battery to store electrical power as long as it receives a full charge.

Now that the battery has a full load of liquid, it should be charged-up.  If you own a battery charger, set it on a slow trickle setting and charge the battery overnight.  If you do not own a charger, consider taking a nonstop highway drive of about two hours without all the bells and whistles turned on.  This should bring the battery up to its potential, but be aware since the battery is near the end of its life, it will not store as much electricity as it did when new.

In addition to all of this, in the future, if you should find it necessary to fill a battery pour distilled water to the appropriate level in the cells and do not use tap water.  Tap water contains minerals that reduce the efficiency and life of a battery.         

Ignition Lock Has Seen Better Days

Question 2

I have a 1993 Chevrolet Suburban with a 7.4-liter engine and 143,607 miles.  The trouble is that I can turn the ignition switch and start the engine without using the key.  Also, if the key is in the ignition in the run position I can remove it and drive all day long without the key.

To fix this do I need a new key or is the switch bad?  V.I., email.

Answer 2

More than likely, an excessively worn ignition lock assembly is the cause of the trouble.  The ignition lock is separate from the ignition switch.  The switch is located toward the bottom of the steering column.  The lock assembly that you turn with a key is at the top.  Linkage between the lock assembly and the switch moves a mechanism in the switch to start and run the engine. 

To fix the trouble a technician will likely install a new ignition lock and it usually comes with a set of new keys.

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