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Old 09-07-2019, 02:25 PM   #1
Jonasan308
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1999 SC1
Default Battery light on, erratic shifting

As if i didnt have enough to deal with suspension wise, theres something wrong with the ignition system now.

In the past few days, ive noticed some strange things. Yesterday the radio was cutting out randomly. Mostly seemed like when going over bumps but along with that cutout was dimming lights and what *seemed* like a brief hesitation. The car also doesnt seem to idle right and sometimes dips low in rpm to where it sounds like it wants to cut out. It has stalled a few times actually while driving.

Then, the shifting issues began. First it reverse slams sometimes when shifting to reverse. Then while driving in D, it will sometimes start off in what feels like 3rd gear, leaving me with no acceleration until i hit 3rd gear speeds, or it will randomly clunk and downshift or upshift with no input from the throttle. When trying to downshift it will either refuse to and just rev or itll downshift and then upshift afterwards.

The battery light turns on and off and when it does come on the Tachometer and speedometer start seizing.

I have been having trouble with a negative battery cable, went to go replace it but the store claims ill need to pull it off my car so they can match the post. So in the meantime, is there anything else i should be checking? It would not be crazy to suspect something is wrong with the alternator as my issues sound similar to what ive seen on here about alternator problems. And it has over 200k now

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1999 Saturn SL1-129k at purchase(may 2016)-139k when wrecked(September 2016)

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Old 09-07-2019, 04:12 PM   #2
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Fix the battery cable first. An alternator won't account for all the issues you mentioned, but a bad battery connection could.

There are no "posts" on the OEM battery. Did you change the battery and cable type, or is the FLAPS clue-less? (beware)

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Old 09-07-2019, 04:18 PM   #3
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

And the car is now not starting. Chime and lights come on but when i go to crank the starter makes a brief noise and then it does nothing. The numbers on the odometer flash too.

I really wish he has given me the darn cable while i was there. I suspect he was clueless. Well now if i cant get it to start ill need to find a ride to somewhere.

So it couldnt be my alternator at all? What would happen if the alternator was going out /went out?

...
1999 Saturn SL1-129k at purchase(may 2016)-139k when wrecked(September 2016)

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Last edited by Jonasan308; 09-07-2019 at 04:27 PM..

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Old 09-07-2019, 05:44 PM   #4
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

What is the battery voltage, both at "key-on" and while trying to crank? Post results. If battery charge is poor, then get it checked/charged.

The alternator could be bad, and maybe the battery charge is way down just because of a battery problem. However, some of your symptoms, like the speedo, tach, radio, lights, etc. being intermittent are not easily attributable to the alternator. If the alt is intermittent, then the battery should keep all those running OK for a while. If the alt is dead and not charging, then the battery could run down and start causing some of those problems, but I doubt they would be intermittent; things would just die and not come back.

Since you think you have a problem with the battery cable, go for that first. It is cheaper and easier to fuss with the cables than and alt.

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Old 09-07-2019, 08:24 PM   #5
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

I tried probing the battery with a multimeter, but for some reason i cant get any readings. Could my multimeter be broken?

And, while looking the battery over i noticed it had a bit of fluid on the left side. Ill post a picture of it if needed. It is an everstart battery from walmart.

...
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Old 09-07-2019, 09:43 PM   #6
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

If the multimeter is suspect, try measuring another battery. Flashlight, AAA, AA, etc. Either the meter works, isn't setup correctly (AC, DC (battery voltage), amperage, resistance), probes damaged or broke.

If fluid is seen on the side of the car battery, is it below the battery terminals? If you have baking soda, dab some powder onto the fluid or mix it with some water. If the fluid bubbles up immediately, its battery acid and the battery may have a damaged side terminal or case crack. If there's any warranty left, worse case is the battery is damaged and shouldn't be used as leaking acid will corrode bare metal (baking soda and water dissolves and neutralizes battery acid, wire brush and repaint). A leaking battery will no longer hold a charge as one of six cells leaks and kills the battery. Each cell produces 2 volts (x6=12v). A 10 volt battery is useless and loads down the alternator if its still used, contributing to shortening alternator life.

There are two main grounds, battery negative to chassis stud, chassis stud to engine block. Be sure both negative connections (four) are free of corrosion and tightly connected to chassis stud and engine block. The entire electrical system relies on three main battery connections; one red cable branching off to engine fuse box and starter, two negative cables. Battery connecting to engine block for ground allows power to engine block connected electrical parts as well as alternator, ac compressor and starter. The starter draws the largest current in the electrical system, anywhere from 50-150+ amps so the three main power connections are important.

Standby battery voltage should be around 12.5v while engine idling alternator output will be higher - around 13.5v-15v max, averaging around 14.3v.

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Old 09-09-2019, 11:54 AM   #7
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

First, make sure both cables are tightly in the battery. Had one come loose and got some flickering lights in the instrument panel, dimming lights, etc.

Try flexing the positive cable a bit with both hands, at several different locations. If it feels "crunchy" at all, there is hidden corrosion - replace that, as well

The battery uses side-posts - here is a picture of the positive end of the battery cable. No idea why they would need pull the negative cable to match it, unless there is something weird about the other end (have never looked at the other end, but would not expect anything weird)


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Old 09-09-2019, 03:22 PM   #8
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

You need to fix the loose battery terminal. That is why you are having a plethora of issues with your car.

Advance Auto sells the GM sidepost battery studs. Don't go pulling out your stud. The parts guy asking you to do that is clueless.

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Old 09-09-2019, 04:17 PM   #9
Jonasan308
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

So the battery is definitively leaking acid, the liquid bubbled up after the baking soda was applied. Its leaking on both sides, the negative side doesnt have much fluid coming out but the positive side had much more. So im having someone take it back and see if walmart will replace it. In the meantime i tracked down a battery cable (Ac Delco 4SD11XR) and have to go pick it up tomorrow.

The negative cable on the car has a rather loose feeling connection now, compared to the positive that is much tighter.

...
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Old 09-09-2019, 07:40 PM   #10
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Despite what some say about tightening battery terminals, be aware DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN BATTERIES WITH SIDE TERMINALS. Overtightening battery side terminals will simply strip the few threads in the battery. If you are not aware, battery side terminals are lead. Lead is soft, threaded, and shallow. Battery cable bolts are plated steel. Guess which threaded parts strips easier than the other? HINT (threaded lead). If longer bolts are used than recommended, puncturing the battery is a possibility, resulting in leaking battery acid. This may void battery warranty. Leaking battery acid from both side terminals depletes two cells of acid, needed to maintain a charge. This is probably the main reason for some of the problems you're having as the alternator is mainly supplying all power for the vehicle while recharging the battery after every startup. If a dead or dying battery cannot accept a charge, the battery may be intermittently overloading the alternator. Leaking battery acid lowers battery voltage, tricking the alternator into outputting higher voltage with higher current (up to 15 volts). Higher voltage isn't good for the electrical or electronic systems.

If anyone ever wonders why side terminal battery cables use small head bolts (8mm or 5/16, while the threads are 1/4-20), the smaller bolt head is meant to be fastened with a simple ratchet for close quarters, open or boxed end wrench or 1/4" drive and socket. Snug is the word, not gorilla tight (guaranteed to strip battery side terminals). One way to remember how tight might be using fingertips only for tightening, not using the entire hand to add leverage for tightening.

If you are lucky and the battery side terminals aren't stripped but the battery is near its end of life, there may be some warranty left for credit towards a new battery.

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Old 09-09-2019, 08:45 PM   #11
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Those threads are 3/8"-16

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Old 09-10-2019, 02:01 AM   #12
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Ok, my bad. 3/8-16 and just as easy to strip threaded lead battery side terminals.

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Old 09-11-2019, 03:29 AM   #13
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Thought i had posted yesterday. Seems not..

Soo uhh the car started after the negative battery cable was replaced and the battery was put in. Unfortunately i still had issues with it cutting off randomly if you go over a hump. I was able to get the car to start by jiggling the battery cable terminal and attempting to start.

Later on. I had some electronical issues returning like the random shifting and battery light on and turning off after startup. More dimming lights. And then now. Tonight, the car will not start. Attempting to yields a "click" and the battery light. While i was in the car. I noticed smoke and a burning smell coming from above the instrument gauge cluster at the drivers seat. Is it me or did i just go through 2 batteries?

...
1999 Saturn SL1-129k at purchase(may 2016)-139k when wrecked(September 2016)

1999 Saturn SC1(CURSED)-156K at purchase(october 2016)-194k currently (Nov 2018)
Dodging potholes should be a sport

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Old 09-11-2019, 06:31 AM   #14
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

You seem to have a large short somewhere. How is the positive battery terminal? Any shorts from worn insulation either to the UHJB or starter? Is there a large amp draw with ignition on but not running?

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Old 09-11-2019, 08:47 AM   #15
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

It is highly likely you started this all off with a bad battery, acid soaked positive and negative cables, and a defective alternator. Picking at this one part at a time is going to result in multiple failures of new parts until you replace al of them at the same time. The alternator and battery can be tested but if you had a side post leak the cables(both) are shot. You can not clean acid out of a cable.

Until the starting-charging system is solid further trouble shooting will be a waste of time and money.

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Old 09-11-2019, 11:23 AM   #16
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonasan308 View Post
......Soo uhh the car started after the negative battery cable was replaced and the battery was put in. Unfortunately i still had issues with it cutting off randomly if you go over a hump. I was able to get the car to start by jiggling the battery cable terminal and attempting to start.

Later on. I had some electronical issues returning like the random shifting and battery light on and turning off after startup. More dimming lights. And then now. Tonight, the car will not start. Attempting to yields a "click" and the battery light. While i was in the car. I noticed smoke and a burning smell coming from above the instrument gauge cluster at the drivers seat. Is it me or did i just go through 2 batteries?
Did you check the other main ground cable between the chassis and engine block? Replacing the battery negative cable is only one cable. A second negative cable between chassis and engine block exists. And what condition is the red battery cable? Is it wet, from leaking battery acid? If wet, cut off the large insulator to examine if the copper wires are severely corroded, eaten away. If they're just wet, the same water/baking soda solution can dissolve and neutralize acid or replace the red battery cable. This takes care of main power and distribution of power. The smoke from inside may be the ignition switch.

You'll have to look under the steering wheel for burned wiring, possibly the ignition switch or any wiring in that area. Look carefully.

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Old 09-11-2019, 11:58 AM   #17
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

The leaking acid never got to the cables themselves. It wasnt at the terminals, acid was coming out around the top of the battery and running down its sides. And they werent all crunchy and hard to move, which is why i thought my positive cable was fine. Where is the main ground cable at?

How do i check the ignition switch itself? Ive been looking under the steering wheel and on top, cant see anything burned though. Ill keep looking.

I also have an aftermarket radio setup in the car. So if i need to go through that i can as well.

...
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Old 09-11-2019, 12:59 PM   #18
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

The easiest way to trace engine ground to chassis is ether finding the engine ground wire ( sometimes a bare set of wires (around 6 gauge) connected to any engine stud or from battery negative on the chsssis. You'll have to look carefully in both areas as they should stand out among bundled wiring harnesses, being a single large gauge wire (black insulation) like the red battery cable. If the red battery cable is fine and not corroded from battery acid, move on as you're descriptions still seems to be main power connections to battery and then possibly ignition switch wiring by the steering wheel column.

With aftermarket wiring, this can be another source of issues unless wiring was done carefully and all splices are electrically tight, soldered/taped/shrink wrapped or mechanical tap connections are secure. Twisting bare wires then using electrical tape is a poor way of connecting wires. Tape adhesive dries up and tape unravels, twisted wires can come apart when tugged and if power is on a wire, this bare end may contact bare metal and short or weld and burn the wire and damage the circuit before a fuse blows.

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Old 09-11-2019, 01:00 PM   #19
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Just popped off the steering column cover and dashboard. However. I cannot find any burned wiring or anything that looks bad. The ignition switches wires appear okay, and i dont note any smoke or bad smells when i try and start it. Then again. The only thing thats happening when i try to start is a single or multiple clicks. All my functions work fine *until* i try and start the car.

When i did the radio, i used butt splices. The white plastic things that look like nipples is what i used, not the straight tubes. The connection for those are pretty solid.

...
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Old 09-11-2019, 01:17 PM   #20
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Default Re: Battery light on, erratic shifting

Do you mean this cable here? It leads back into the wiring harness. One of the ground wires there seems to be spliced and taped. I think it was like that i got it. Some things i can figure out myself but electronics has been my weakness. I appreciate everyones patience with helping me with this, i dont claim to be a mechanic, just trying to keep my car going really.
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1999 Saturn SL1-129k at purchase(may 2016)-139k when wrecked(September 2016)

1999 Saturn SC1(CURSED)-156K at purchase(october 2016)-194k currently (Nov 2018)
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Last edited by Jonasan308; 09-11-2019 at 01:28 PM..

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