The Daily Ping

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July 3rd, 2003

That’s not good…

You never want to hear a doctor or dentist say, “I’ve never seen that before…” And you never want to hear your auto mechanic say, “That’s not good.” This morning, I’ve already heard both… fortunately, my dentist was just kidding around. The auto mechanic wasn’t.

So, for any car folks in the audience, let’s start taking some bets and see who can diagnose my car’s problem based on my limited description. Last night, driving home, my fuel gauge light came on. Odd, since I had just filled up the take seven miles earlier. The car seemed to ride OK, though, for the remainder of the ride. Later in the night, I got back in the car and when I started it, the fuel light came back on and so did the battery light. The car still started OK, though something just “felt funny.” As I drove, the battery light faded, but will still definitely “on.” This morning: same thing… lights, but the car still ran alright.

Let’s go armchair mechanics: let’s hear what you think. First person to properly diagnose the problem (in other words, match what the mechanic tells me) wins a gigantic imaginary dipstick that you can use to measure the imaginary oil in your imaginary car.

Posted in Miscellaneous

FROM: Chris
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 9:29:48 am
The battery light acting weird would point to an alternator going bad. The good news is that is usually an inexpensive fix. I think the gas light could also be an indicator of the same thing - if the alternator is not regulating the voltage properly it could make any electrical system in the car act screwy.

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 9:47:27 am
The good news is that is usually an inexpensive fix.

Music to my ears.

FROM: Mike [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 9:48:03 am
If the alternator was bad, I don't know that the car would have started and shut down three times now, and driven a number of miles in between. I've lost a number of alternators in various cars, and when they went bad, they died completely, and stopped charging the battery completely, not intermittently. It does sound like an electrical problem of sorts though, maybe coming from the computer system in your car. What kind of car are we talking about here, how many miles, model year, etc?

FROM: Mike [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 9:51:11 am
And about the cost of an alternator replacement, the wife-to-be's alternator died a couple months ago, and they wanted to charge over $500 to fix it. With my dad's help, we replaced it on our own for around $100, having replaced the battery and buying a rebuilt alternator for around $60. Saturn would only install a new alternator with a $200 price tag...but the rebuilt one is just fine.

FROM: jk
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 10:19:15 am
A bad thermo switch is preventing your car from recognizing that it has sufficient gas. Well, that would actually cause the car to stall eventually. Do you have AAA? Are we going to get a frantic message from you asking us to pick you up somewhere on the side of the road?

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 11:22:14 am
The update so far: interestingly, the car was starting for me fine, but once I parked it in the dealer's lot and handed over the key, it must have known to stop working so hard... when the sales rep tried to start the car, it wouldn't.

He says it's almost definitely the alternator and said it could cost between $400 and 600, but depending on the cost of the alternator, could also be a lot less. Fortunately, I trust these guys, so whatever they charge will be fair (or at least fair for a dealer). Unfortunately, they won't be able to get to it until Monday or Tuesday.

FROM: Chris
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 11:36:53 am
Ask if they will use aftermarket or used parts. If its an older car there is no sense putting a brand new alternator in it if you plan on getting rid of it in a year or two anyway.

And Mike, I've had alternators go bad slowly - the symptons were very similar to what Ryan is describing.

FROM: Dave Walls [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 11:39:45 am
I could post a Marcus Mackey-sized posting about my experience replacing the alternator, but I think I did that already in a previous Ping, so I won't go into it again.

Even if the car works ok now, sans the screwy lights, get it done, because when the alternator dies,
you're stuck.

One side of me, though, does agree with Mike: If you were starting to have problems with the Alternator, I'm surprised it's continuing to start. With mine, I felt it go bad in the morning, made one stop, started it up again, and it died a couple seconds later. Usually doesn't take that long. Still, the rest of the signs point squarely at the alternator, so that's the best bet.

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 12:26:26 pm
If its an older car there is no sense putting a brand new alternator in it if you plan on getting rid of it in a year or two anyway.

I'm like my dad: I'll drive the car until I have to haul it to the junkyard, so I expect/hope to have it another five years.

DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 1:25:57 pm
Clean your battery terminals.

FROM: Rob [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 3:02:41 pm
When our alternator died, it went pretty freakin' quickly without any of those symptoms. I guess it's all luck of the draw or whatever.

FROM: Tina
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 6:21:42 pm
On another note, every time I bring my car in for something my mechanic tells me, "Oh, by the way, this part of your car is broken-blah-blah-etc" and tells me that I should probably have that looked at in the future. Is it just my mechanic or does this sound familiar? Also, how much does it cost to have rotors replaced for front wheel drive brakes? Does anyone know a site where I can check out pricing for certain general repairs...just so I can get an idea if I am being ripped off. Thanks.

FROM: Chris
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 9:17:48 pm
Replacing rotors will probably be a couple of hundred bucks, minimum. Depends where you live and the make and model of your car. Its fairly labor intensive.

I bought "Auto Repair for Dummies" a few years ago. Its a great book - written by a female mechanic. I do feel like I have a much better understanding of how a car works and thus the flashing neon "rip me off" sign does not appear above my head every time I walk into a auto shop.

FROM: cd-rw
DATE: Thursday July 3, 2003 -- 11:11:31 pm

fuel gauge problem = a stuck float in the sending unit. The sending unit is located in the fuel tank of your car. It consists of the float, usually made of foam, connected to a thin, metal rod. The end of the rod is mounted to a variable resistor, etc, etc.

Since you stated you just filled up the tank, i'm assuming the tank was pretty empty just before the fill up. when a tank is near empty, the concentration of various sediments/debris is higher and can lodge in the sender causing the float to become stuck in the "empty" position.

as far as the other stuff, i have no idea.

FROM: definite answer
DATE: Monday January 26, 2004 -- 3:16:47 am
I have a 2002 chevy silverado that had a bad bearing in the alternator, it started out with battery being dead a couple times. I jumped it the last time and all my guages were not working and I knew that I had a half tank of gas, although it showed below empty. Also my airbag light, battery light and abs brakes light were constantly on in my dash display. I took it to Chevy dealer and it was indeed the alternator.

FROM: C-man
DATE: Friday October 1, 2004 -- 7:15:50 pm
how do you install an alternator in a saturn scl ?

FROM: Dave Walls [E-Mail]
DATE: Saturday October 2, 2004 -- 6:24:14 am
Very carefully.

FROM: rotors on a fornt brakes
DATE: Thursday June 23, 2005 -- 3:16:35 pm
Does anyone know how much the front brake rotors cost on a 1994 mazda 626 cronos?

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday June 23, 2005 -- 4:00:50 pm

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Thursday June 23, 2005 -- 4:05:32 pm
So, Ryan, what was the problem with the car?

And have you made the soy cream cheese Irish Potatoesyet ?

FROM: Angela
DATE: Sunday July 24, 2005 -- 11:20:14 am
I just had a Tune-Up done on my 6 cyl. 1999 Pontiac Grand Am. I went for a test drive and the car ran smooth, like new.
I woke up the next day to drive to work, and I noticed when I was getting on the interstate, my BATTERY warning light came on in my dash.

I was going to pull over, and the light went out, so I kept going. About 10 miles up the road, the light came on again, and about a minute later it went off.

I kept driving, and the light would start coming on in shorter increments, instead of 10 miles, maybe every 5 miles, but it only stayed on for about 1-2 minutes.

Could this be a result of the tune-up I just had? Maybe a battery lead came loose, or my alternator is going bad?

Can someone help?


FROM: Bill
DATE: Wednesday September 21, 2005 -- 1:28:26 pm
I have a Jeep Liberty 2002 that I am trying to figure out if I have a bad alternator. After it sits overnite I have a hard time starting it. Have also had crazy lights coming on. Interior lights go on, I put on t. signal and they go off. i let the car sit overnite with the neg cable disconnected, teattached it in the morning, and it starts right up.Alternator or crazy electrical problem? any Hints?

FROM: Brad
DATE: Friday October 7, 2005 -- 2:38:40 am
If the 2002 Jeep Liberty is still under warranty have it properly inspected for wiring problems. If not check and see if any of the push button switches on the door frames or rear hatch frame are damaged. The switches could be keeping the interior lights on, whether the vehicle is in use or not. Some vehicles are equipped with an automatic shutoff feature for lights that may have been left on in the vehicle, however if it is one of the door switches this may be not the fact. If you are unaware of what the switch looks like it is mainly black with a rubber grommet around it to protect it from nature.

Good luck and let us know of the outcome.

FROM: Brad
DATE: Friday October 7, 2005 -- 2:52:38 am
I am going to ask a question because I am not sure. I own a 2003 Pontiac Grand Am and within the last 3 months have noticed that my after my last break job my car begins to shimmy at around 50mph and gets more excessive the faster I went. So just this week I bought a whole new set of tires hoping this would be the solution for the other tires were badly worn. However it still does it not as loud as before because I have better coushioning now but I don't know what the problem could be. I think it may be the ball joints or even the steering knuckle coming loose. I am afraid to speed now. I have a 2 year old car that feels like its falling apart. Could someone either conquer or tell me their opinoin. Please! I still do have warranty and have a heavy foot, so the previous tires were prematurely worn by about 20,000 miles. But it feels like a heap at about 85mph and I used to enjoy going that speed, Now its scary.

FROM: Paul
DATE: Friday October 7, 2005 -- 8:16:09 am
...after my last break job...

Well there you go. Someone broke your car.

Find a better mechanic - seriously.

FROM: shannon
DATE: Thursday October 13, 2005 -- 1:14:26 pm
i have a 99 grand am and am having the same gas gauge problem. Sometimes it will do a weird thing of going all the way to empty, then flying back up to where it should be....and i'm not on a hill when it does this.

FROM: Susan
DATE: Friday December 16, 2005 -- 10:30:33 am
OK, now for my question. After reading this ping, I am more convinced that my alternator is about to go as well. My problems started about 3 weeks ago. I drive a 99 Chevy Cavalier. It began acting as if it were gas starving while driving at high speeds. I tried SeaFoam fuel cleaner on advice from a friend, who thought maybe I had bad gas. When this didn't work, I had my fuel filter changed. Still no luck... I had my fuel injection serviced. For 2 days, things seemed to be improved. Now all of the sudden, when I stop at traffic lights my car idles horribly, and for the first time last night I noticed my headlights dimming with the bad idle when I pulled into my garage. I also in the last few days have noticed that the fuel gauge rose and fell a few times, one of the dashboard light flicks off and on, but it is so quick I don't see which one it is. I've called 3 different places this afternoon for estimates. All 3 places have quoted right around $225 parts and labor. If it turns out to be the alternator, I will feel rather blessed that I'm not being quoted $400-600 like some of you.

Thanks for any help in advance.

FROM: matthew Wilson
DATE: Friday December 16, 2005 -- 5:20:24 pm
Sounds like you need a new flux capacitor

DATE: Friday January 27, 2006 -- 1:30:53 am
I have a 2002 jeep laredo with 144000 miles. I am currently having problems with it strarting on colder days. Let me explain the concern. My oil gauage continues to stay at 0 but at times it will level off, but then drop again. I continue to have the oil changed on a timely basis. Just yesterday, I went out to start it and it failed to start. The battery gauge continues to read fine, all power continues to work but I did notice alot of a powder substance all over my battery leads that connect to the cables. I tried to change the battery out but the technician at auto zone stated that he was not able to get the battery out from the cables because of the powder substance. Could this be the problem for my oil gauage and starting problem?

DATE: Tuesday April 25, 2006 -- 8:11:17 pm
I have a 2000 Toyota Camry. If I jump start the car, it starts but shuts down if left idle for a while. I even managed to drive it for about 15 miles after I jump started it (the car shut down again on a trafic light, when I slowed down) but after I try to start it again assuming the battery might have charged, but it wouldn't start. Trying to find out if it is a bad alternator or just the battery. Thx.

FROM: Dave Walls [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday April 25, 2006 -- 8:12:47 pm
Not an expert, JJ, but it sounds exactly like when my alternator died on me a few years back. Get it checked.

FROM: Sarah
DATE: Friday May 26, 2006 -- 4:44:53 pm
Hello there. I just aquired a 1999 Aurora a couple of days ago. My parents bought it at an auction and gave it to me because I was in need of a car. I found out they have put "Unleaded" gas in it a few times when it says that it needs "Premium Unleaded" gas. I was wondering if this could seriously damage anything?

Last night when I drove it home, it was dark. I noticed the "battery voltage" light was on and the headlight were cutting in and out and flickering between bright and dim, as well as all of the light of the car.

I thought "duh its the battery" and so this morning I calle dmy mom and asked how old the battery was. She said the car was having the same problems with them so they just put a BRAND NEW battery in it. So, they didn't know why it would be messing up again.

I took the car down to DMV to register it and it didn't have any problems....then..
I took it to the gas station and filled the tank up with Premium Unleaded gas and then took it out on the freeway for a spin. I had the air conditioning going and I was listening to the CD player. Everything was going well. I went to get off of the freeway, was on the off ramp taking a curve, and my STEERING WHEEL COMPLETELY LOCKED AND SHUT OFF even though the car was still running. I just put the break on and pulled with everything in my to get the car into the grass on the side of the off ramp.

I was afraid to drive the car home, but had to get home for work, so I drove all the way home in the slow lane just in case the steering wheel locked up on my again and I had to land my car on the side of the road. Luckily it didn't lock again, but the "Service Engine Soon" light came on and remained on for the rest of the trip home.

It was incredibly scary. I've never had a steering wheel completely lock up on my on the freeway before.

Does anyone know what may have caused this? And do you think the steering wheel, service engine light, battery light (even though the battery is brand new), and all the lights in the car shorting in and out are all in connection with one another? Oh, and also the DIC chimes and says "CHECK CHARGE SYSTEM."

My wife thinks maybe it the alternator...but I have no idea...nor do my parents...the car is way comfusing for all of us and I was just wondering if anyone has an ideas as to what this might be all about...Does it sound like the alternator??

FROM: jk
DATE: Friday May 26, 2006 -- 4:58:36 pm
It's definitely not from using non-premium gas. (Who can afford that anyway?)

Maybe you should post this question at and let the Car Talk guys take a crack at it. You might not get a real answer here. Better yet, why have you not taken it in for service? I would not mess around with this. I'm just frightened by the fact that it came from an auction--not a good sign. Dealers keep and sell their best trades.....don't wait to see what else can go wrong. Very scary situation.

(I used to sell cars)

FROM: robogobo
DATE: Monday May 29, 2006 -- 1:53:16 pm
possibly a loose belt? check if your alternator and power steering pump are on the same pulley, then check the belt tension. it shouldn't flex more tha half and inch. if it does, the belt may slip at higher rpms, and then your steering won't work, and battery won't charge.

FROM: robogobo
DATE: Monday May 29, 2006 -- 1:57:03 pm
ok, here's a q: what can make one alternator after another go bad? (hint: I have a deep cycle battery in the truck so I can run a recovery winch).

DATE: Sunday June 18, 2006 -- 8:47:01 pm
I have a 2002 chevy silverado 2500hd and my alternator warning light keeps popping up.. i've had it replaced twice and i took it to autozone to make sure everything was good.. it checked out okay and i just want to know if its going to be a future problem.. its died on me twice in the middle of a two-lane unknown highway and i dont want it happening again..

FROM: joe chavez
DATE: Wednesday July 5, 2006 -- 8:36:52 pm
I bought a 2002 chrysler 300m from my dad who is terminally ill. the car has 20,000 miles. I drove it from New mexico to Californiia ,drove fine I put 2000 miles on it, as of today. A couple weeks ago I started hearing a pinging noise when I start it, as the car warms up it goes away.Usually in the morning or after sitting a while I figured maybe an oil change would fix it, no luck! I wonder? if due to sitting for such along time if maybe it got some grime or something that could cause this. Any Tips Or Suggestions?

DATE: Saturday July 15, 2006 -- 6:24:33 pm
2002 Chevy Silverado battery light keeps coming on for "apparently" no reason (3 dealerships have NOT been able to find out why the battery light keeps coming on) anyone else had this problem?

FROM: Christine
DATE: Tuesday August 15, 2006 -- 1:59:33 pm
I have a 2000 Chevrolet Impala LS V6 3800 and my car won't start sometimes. All the lights come on bright and only the check engine light comes on. After attempting to start it in nuetral several times and after 20-30 minutes of sitting I try again in nuetral and it starts.

Another problem is the fuel gauge the lower I get on gas the more gas it says I have. While driving the gas gauge keeps going up and the longer I let the problem go the worse it seems to get. The only way I know how much gas I have is when the car is in park. The stuff you put in the gas tank doesn't seem to make the problem any better if the problem is the fuel filter inside.

DavidB July 3, 2007, 1:59 am

Question.. Similar to others. I drive a 97 Plymouth Breeze. Over the past month I’ve had one experience while driving on the highway when my gas gauge when to empty and stayed there until I came out of work and restarted it. The Check engine light would come on at times then go off for days. Today the battery light came on while driving on the highway with the air on. When I went to drive home it was not on, but a few miles from home, it came back on. I hit a stop light and the rpms were still reveing with the cluth in while stopped. Then all of a sudden the air conditioner went to less than 1/4 power, the turn signals stopped working, the power windows would barely move the the windshield wipers were barely able to move. Would you say Alternator?

Erin February 6, 2008, 4:03 am

Hi, I have a 1999 Honda Accord, and one day on my way to work my SRS light came on for my air bags, when i came to a stop light I turned my car off to see if the light would go away, then it wouldn’t start. I wait a few and with a little extra gas it started. It ran fine for the next prob. two week and tonight on my way home from school it went wacko. My ABS light came on, my headlights and interior lights all went dim. My winshield lights were slow moving, then all my gages went completly down a few min later my car just stopped. Is it my alternator or could the rain we have gotten latley caused other electrical problems tonight unrelated to my SRS light comming on two weeks ago. Greatly appreciated any ideas boys!

wade August 29, 2008, 2:26 am

2003 Silverado 2500HD battery not charging light comes on for no reason as well. Usually happens more when it gets hot driving in traffic. I was thinking to change the alternator but the gauge shows that it’s charging. Anyone else have this problem?

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