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Old 04-08-2013, 01:42 AM   #1
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Battery Light has been turning off and on . . . for a year

To preface this, I know absolutely nothing about cars, but I'm also really broke and willing to learn. I've been driving around for over a year with a battery light that goes on and off (I know. Stupid.), more frequently when the weather is warm and only when the engine is hot. I asked an acquaintance who is a mechanic about the battery light, and he said it was probably the alternator and that I needed to take care of it right away. When I said I'd been driving it this way for a year, he stared at me for a moment and then said he wasn't sure what the problem was.

Recently, the car will occasionally turn off when idling, but it immediately restarts. It only really does that while the lights are on. The lights will dim while idling, but it's fine if I rev the engine. The problem started after I accidentally drained the battery a couple of times with a DC to AC inverter, but that may have been a coincidence. It also started right after having a plugged heater core repaired last winter. (I don't know how long it was like that, I didn't know anything was wrong until I had no heat.) The light is on more and more frequently, and with the weather getting warmer, the problem is bound to be worse. This car came with more than its share of problems (no air conditioning, leaking oil) which means that I basically just need it to last another year or so until I can afford to replace it.

The battery terminals are corroded and also a bit loose. Is this likely to be the cause of the problem? Also, is this problem I keep reading about involving the pigtail a likely cause of the light going off and on?

Anyway, thank you in advance for any help or direction that you can provide.

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Old 04-08-2013, 02:23 AM   #2
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Yes absolutely loose corroded battery cables can be the cause of all your issues. The repairs can be cheap, not counting your time, and really need to be done before looking elsewhere.

- critically examine the cables that connect to the battery posts. Anything that is not bright, shiny & clean needs to be repaired/replaced. Any part that is rusty/eaten by corrosion needs to be replaced.

- Critically examine the other ends of the cables. The negative cables attach to the engine & frame. Disconnect the cables at the connection points. Anything that is not bright, shiny & clean needs to be repaired/replaced. Any part that is rusty/eaten by corrosion needs to be replaced. At the attachment point you may need to remove paint/dirt with sandpaper to get a bright shinny connection point. Reassemble the connection using dielectric grease & making sure the connections are tight.

- Do the same with the positive cables.

- Do the same with the positive connection to the alternator.

- Do the same to the connections to the starter/solenoid.

- Make sure that everything is bright and shinny.

- Use dielectric grease.

- Connections should be tight. If you can twist/turn a connector/battery post clamp then something is wrong. Repair and/or replace as required.

Good Luck
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Old 04-08-2013, 03:12 AM   #3
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Well, you said it went a year..............what's to prevent it going another year???

Seriously, thinking like that and reinforced by your thinking you got away with it will only burn you badly some day. Any other time and you'd've been walking long ago. Stupid is the correct term there.

However, one does not have to stay that way, and the mark of a superior being, to recognize his past failings.

Everything the other guy said. Look at the tensioner, they can get sticky and loose not loose on belt to do same thing. The alt quits spinning for a second produces the light. Grab the battery posts and try to turn them by hand, these commonly tighten up but still not tight, if they can move easily could cause same trouble. You can get the alternator output checked for free nowadays at most auto parts stores.
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Old 04-08-2013, 05:50 AM   #4
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Milton makes a very helpful suggestion. Your first step is to ensure your electrical connections, especially at the battery itself, are clean and tight. This is not hard to do. I would only add to Milton's suggestion a safety note: Be sure you cover one terminal of the battery with a cloth or similar insulating material when tightening the opposite terminal. You do not want to short out the battery with your wrench when tightening the terminals.

Once your battery terminals are tight, you will want to carefully observe the battery light. If it continues to flicker, see if you can correlate the flickering with any movement of the engine. For example, if the flickering continues, does it occur when the transmission changes gears, going up or down hills (Ithaca has plenty of those), or upon hard acceleration? If it is correlated with engine movement, then it is likely that the alternator control-line pigtail is the problem. This is a very well-known pattern failure in early Zetec-equipped Foci like your ZTS. The essential problem is that the cable from the firewall to the alternator is a bit too short and the engine motion eventually destroys the control-line connector on the alternator. Ford has a pigtail kit to repair this. The repair is not hard but somewhat tedious. Search is your friend.

Whatever you do, please report back to this forum so that everyone can benefit form your experience. Good luck.
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