After work Friday CP was getting my Element out of the garage so I could put away my Oldsmobile. An hour later I go to take my Element somewhere and it's dead. I'm really confused as to how It could start up perfectly a half hour ago when CP moved it out of the garage that it was in all week. I asked her "Honey, did the car act funny when you moved it out of the garage"? Now I'm trying to analyze this problem, could it be:
a) an interior light left on for a week
b) dirty terminal connection
c) sudden catastrophic battery failure
I check that no light was left on, I clean the terminals, and I consider the last one unlikely because the car is only 5 years old and and CP's Element is a year older and has three times the mileage yet is fine. I put it on the charger for 4 hours and not a blip. Then I roll down the driveway trying to bump start it and nothing, except now the Element is sticking out in the street. I take CP's Element and jump start it and get it back up the driveway and leave it running. Twenty minutes later I come out and it's not running. Now I'm really confused. I'm thinking I can't even drive it the 3 miles to Honda after I jump start it. I put it back on the charge overnight and went to bed.
The next morning it's still dead. I check the battery and it's 13.7 volts and the alternator is putting out 13 .5 volts. Then I put on my goggles and take a look in the filler caps. The first 5 cells look OK but the 6th one has electrolyte that looks like bacon fat. Then I notice that telltale bulge on that side of the battery. I'm finally convinced the problem is the battery (if I had a load tester I could have been sure earlier). I'm happy to find out that Auto-Zone has this odd little battery that looks like it belongs in a John Deere riding mower. After I install the battery I check the one in CP's Element and it has 3 cells where the electrolyte looks like jello. I take out CP's battery and go to Auto-Zone and it fails the load test.
So now we are a happy Honda family again with two new batteries. I'm glad I didn't take it to Honda; they would have ripped me off. It was hard for me to replace CP's battery while it was still working, but I've never had a battery go kaput so abruptly. Once I was fooled when a starter motor went bad and I thought it was the battery (it was drawing down the battery with ten seconds of cranking). Five years out of an OEM battery isn't bad. My Toyota OEM batteries came with a 36 month guarantee and they lasted about 3 years and one month. Just when you think you have seen it all, something different comes along. Perhaps it's a southern thing; batteries just fail abruptly from the heat instead of the slow death they experience up north.
The era of the $39, 36-month battery is over and gone are the days of "Midnight Auto Parts". Come to think of it, there is an Element parked in the physician parking lot. Forty years ago that's where I would get my battery. I always thought if I'm going to steal a battery I wanted one that was near new, not one from some old car. I believed doctors always had the best car parts. After all, they were doctors, they had to get to emergencies and save lives. They couldn't drive crappy cars like the rest of the neighborhood.