2005 SAAB 9-3 Leaky car battery

Tiny
LAURENCEM
  • MEMBER
  • 2005 SAAB 9-3
  • 1.7L
  • 4 CYL
  • TURBO
  • 2WD
  • MANUAL
  • 134,000 MILES
Hello, I own a 2005 Saab 9-3 linear (4door sedan). My question is about leaky batteries.

In 2013 a Saab service center replaced a battery that had leaked; that battery had been installed n February 2010 at the same service center.

On November 2014, my car was towed to the same service center after the 2013 battery
failed to start the engine and immobilized the vehicle. The technicians diagnosed a leaky battery that also caused corrosion.

What is the likelihood source of the leak? Is it the battery or is it improper installation?

I am the only owner and driver of the car, and my driving is mostly highway or side roads. I liven an urban area, and I sometimes drive to the countryside. The car has been maintained by Saab certified technicians from the time I purchased the vehicle.

Thanks.
Laurence
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 8:38 AM

9 Replies

Tiny
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  • EXPERT
You have to determine why it's leaking to figure out the cause. If there's a hole near the bottom, it's a mechanical problem. The battery may be not held down snugly by the hold-down hardware. That can allow it to slide around and wear a hole in the case or rub against something with a sharp point.

If you're finding corrosion on top, mainly by the posts, that is a normal condition for a battery that is about to fail from age. The lead is going to flake off the plates over time. That can't be avoided. As it does, it becomes easier for what's left to over-charge. That creates excessive heat that boils the acid / water. That creates bubbles that reach the underside of the top cover and some of the acid sneaks through the case next to the posts. That's where it forms that white, powdery corrosion. Anytime you see that corrosion, it's useless to buy those juicy rings or spray treatments that are supposed to neutralize it. You can expect the battery to fail within six months.

That may be what happened to the original battery since it lasted five years which is the expected life span. When you have multiple failures, especially in such short time periods, the first suspect is a defective voltage regulator. Measure the battery voltage while the engine is running. It must be between 13.75 and 14.75 volts. If it is too high, that will boil the water out of the acid. If the battery has vent caps, you'll see wetness all over the top of it.
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 8:59 AM
Tiny
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The technicians informed me that the batteries leaked; they didn't determine a cause. Each time, the battery was under warranty so they replaced it at no charge to me.

But two batteries leaked within 15 months. Have you seen this happen before? The last battery was sent back to the manufacturer for testing, but the results were inconclusive.
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 9:15 AM
Tiny
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We see this all the time, but just like with a flat tire, you have to see what happened. You still haven't said what was leaking. Was there a hole in the case or not? Where was it leaking from?
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 9:29 AM
Tiny
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No holes as far as I know.

I don't have a lot of information to pass about the battery failure because the technicians failed to give me that information. They don't explain the source of the problems, just the issue and the repair, if any.

So, you see a lot of leaky batteries, but are you going to the manufacturer to find out why that is such a common occurrence?
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 9:42 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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Nope. I've never run into a defect so far that caused a leak. Every battery failure has had a cause that could be attributed to its age or to the vehicle. The most common thing I see is that white corrosion on top, and if the battery isn't bad yet, it will be soon. I warn the owner to be prepared, but they usually elect to wait unless they spend a lot of time on the highway a long way from home, or when winter is approaching. When they get that far along, load testing would prove the battery doesn't have its advertised capacity any more, but that load will often kill a battery that could last a few more months. Cleaning that corrosion won't solve anything either. It's time for a new battery.

The second issue, as I mentioned, is when the battery isn't bolted down securely. That's worse in trucks that sustain a lot of abnormal vibration, as in off-roading. Truck batteries also come with shorter warranties because of that vibration. The battery manufacturers know how fast that lead will flake off the plates and build up at the bottoms of the cells. When it builds up high enough, that cell becomes shorted and the battery has to be replaced. Vibration makes that lead flake off faster, and that's why those batteries fail sooner.

Also, without going into theory in detail, charging an older battery with a portable charger vibrates the plates, and that helps the lead to flake off. Setting the charger on the lowest setting for an hour vibrates the plates very little. Charging at a high rate for a shorter time period vibrates the plates a lot. That's why it is common to see a battery fail a few days after a generator failed and the owner charged the battery at home. That happens mainly to older batteries.

When batteries fail repeatedly in the same vehicle, it is almost always due to a defective voltage regulator. The clues are the sides of the case will be bulged out and if it has vent holes in the caps, the top of the case will be wet. The proof is in measuring the charging voltage. If it gets over 15 volts, the excessive current going through the acid heats it up which promotes boiling the water out of the acid. That damage is easy to identify and no manufacturer will warranty their batteries for that. The only other cause of bulged sides is from freezing, and the battery has to be totally dead for a while to turn the acid into straight water for that to happen.

About the only thing a manufacturer will warranty a battery for is if a cell becomes shorted before the end of the warranty period. As I mentioned, they know how fast that occurs, and they provide the longest warranty they can advertise to match that time period. If they can give up one property, such as the cold cranking amps they can achieve and advertise, in favor of packing the lead tighter on the grids, they might be able to forestall a shorted cell for five and a half years, so they'll give a six-year warranty. They could also make the plates smaller, which reduces the number of amps it can deliver, but that leaves more room at the bottom for the lead to collect and build up. That's the case with the battery in my minivan right now. It's nine years old but will still crank the engine just great for starting, but it can only do it for about 20 seconds before it's run down. It could do that intermittently for a total of well over five minutes when it was new.

The problem is most people aren't swayed to buy one battery over another by the length of the warranty. They compare cold cranking amps and reserve capacity, so that's what the manufacturers want to make as impressive as possible. That means packing larger plates into the case, and that leaves less room for that flaked-off lead to collect.
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 10:55 AM
Tiny
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That's a detailed answer. Thank you.

I am still puzzled with the explanation; batteries are manufactured the same way they've been for 100 years, even though the road conditions are different and the engine technology is mainly computerized.

My car is serviced through another center now; I lost trust and confidence in those technicians because they failed to explain the cause of the leak. In fact, the battery died again recently and the service center got irritated with me when I reported the issue. But that's poor customer service.

I am considering a diesel powered engine for my next vehicle. What is your general opinion of diesel engines?
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 11:32 AM
Tiny
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Mechanics have very poor communication skills. Just like doctors, they speak their own language, but they're held to much higher standards than doctors. In three words I can tell another mechanic more about an engine than I could in five minutes with the typical car owner.

To add to the confusion, almost all dealerships and many independent shops have service advisers as middlemen who write up your paperwork and tell you what was done to your car. They usually never were mechanics but they have real good communication skills. Their job is to take what they think they heard from the mechanic, interpret that into what they think you will understand, then try to explain that to you in a way that makes sense. You know things are going to get lost in translation, but that is not intentional and it doesn't mean they're dishonest. You might get the same glassy-eyed look after listening to your dentist, accountant, or carpenter.

There were many times when my service adviser brought customers back to see me for a better explanation, and I was often amazed that what the customer said they were just told was nowhere near what I had told the adviser earlier. If there was an attempt to be dishonest, you know the adviser wouldn't have brought the customer to see me.

No one expects people to be knowledgeable in the machines they trust to get them back home, but with cars being so ridiculously over-complicated today, owners don't understand why we do a lot of the things we do, and as a result, it is assumed we are trying to sell you more parts than are needed, we overlooked a worn part or just neglected to tell you about it, or we replaced an expensive assembly that could have been repaired less expensively. There are usually legitimate reasons for why we do these things, and some of them are our customers' own fault. Just like doctors ordering way too many tests to cover their butts, we have to worry about lawsuits too, and you pay the price for us being overly-cautious with the car that can kill you.

As a former instructor, I put a lot of emphasis on spelling, grammar, and correct terminology on the repair orders and other papers I had my kids write. We get paid according to what we write on repair orders, so it's not the boss' fault if we forget something. But it IS our fault when things don't get documented properly. I CAN tell you incomplete work descriptions will result in bounced claims when the repair is under warranty. If the manufacturer can't understand what was written, you can be sure the service adviser can't either, so how is he going to tell you what was done.

One of my jobs here is to know the right questions to ask to help me help you find answers. Mechanics get real frustrated at times with their service advisors when the descriptions of the problems are vague or don't make sense. I had a real good adviser who would often have me speak with the car owner for a minute or two to be sure I had enough useful information to start the diagnosis on the right path.

Given all this wondrous information, I hope you'll see why your battery issue is difficult to address. There are a couple of other battery issues that could be referred to as "leaking" that have nothing to do with holes in the case or other physical problems, (although you DID provide enough information to tell me there was corrosion). Those are electrical problems, which I know you don't have. If there was indeed a problem with the top cover of the case not being sealed properly, that is not likely to be a one-time / one-battery problem. So much of the assembly is automated that if there was a problem, it would have affected a lot of batteries, and the manufacturer would be aware of it by now. That would have been corrected within a few days, so the chances of you getting two defective batteries is very unlikely.

Once the repairs are completed on your car, you might consider having the charging system tested at a different shop. Specifically, you're looking for charging voltage higher than 14.75 volts. This is only a guess, but it is possible a mechanic might purposely not report an over-charging condition on a car so he could legitimately send a battery back under warranty when really the cost of replacement should be the owner's responsibility since the failure wasn't caused by a manufacturing defect. I know I had to fib on repair orders a few times to get things covered that would solve the customer's complaint. What are you supposed to do when you know that part is needed, but the manufacturer says it's not worn enough to the point they'll pay for it?

As for diesel cars, I'm not sold on them because I like to do all of my repairs and I don't like high prices for parts. I have two friends who have five Dodge dually diesel trucks between them. They get better fuel mileage than a lot of small cars, and they pull huge trailers easily, but the politicians have gotten their unknowledgeable hands on them and taken away much of their advantages. Mostly that has to do with the emissions systems. One trucking company near me replaced 1,000 trucks with new 2006 models before the newer regulations went into affect. They calculated that if they had bought 2007 models they would have spent more than a million dollars MORE for fuel per year. You have to wonder how the exhaust can be cleaned up when the trucks are using more fuel.

The same is true for our cars. There's no denying cars today are so clean you can suck on the tail pipes and live to tell about it, but as a result, a 2,000 pound plastic car today gets only slightly better fuel mileage than my 4,400 pound 1980 Volare with chromed steel bumpers. A 1968 Buick Wildcat was so big you needed binoculars to look in the mirror and see the tail lights, but they easily got 22 mpg. With all the technology we have now, cars should be getting 70 80 mpg. Now, diesel engines DO get a lot better fuel mileage, but it comes at a cost. You won't want to stretch the oil changes and other maintenance, and you can expect to have to run to a mechanic for almost everything. My daily driver is a 25-year-old Grand Caravan that refuses to break down. It has one computer for the engine, and if I were to ever need a replacement, I can use any one from a salvage yard. Today's vehicles get worse fuel mileage than mine, and they have a computer hung onto every conceivable system where they aren't needed. GM has their computers designed so you can't use a used one. Replacements have to come from the dealer and they have to be programmed by them to your car. I will never own a vehicle from a manufacturer that pulls those kinds of customer-unfriendly business practices. Diesel engines use a very expensive high-pressure injection pump. Many of them last the life of the vehicle, but what if you get one that doesn't? I get to see a lot of repair bills. My students often showed me $800.00 bills from GM and Ford dealers every six months, and they were brought up thinking those were normal! I haven't spent $800.00 total on my van in at least the last 15 years, except for gas. If you need to replace an injection pump or a computer module, there goes the money you saved on fuel mileage. I'll be dollars ahead with my old rusty trusty van.

I know you didn't ask, but I want to share a comment from a very high-level national trainer for independent mechanics who don't get the dealer training. He claims that for customer-friendly business practices, meaning putting the customers' needs and wallet ahead of profits, the top three are Hyundai, Toyota, and Chrysler. I'm not promoting any new car, and business practices has nothing to do with quality of the product, reliability, repair costs, and things like that. Hyundai is the only manufacturer that allows anyone, mechanic or owner, to access everything on their web site for free. That includes service manuals, software updates, service bulletins, etc. Toyota and Chrysler allow access to anyone for a small fee, except for the Security Systems. After all, what good does it do to have that if thieves can disable them? BMW, VW, GM, and Audi are on the bottom of the list. That doesn't mean they won't take care of you. It means they have things designed in that are going to force you to go back to the dealer instead of your choice of independent shops, and you're going to pay a lot more to keep your car going than for most other brands. They will still have perfectly fine fit and finish, comfort, and features, but the cost of ownership will be high.

One of my friends with three Dodge diesel trucks specializes in rebuilding one and two-year-old smashed cars and trucks, and he is always buying replacement computers for those that got damaged. You will want to look into how many computers are on the car you're thinking of buying, and their cost. I use the Rock Auto web site for reference quite a bit. They have real good prices, but you have to add in shipping costs too. Whatever you find there, expect to pay about double from other places.

As for opinions, I do have mine for which brands are best and worst, but for every car I dislike, there will be someone who disagrees. If I tell you a model is good, and you buy one and have lots of trouble, you'll be angry with me. If I tell you one is particularly bad, and your friend buys one you were looking at and never has a problem, that will be my fault too. I learned that a long time ago, so I try to tell people what I've run into for common repairs and leave it at that. I can share that diesels get better fuel mileage, but that is a trade-off that comes with plenty of disadvantages. I'll stick with gas. Diesel owners usually spend more on their cars, just not for fuel.
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 1:45 PM
Tiny
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FYI. I am based in Virginia near Washington DC. Where are you located?

I am tech-savvy and I appreciate the technical knowledge of engineers. The communications problem should be transparent to me, the paying customer.

Thanks for the helpful comments. I will save them.
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 2:18 PM
Tiny
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I'm in the middle of Wisconsin, and I really hate snow and cold.
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Thursday, February 12th, 2015 AT 2:20 PM

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