Car Care / Tech

Battery & System Tester: The Easy Way To Trace Electrical Gremlins

Starting problems happen. We’ve all been there… turn the key and you’re greeted by a distinctive rapid clicking sound or utter silence, not the vroom you were hoping for. There’s a gremlin in your starting electrics but how do you pinpoint the problem? Enter the Griot’s Garage Battery & System Tester.

This type of scenario happened to me recently. My Lexus SC400 did the clicking thing. I charged the battery with my Microprocessor Controlled Battery Charger/Maintainer. Things were fine for a while but it was back to clicking in a week or so. Luckily, I had stowed my Compact Portable Jump Starter in the back seat.

It was clearly time to track the culprit. So I borrowed one of our Battery & System Testers from the R&D department and went into forensic mode. The Tester is designed to evaluate 12-volt batteries and systems and is compatible with a wide range of battery types, including Conventional, Maintenance Free, AGM, Gel Cell, Marine and Deep Cycle. I suggest keeping the manual at hand for quick reference as you use the device.

Prior to testing, make sure all accessories are turned off and the doors and trunk of the car are closed so there is no load or draw on the system. Whether charging, jumping, or testing a battery connect the clamps directly to the terminals if possible for best results. Connecting the leads will power up the Tester. The unit’s LCD screen will show the open circuit voltage of the battery.

With the ignition in the “off” position, press the Enter button to initiate the testing process. The display will read ”bAtt” to indicate the battery will be tested. Then use the arrow buttons to select the type of battery to be tested. Selections include SLI, FLAt, SPL or GEL.

Battery Type Definitions

SLI          Standard Starting/Lighting/Ignition flooded

FLAt       Traditionally shaped AGM

SPL         AGM-designated Spiral Wound

GEL        Gel Cell

With the battery type selected press the Enter button to select. Then scroll the display with the arrow buttons to indicate the applicable battery rating that you plan to test against. Options include ”CCA”, “din”, “IEC”, ”En”, or ”CA” (MCA). Press Enter to select.

Battery Rating Definitions

CCA        Cold Cranking Amps

din          Deutsches Institut fur Normung (Germany Institute of Standardization)

IEC         International Electrotechnical Commission

EN          European Norm

CA          Cranking Amps

To test, press the Enter button. The LCD screen will show the actual output of the battery not the static output you may see when first connecting the leads. The Tester will also provide an assessment of starting system condition on the LED lights above the battery icons. A green LED indicates the battery is good and capable of holding a charge. A green/yellow LED combination shows the battery is good but needs to be charged. A yellow/red LED means the battery is discharged. At this point you should recharge and retest the battery. If it fails again the battery is the culprit and should be replaced. Our battery passed.

With our battery escaping with a clean bill of health, the next step is testing the charging system. Scroll past the “bAtt” screen to “SySt” then press the Enter button. The LCD will display “CrAn” which is short for crank so it’s time to start the engine. The display will show the minimum voltage reach of the battery and display system condition information on the LED lights. In this case, the red LED indicates checking the wiring, connections, and starter.

Then press the Enter button to move to the revving portion of the test cycle. Run the engine to 1,200 -1,500 rpm and press the Enter button to display charging system voltage without loads. The unit will provide an LED assessment. While testing you can add load by turning on the heater, headlights with high beams, and defroster to see how the draw affects voltage output and overall system function. Our charging system struggled at this stage, checking in as “WEAK”…. with the finger of guilt pointed at the alternator.

This clued me into other things going on with the car. There was a bit of a squeal coming from the front of the engine, the engine would hesitate or fade at stoplights, and the power steering felt heavy at start-up and slow-speed conditions. I carefully felt the belt tensioner housing and there was an uncharacteristic vibration emanating from it. I concluded the tensioner was failing and, perhaps due to belt slippage, not allowing the alternator to charge properly or the power steering pump to provide ample pressure at slower engine speeds.

The Battery & System Tester will more than pay for itself in cash and convenience when compared to taking the battery out and hauling to a shop for testing or swapping out random parts in a vain search for a cure. The Tester allows you to zero in on the problem and make better decisions that get you on the road sooner. We swapped the serpentine pulley tensioner on our Lexus Sc400’s 1UZ-FE V8 and things are quieter… whether our efforts have been successful on the charging system from remain to be seen… we’ve only had the car for two days.

Have fun in your garage!

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