How can I avoid getting stranded?

Thursday February 20 2020


By Paul Kaganzi

Hello Paul,

I have had my Toyota Ipsum for a year-and-a half without any trouble. This week I have failed to start it twice and my engine was not turning at all. My neighbour had to help me jump start the car and suggested that my battery may be spoilt. How can I tell if my battery is dead?


Hello Joseph, a car battery is a storage device which supplies electric power to start the engine and power electric accessories. The battery is charged by an alternator which is run by the car engine. There are wet type batteries with serviceable sulfuric acid or lead and deep cycle dry cell batteries with long life maintenance free gel led electrolyte. A car battery can discharge either because of a breakdown of the charging system (alternator), due to poor maintenance or ageing of the battery.
When you have a weak or bad battery, your car will hesitate to crank (turn the engine) or not crank at all. A quick inspection of the battery terminals should confirm if they are not loose or dirty with corrosion buildup. A faulty alternator or charging system can prevent your car battery from charging fully. When the alternator fails, a red fault light with the image of a battery will display on the dashboard. You can tell during routine service inspection if the car battery is bad by checking that the electrolyte volume has not decreased.
If the electrolyte has reduced, it should be topped up with good mixed acid or de ionised water as deemed necessary. A hydrometer can be used to assess the charge status of each cell in the battery in comparison with the recommended values on a chart. This is a glass tube with a rubber bulb to draw the battery electrolyte and floating balls to show whether a battery has completely discharged or not.
The maintenance free gel battery has a built in hydrometer which shows colour green if the battery charge is okay or colour black and white if it needs charging or replacement. A voltmeter can also be used to tell the current voltage of a battery and this can help to tell if it is fully charged or not. Regular maintenance inspection of the battery will help you avoid getting stranded.

Why does my car fail to start?
Hello Paul, I own a Suzuki Escudo which I have driven for the last nine years without any problem. Recently, the engine fails to start easily. I suspected the problem was the battery and spark plugs which I changed because they were old. But still the problem persists. My mechanic then suspected that it could be the fuel filter and the fuel pump and replaced them. The car started well and I drove away from the garage. But after driving for about half a kilometre, the engine stopped and it cannot start any more. What could be the problem?



Hello Milton, hard engine start for Suzuki and all other cars with modern electronic fuel injection systems can be affected by any of the factors that affect the ignition system such as the spark plugs, ignition high tension leads, ignition coil, the crank shaft position sensor, fuel delivery system (fuel filter or fuel pump), the air intake system which includes the air filter and throttle potentiometer.
In your case, the fuel system has been ruled out because the fuel filter and pump have been replaced. Ask your mechanic to examine the condition of the high tension leads (or ignition coils) for damage. A computer diagnosis should be carried out to determine whether the crank shaft position sensor is faulty. This sensor communicates engine speed by use of a magnetic hall effect.
This information is used by the computer to deliver spark for ignition. Confirm that battery terminals are not loose or worn out. An inspection of the air intake system should confirm that the air filter is clean and the throttle valve opens freely to let air into the engine. That should catch the problem

Why does my hand brake work facing downhill but not uphill?
Hello Paul, my 1996 BMW 3 series emergency parking hand brake is not working normally. When I park downhill, facing downwards the hand brake works well. However, when I park facing uphill, the hand brake does not work. What could be the cause of this problem?


Hello Timothy, you need to have the rear brake shoes kit of your car inspected to replace worn out components or adjust the latching mechanism. Your 1996 BMW 3 series has a set of parking brake shoes inside the rear brake disc rotors. When you use your hand brake, it pulls a cable and lever which presses the brake shoes against the brake disc to secure the car.
Inside each brake disc there are two shoes the primary and secondary. One of them holds the vehicle to prevent forward movement while the other holds it to prevent rearward movement. When either of the two fail you may experience failure of emergency parking brake either forwards or backwards. The brake shoes need to be inspected to confirm their width or determine if the system needs to be adjusted. That should fix the problem.