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How hot was it today?

by Bill Osler / August 21, 2005 11:03 AM PDT

Are there any auto mechanics out there? I'd appreciate input on whether I need to do anything about this.

It was hot and humid today. The thermometer showed mid/high 90s when I checked but I'm convinced that the thermometer lies. This afternoon I dropped the boys off for church then went to get gas. When I tried to start the car after the fill-up there was a huge "thump" up front but nothing else happened. Then the dashboard electronics just faded out.

When I looked under the hood I saw the caps on the top of the battery had popped off. There was a little bit of clear liquid on top of the battery but the rest of the engine compartment looked dry and all fluid levels looked OK. I wasn't sure whether it was safe to jump start the battery because I've never heard of such a thing so I called AAA.

The tow truck operator said he hadn't seen anything like it either. He towed us to the nearest garage (where we found the mechanic was actually in on a Sunday afternoon!) The mechanic said it was the third exploded battery he'd seen today.

I've never heard of such a thing, but he put in a new battery and everything worked fine. All I had to do was reset the clock.

I'm hoping the mechanic was right and it wasn't an electrical problem in the car. For now it's enough that the car is still working. I'm thinking about having the dealer check it out before the car's warranty expires but I hope there's nothing really wrong with the car.

Has anybody heard of battery explosions from hot weather? The one thing about this that bothers me is that the temperature was probably under 100 F. Even though the heat index was over 100 I'm not convinced today was hot enough to cause problems just from heat.

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Heard of it but never seen it
by Steven Haninger / August 21, 2005 11:21 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

We used to play around using electricity to separate H from O2 and capturing it in small bottles. We'd immerse the bottle upside down in a water tank and place the electrodes in such a way that the bubbles would be captured. When all the water was replaced, we knew we had the perfect explosive mixture of hyrdogen and oxygen isolated in our bottle and we'd cap it and remove it from the tank. These were actually small baby food sized jars but, when we'd remove the lids and ignite them with a spark, there was a loud POP!. I'd heard that hydrogen and oxygen was produced inside of batteries. Older ones were not sealed and we had to add water occasionally so gasses would escape. I had heard it was dangerous to accidently reverse the polarity on batteries and to avoid making sparks as best as possible. Here's a link that might add something.


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Thanks ...
by Bill Osler / August 21, 2005 11:28 AM PDT

The article did mention internal explosions, especially in hot weather. That would fit with this evening's events.

The only discrepancy in my case is that there was no visible problem with the water level of the battery.

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I've never seen it due to hot weather, but if the battery
by Kiddpeat / August 21, 2005 11:38 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

fluid starts boiling, usually due to rapid or overcharging, it will emit hydrogen gas which is very explosive. That's one reason it is safest not to put jumper cables directly on a battery's terminals. It puts sparks right where the gas might be.

I would guess that heat, air conditioning heat, and a turned off motor heat could cause such a condition. What I don't see, is what would detonate the gas.

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I'm puzzled too ...
by Bill Osler / August 21, 2005 12:03 PM PDT

The page Steve linked to gives a couple of possible explanations but none of them seems a good fit to what I observed.

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Have your mechanic check the current draw when the
by gearup / August 21, 2005 12:13 PM PDT
In reply to: I'm puzzled too ...

starter is engaged! If it is excessive this plus the other heat factors could have popped the battery! I had that happen several years ago and thanks to a skilled technician the cause of the problem was found and eliminated...

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When I was younger, the battery chargers did not shut down
by Kiddpeat / August 21, 2005 1:35 PM PDT
In reply to: I'm puzzled too ...

as nicely as they do now. I used to be able to smell battery fumes from 20 feet away (at least), and go looking for the source.

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Happens all the time in AZ!
by Glenda / August 21, 2005 12:47 PM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

Also windows pop from the heat if you roll up all the windows:(

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Happened to me in 1983
by James Denison / August 21, 2005 8:54 PM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

We drove from Texas to Colorado Springs, Colorado to the home of my wife's parents, we were newly married. Her dad was still in AF, wrapping up his 30+ year career and stationed there at Peterson AFB. The next day we went out to our truck to crank it up, expecting to visit Pike's Peak. Something between a loud thump and a Kaboom and everything was dead inside. Opened hood and the battery had literally exploded. We had to wash all under the hood to clean the battery acid off everything, and put in a new battery. The old one had little casing left around the sides of it. Batteries give off hydrogen gas and I think sitting all night, having come from low to high elevation allowed it to outgas and some small spark in the older battery internally,or maybe at the posts, set it off and it exploded. I'd heard of such, worked at a garage as my first job, never seen it till then. I'd always thought it was one of those garage stories the older mechanics told just to mess with our heads.

New battery is all you needed. It happens.

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Heat itself shouldn't make it explode
by Cindi Haynes / August 22, 2005 1:50 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

However, the heat may have caused the plates inside to expand and possibly short out against each other. Hydrogen is only produced when a battery is charging.

Our thermometer read 108 today, and we're in the foothills. Typically, as you know, the Piedmont is usually a little warmer. No exploding batteries here that I'm aware of!!

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Never heard of this one and I HAVE heard some things!
by crowsfoot / August 22, 2005 2:57 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

I couldn't imagine an ignition source. Guess I'll have to add ''treeing'' to the old MAYBE_file.

I DID see a battery blowup on an electric forklift one time and they're BIG suckers and located right under the seat! If you've never seen a 300 pound black guy stick a double-twisting back-flip dismount, you've missed something! (Hosed his legs down quickly, and other than massive adrenalin damage, nobody hurt.)


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I really doubt it was just the heat, Dr. Bill,
by Dave Konkel [Moderator] / August 22, 2005 3:18 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

unless they normally do something extra to stabilize batteries in very hot areas. After all, people drive safely across Death Valley w/o exploding batteries!

-- Dave K, Speakeasy Moderator
click here to email semods4@yahoo.com

The opinions expressed above are my own,
and do not necessarily reflect those of CNET!

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Driving does not cause the heat that shutting off the engine
by Kiddpeat / August 22, 2005 8:07 AM PDT

does. The sudden stop in coolant flow spikes the temperature for a short period of time. That's why overheated engines should have coolant added, but not turned off if at all possible. That's a story in and of itself.

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If the battery's working hard ie discharging and recharging
by Ziks511 / August 22, 2005 11:27 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

a lot or is older, it may produce excess Hydrogen. That's probably what caused the explosion under the hood. I used to have a Chrysler mini-van that hated hot weather and sometimes would stall and then wouldn't start again if you'd been driving a lot in the heat. If you left it alone for about 1/2 hour it worked again. Never did it any other time, and the dealership and mechanics could never figure it out.


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by James Denison / August 22, 2005 10:15 PM PDT

Might have been the starter. I've driven mostly Chrysler products and their starters would develop a bad spot on them at times. Hitting the starter with the garden hose sometimes would let it crank up. Other times banging on the housing a bit with a 2x4 section from under the hood (barely enough room to slip it through) would get it off the bad spot enough to start turning. More often than not the starter needed a contact kit put into it. I've seen those copper contact bolts have a half crescent burned into them from the other contact that came and hit it when the solenoid was engaged. Sometimes before putting a new contact set you could turn the bolt(where the positive cable connnected) halfway around and get a lot more life out of it without needing to remove the starter.

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Just a thought...
by J. Vega / August 22, 2005 1:10 PM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

Just a thought. Batteries produce hydrogen when they charge. It's been a while since I drove and messed with a car battere,but AIR didn't the filler plugs on top of the cells have a hole in them to vent the gas buildup? Thinking along this line, what if those holes got blocked with a buildup of "gunk", under the hood sometimes is a dirty place. Just a thought that hit me.

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Here are some articles ... yes, they can explode
by Angeline Booher / August 23, 2005 1:37 AM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

A lot showed up in a Google search!

"The plates must be covered at all times to prevent internal battery explosions

In hot climates and keep your car battery as cool as possible. For under the hood, use a non-sealed wet starting battery (with filler caps so you add water) or a sealed spiral wound VRLA AGM battery. (Please see Section 7.)"


"15.3) A battery will not explode.
While spark retarding vent caps help, recharging a battery produces hydrogen and oxygen gasses. If a spark or flame occurs, an explosion will occur. Remember the "Hindenburg"! "


"The hazard is in the byproduct of this reaction: hydrogen gas. It's so flammable that this gas is used to fuel rocket engines. The Catch-22 in car batteries is that a spark can easily ignite hydrogen gas, and batteries themselves are capable of producing sparks. If the lead plates inside the battery touch, arcing and sparking can convert the battery into a bomb. The resulting gunshot-like explosion disperses the caustic acid, where it can eat through underhood components as well as human parts.

The best way to prevent battery explosions is through routine maintenance. On removable-cap batteries, keep the water level up so that the lead plates' tops are less likely to emerge above the electrolyte, warp and contact each other. Also, keep battery terminals clean so that the power isn't inclined to arc in search of a path of least resistance.

The two most likely explosion times are during start-up and improper jump-starting. Power demands are greatest when the battery must get the starter motor spinning, and the resulting heat increases the amount of hydrogen gas. Hot weather compounds the problem.

Modern Batteries
Technology has both increased and decreased the probability of battery explosions. Sealed "maintenance-free" batteries don't allow the electrolyte level to be filled, thus increasing the chances of internal sparking. However, maintenance-free cells normally hold more electrolytes than comparable fillable-cell models. Also, modern cars place more electrical demands on batteries than ever before. Because batteries are heavy and weight affects performance and fuel economy, battery manufacturers try to generate more amps from smaller packages by placing the lead plates closer together. Of course, this also makes the battery more susceptible to internal sparking.
The good news is that "suspended electrolyte" batteries are available. Although more expensive than traditional "wet-acid" batteries, these high-tech units use a gelatinous electrolyte or contain the acid on rolled-up matting inside the cells.

Furthermore, "recombinant" batteries convert the hydrogen gas into water to keep the electrolyte at its proper level."


"Finally, pay close attention to the conditions of your car's battery during the summer months. Although cold weather decreases a battery's efficiency, warm weather decreases its life expectancy. To be certain your battery won't give out in the middle of a summer excursion, have it checked. This way you'll feel safe and secure before getting too far from home."


Hope these help.

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Update after talking to the dealer ...
by Bill Osler / August 23, 2005 12:03 PM PDT
In reply to: How hot was it today?

The dealer basically said it was heat plus bad luck. They did not even recommend testing the charging system.

I'll have to think on that. The warranty runs out soon, and I don't want to get burned just because I didn't do something about a problem that developed before the warranty ran out.

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(NT) (NT) It sure won't hurt to check it now.
by Kiddpeat / August 23, 2005 2:13 PM PDT
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