Intermittent (?) dead battery

Feb 7, 2013
st louis, mo
Just wanted some quick thoughts from you guys before I do anything.

I have a 1997 Ranger 2.3 that has a Costco Interstate with a 2018 date on it. Had several occasions where when trying to start it in the morning, the battery would be dead. But generally, it was working reliably, and it was being driven every day. I spent a little time going through the fusebox trying to see if it had a parasitic drain, and didn't find anything.

Something weird happened last night. My son took the truck to work. Started fine. Then, he worked his shift and drove it home (a short distance) at night. Again, no problems. After he got home, he decided to run out again for some fast food. Again, the truck started. While he was in the drive thru, the engine died and he was unable to start it again. I came to get him and found the truck showing dead battery symptoms: dome light was dim and not enough power to crank even a little. I used a small jump starter pack, got the truck going again, and drove it home (about 2 miles) without issue. At home, it started back up fine.

About the engine dying: he said it made a "tsk-tsk-tsk" noise before it died. I don't know if that's anything, it has a pretty loud exhaust rattle at idle sometimes. Also, it's a manual and he's not real experienced at driving stick. So him killing it in the drive thru due to poor technique seems likely, but that's not the story he told.

The battery cables are tight and I don't see any obvious external poor connections. I'm thinking I'll put in a new battery and see if that fixes it. The only things I can guess are bad battery, poor connections, or parasitic drain. But parasitic drain wouldn't cause it to be dead in the drive thru. And the connections seem good to me.
You've most likely got an cell that's intermittently shorting out internally or otherwise dropping out. The issue probably won't stay intermittent for long. Time for a new battery. It had a good long run.

Edit: Make sure the battery is strapped down properly. Bouncing around and increased vibration can also cause plates and internal connections to crack and cause cells to go bad.
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Have you done a load test (not voltage) on the battery?
If it has a short, it will get detected right away with a charged battery.
No guessing necessary.
I've had battery cables corrode inside the insulation, giving these same symptoms. if the battery and charging system checks out maybe try bypassing the cables to the starter.
I've had battery cables corrode inside the insulation, giving these same symptoms. if the battery and charging system checks out maybe try bypassing the cables to the starter.

Hmm, maybe... But when I hooked the jump start pack onto the battery terminals, it fired up. I'm going with the intermittent short in the battery for now. Need to decide between getting another Costco or trying Sam's. I hear the Sam's is a Deka, but they give you more warranty hassle than Costco.
Hmm... I put in a new battery and when I got all the fuzz off the positive terminal, I found that one side of the loop was only half thickness because it had been eaten away by corrosion. So one of these days I suppose I will put new terminals on it. But the terminals were quite secure on the old battery.
I would have sooner thought bad alternator, because if it had enough current to start the vehicle, should have been able to keep it going, assuming no substantial clamp/wire/connector issues. However now that I see "got all the fuzz off the positive terminal", it confuses me because of the prior statement "I don't see any obvious external poor connections.", so then to me the question becomes, was it just corrosion buildup over time, OR did you have a cell shorting out so the alternator was dumping too much current in trying to raise the voltage, causing the rest of the cells to outgass and cause an excessive corrosion rate?

At this point, I would monitor the state of charge of the new battery, and engine running, electrical system voltage should be roughly 14.4V, to make sure the alternator is keeping up.