Persistent "Battery Failures"

I own a 2001 Cadillac Catera with 4500 miles. While driving around yesterday for the fourth time in the history of this car (on inspection) it would appear that the battery simply failed. There was no warning of any kind the
previous few minutes to few days. But you drive to the grocery story, make a 5 minute stop, come back and the battery isn't even close to able to crank the vehicle.
The previous 3 times this happened my wife was driving and I was not able to 'play around with the car' before it got towed to the dealer (still under and extended warranty). But this time it was me.
The battery had enough juice to run the lights and run all the electronics (other than the ability to call out on Onstar for some reason). But the headlights dimmed to nothing on cranking and the engine barely grunted on turning the ignition on.
I am guessing that, once again, the dealer is going to give me a verdict of battery failure but I can no longer accept this for two reasons.
1) I have never before run into a situation where a battery goes from cranking just fine to no power what-so-ever without some kind of warning like weak cranking.
2) I can't believe that Delco batteries are THAT bad (about to go on battery #4 in 3 years).
Any thoughts on this?
Thanks.
dave
ps. The towing guy first tried to jumpstart the car with some kind of 'standalone' jumper device that supposedly had enough power to start a dead battery by itself. It was not able to do this prompting the towing guy to say "wow, this battery is really dead". How in the world can you almost totally discharge a battery in a few minutes without generating a goodly amount of heat that I would think would be noticeable.
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Agreed, sounds more like bad grounds or excess starter draw.

yesterday
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Thanks for the reply. Both seem like better answers than what I get from the dealer, but a bad ground seems unlikely to be the culprit since it would start when jumped and wouldn't start otherwise (unless the ground problem is causing a slow battery drain). The excessive starter draw seems unlikely because there couldn't have been more than 1 second of starter drawing between 'OK' and dead.
Again thanks for the reply.
dave
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Do you think there is any possibility that your alternator's voltage regulator is either failed or set too high thus cooking the life out of the batteries over a period of time?

the
is
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Re: Attached
In principle this has been checked (and the service department appears to be competent). But reality - not so sure. I really need to get a verdict on this battery (is it OK or was the fluid way the heck down or whatever happens to sealed batteries).
dave

problem
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yesterday
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I bet that it's the starter or a battery cable. Your starter probably has a defect where if it lands on just the right brush when it stops turning, it creates a massive short. Or maybe a loose screw or bolt is bouncing around inside of it. The symptoms you describe aren't usually characteristic of a failed battery, espically if this has happened as much as you mentioned. What happens is then as the car is towed to a garage, the rattling and bumping jars loose whatever is goosed in the starter, and at the garage, they stick in a new battery and it starts right up, so they assume it's the battery.
If it's a cable, it could be the cable is shorting to the frame, and is being bumped around, occassionally the short goes into contact. But I would bet it's the starter. I've seen them fail this way before.
What you need to do is take the old battery, stick it on a charger all day and get it good and charged up, then let it sit, unconnected to anything, for overnight. Then in the morning you load-test the battery with a battery load tester. I doubt the dealership is going to bother doing this, (or doing it the right way).

dead
By dumping the power through the battery cables and starter. The heat generated won't even be noticed, as the starter is usually already mounted near a hot exhaust pipe, and the engine will sink away a lot of heat from the starter.
If the battery was dead-shorted, when the tow guy connected his jumper, you would get a massive spark. But if the battery is merely dead, after a few minutes of charging it up from the jumper device, you should have been able to at least turn over the car a little bit.
Ted
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I
Thanks, Ted. The other factoid here is that the last time that this happened they once again replaced the battery (diagnosis - failed battery). I went to a local shop and had a better battery put in (also a Delco, but this one was a six year battery). While the dealer might or might not do this, I suspect that the shop that put the battery in will.
dave
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What about a bad cell in the battery? I had this problem with a delco battery. Sometimes it would start fine and other times it would not even crank over. I would try to start it really quick and sometimes it would turn over and start.
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Dave Lee wrote:

fwiw, if it's still under warranty, can you threaten with lemon law type stuff? Maybe then they'll actually find/fix the problem that's killing the batteries? I doubt three new batteries would fail that fast. You have some kind of short/draw/charging system problem that's killing them. I suspect the dealer is just swapping batteries until the warranty expires...
Ray
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yesterday
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crank
Three new batteries may fail real quick if they are shelf worn.
What would the dealer have to gain by swapping batteries?
I strongly agree with "You have some kind of short/draw/charging system problem".
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yesterday
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Actually, in this case I don't believe that this is what is going on. From what I understand the factory pays the cost of the warranty work (have had two items 'fixed' that I didn't complain about) and this is a very small town and we are viewed as potential repeat customers by the dealership.
dave
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Dave Lee wrote:

ok, but the dealership is doing themselves a disservice by not fixing it properly. You're pissed. The car looks like a lemon. GM will probably stop paying the dealer for the batteries soon because they're not following proper diagnostic procedures. Then your warranty is going to run out and you're going to be stuck with a huge bill by a real mechanic while they figure out what is shorting and killing your battery. The dealership may mean well - swap the battery and get you back on the road quickly, but they're not fixing the root cause of problem.
Ray
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yesterday
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One possibility is that you just aren't driving the vehicle enough to keep the battery charged. 4500 miles on a 2001 isn't many miles. A constantly low battery will sulphate and short the cells. If you have onstar, you probably have all the other bells and whistles that require considerable current draw. If you do drive it infrequently or only for short trips, It may pay you to hook it up to a battery charger at least once a week. Or better yet, buy a maintainer and leave it hooked up all the time.
H
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Oops - 45,000 miles. Sorry 'bout that.
dave

make
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probably
yet,
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Re: Attached
Based on a short conversation today there is a tentative verdict. It would appear that it is a cable problem (intermittent and never a complete open). I'll have more details tomorrow when I pick up the car (amazingly enough, replacing this cable is a multi-hour procedure).
Will post details when I have them but the folks here were so helpful and prompt that I thought I'd post what I know when I know it.
dave

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