2015 Mazda 3 – Electrical Issues
Mark: Hi, it's Mark from Top Local. We're here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience, and 21-time winners of Best Auto Repair In Vancouver, as voted by their customers. How are you doing today, Bernie?
Bernie: Doing well.
Mark: We're talking cars. We're talking about a 2015 Mazda 3 that was having electrical issues. What was happening with this Mazda?
Bernie: This vehicle came to the shop with a few concerns. One was the check engine light was on. Second, it felt like it lacked power at certain times, almost stalled, and the steering was doing something. On my service advisor note, it said funky. So, I had to call the owner and said, "What exactly happens?" He goes, "Something just feels wrong with the steering." So, and when I finally experienced the issue, yeah, funky was actually a good description for it. When I turned the steering wheel at certain times ... So, this is an electric power steering vehicle, electric power steering. I'd turn the vehicle at certain times, the steering wheel would, like, kick. It would lose it's power, and it would just kick in my hand. It was like almost, you know, almost the arm breaking kind of kick. So, it was kind of a strange issue. And then, there's a warning light on the dash for the steering. This was an intermittent issue.
Mark: So, what other testing did you do on the vehicle?
Bernie: First thing, of course, is hook up a diagnostic scan tool and scan the whole vehicle for trouble codes. And what we found was a trouble code P0882, if I remember correctly, which is a transmission control module low voltage code. From there, of course, driving the vehicle was a key thing. And, the other thing I often do is, we have a database, a program that we access that has known vehicle faults. That's usually the first place I go to, to go okay, what could be causing this issue?
So, I go in there, and no one else had ever had this problem. At least, it wasn't in this database. So, sometimes you go, "Oh, that's going to be interesting," because we're kind of maybe not the first to ever see it, but it's a first to kind of publish any issues around it.
So, I mean, I looked at the diagnostic system. Kind of tried to understand the circuit a little bit. And, I tried to understood the circuit and what was going on, and figured okay, this vehicle is not getting power to the transmission module for some reason. It's either a bad battery, charging system, or wiring. One of the above, so it's a matter of making a test.
So next was to do a road test with the vehicle, go and see what was actually happening to it. So, as I mentioned, the steering was doing weird stuff. But then, it would stop doing that. It would seem normal. So, I went out. I road tested it. Hooked up the scan tool again. Looked at the module voltage while we were driving and just to see what was going on with that. And, I've got some pictures here I can show, because it's got some neat stuff to share here.
So, there's our Mazda 3 2015. So, it's only about a four year old car. Not too old at this point in time. This is a road test. So, this is actually monitoring the power steering module. And, you can see, you know, for the most part, this is around 14, 15 volts, which is the normal electrical system. And at some point, all of a sudden, starts dropping down, spikes way up, jumps all over the place. Drops down to almost 0 volts.
So, none of this stuff should be happening. This graph should be, basically, staying kind of around 13 to 14 volts, somewhere in that range. That's where the power should be with the engine running. So, clearly, losing power in the system. And, I noted at some point during the road test, the vehicle would also, when it came to a stop, the transmission seemed to be stuck in third gear. So, I think it had gone into a limp mode now.
What I was able to do is, put the transmission back in park, then go back to drive, and then it would shift normally. But clearly, when this was happening, the transmission module was also losing power at the same time. So, we were kind of onto it.
And, the other thing I didn't mention is, we do a full system code scan. A lot of modern vehicles, you can scan every module in the vehicle. It's really important to look at that. There's a number of low voltage codes in other modules, so that indicates kind of a major power fault in the vehicle.
Then we did some further tests. Now, visually, you know, I thought to myself, "Okay, this car, it's got the original battery. It's about four years old. That's kind of an average life span of a battery." You just visually look at this battery, this is a disaster. You know, there's stuff leaked out here. The case looks bulged. There's corrosion on this terminal, which this alone could cause a lack of power. So the next test was to actually test the battery, which we did.
And, there's the results of our battery tests. Sorry it's a bit of a fuzzy picture. But, 12 volt battery, bad battery. It's supposed to do 520 cold cranking amps. This thing measures 73 cold cranking amps. Although, the voltage, interestingly enough, was good. And, the other thing strange about this vehicle was that, when you go to crank the engine over, it cranked the engine over just fine. So, that's usually the first indicator that a battery's bad, it won't crank the engine over. But, it would do that.
The other interesting thing we do is, of course, we do a full charging system test. So, it did actually test the alternator. Voltage regulator failed, diodes failed. So we have suspected maybe the alternator was bad, but I figured better to replace the battery first, and then test the system after.
Just one other, this is the vehicle. This is the Skyactiv technology, which we'll talk about a little later. Sort of a view of the engine compartment and the battery before replacement. And, what else would we see? The coolant fill here, engine oil fill, and the dip stick there. Air filter in this area, brake fluid. No power steering fluid, because it's electric, so that makes things a little simpler.
Mark: And, was there any other indication that the battery was bad?
Bernie: There wasn't. As I was saying, you know, it's interesting, because I cranked the engine over several times. Because I right away suspected, okay, maybe it's got a bad battery. Cranked the engine over many times, and every time it cranked the engine over, it was just fine every time, so ...
Mark: What happened after you replaced the battery?
Bernie: Well, so, I replaced the battery. Clear the codes in the vehicle computer, went out and road tested it. And everything looked really awesome. Like, that graph that I showed initially, that had the big spikes, none of that was there. Just, everything stayed between sort of low 13 to high 13 volt range, consistently solid the whole time, all the way through.
Then, retested the battery, retested the alternator. That code that came back, the alternator was good. The voltage regulator good, diodes good. So, the battery itself was causing the alternator to malfunction.
Mark: So is that, in your experience, is it a better approach to replace the first known bad part and then retest? Rather than just, "Oh, everything's bad. Fix it all."
Bernie: Absolutely. And, this is why we have customers who, you know, we tell them it's going to be this cost for testing and diagnostics, "Oh, I don't want to pay for that." Well, when you ... We charge for it, because it takes time and proper testing to find the issues. And, we take the time to look at that kind of thing. And, it saves you money in the end.
If you go to somewhere that's just going to go, "Well, we'll do that for free or very minimal charge," they're going to go, "Okay, you got these two bad ... " Or, they're likely going to say, "You got these two bad components. Change them both, and you know, the client's bill would have been at least 500 dollars more, had they not done that.
Now, you know, as I say, we take that two-tiered approach. Let's test this first, see how it works. If there's a savings to do both at the same time, then it's probably worth doing. But, there's no savings. They're completely separate components. It takes very little to just put the battery in, test it, and then just redo the test again and see how it is. Very little extra effort compared to ... Yeah, so that's how we do things here.
Mark: Better for the customer, and easier for you guys in the long run.
Bernie: Well, exactly. And, you know, you can sleep at night better, knowing that we did the right thing, and it's always nice to know we give the customer the best value.
Mark: And, how long should a person expect a battery to last, a car battery?
Bernie: Well usually, I mean, the average life span on a battery is usually five years. Some will last longer. Some will not last as long. I mean, this one's made it for about four. So yeah, five years is about considered average. I mean, I find most cars, yeah, probably four years, four to five.
Mark: Here's another question. So, we're talking about 12 volt starter batteries, which are very different from as we move into an electric future. Batteries are changing incredibly.
Mark: It's a lead acid battery. So, those dirty terminals from never being cleaned and looked after, maintained properly, is that, perhaps, led to this battery failing prematurely, slightly?
Bernie: I don't think so, actually. I think those corroded terminals actually indicate to me more like the battery's actually bad. Because what'll happen is, when a battery gets bad and old, it'll start gassing more, and it'll ... Like, there's sulfuric acid in the gas, and liquids will come out. That'll cause the corrosion worse. So, I would say it's actually the other way around. The actual battery itself will cause that.
You have a good battery and a good charging system that's not overcharging, generally, terminals don't get corroded. It normally happens from something going bad. And of course, we clean the terminals as part of the service. It's critical.
Mark: And, that's probably thinking back to old batteries when you could fill up with the acid and all that sort of stuff. These are all completely sealed batteries today. Is this more of an issue? Or less of an issue?
Bernie: Well, actually, this battery is actually not a sealed battery. You can actually pop it open and add water to it. And, to be honest, I didn't do that. We don't normally ever do that. You really don't need to do that in any regular type of battery. The only type of battery that you would ever want to service like that nowadays is a deep cycle battery. But yeah, this battery actually still, it's kind of like old technology. You can actually pop the cap open and add ... You only add water to it by the way, because only the water will evaporate out of the battery. The sulfuric acid will never actually evaporate. It all stays in the battery. So, you can add water. But, you got to be careful the kind of water you add, too. You don't want to put any highly mineralized water in, because that can create problems.
But yeah, again, it's like with the age of this battery, even if the water was low in one cell and you topped it out, chances are you'd still have problems. You know, and this battery, again, probably had some kind of internal short circuit or something that was causing it to intermittently malfunction like it did. You know, allowed the car to start, and yet, failed the load test and would intermittently go bad. So, that's kind of the issue.
You know, with batteries nowadays too, I mean, even cars, non electric cars, there's more and more electrical components, so the batteries are more critical than ever. You know, especially like electric power steering in this car. It relies on a good, strong battery. So, and a good charging system. So, even a full internal combustion engine vehicle nowadays, still having a good battery is a critical thing.
Mark: And, you mentioned the automatic transmission had a sensor that was not getting enough power. Is that part of the shifting system, using electricity?
Bernie: Exactly. Yeah, so the code that we actually had stored in the vehicle computer, the main one, was for a transmission control module lack ... You know, like, insufficient voltage. So, again, when the voltage was dropping down from the battery, and say to the steering that I'd monitored, the same thing was happening to the transmission module. And, the same would happen to the engine module as well, I would think. So, I didn't monitor that circuit. There was no code for that, but clearly, that's why the vehicle was driving strangely and the transmission was shifting funny.
Mark: And, sticking in third gear when you stopped.
Bernie: Yeah, yeah. And, you know, it's interesting how some of these basic electrical ... Sometimes, you know, when you're testing and repairing cars, you can think, oh, it's going to be some elaborate problem. And often, the basic things are the problem, like, the battery. We had a Chrysler vehicle this week that had a whole bunch of transmission trouble codes. And, we did some research on it and found that often, a faulty alternator caused these. Tested the battery and charging system, sure enough, found the alternator had blown diodes. And, that'll cause huge voltage spikes in the system. And, that'll cause the sensors to ... The computer can't quite read the sensors properly because it's getting strange voltage signals.
So, replaced the alternator, the car was fixed. So a lot of times, the more basic electrical things ... They have to be in good shape for everything to work properly.
Mark: And, the diodes in the alternator are part of what changes that A/C current into D/C to charge and operate the systems, the CAN bus system in the car.
Bernie: Exactly. And, you know, with the blown diodes, what'll happen is, instead of getting a nice clean D/C signal, you'll get a huge spike of A/C voltage that leaks past. So, you get what's supposed to be kind of a fairly flat 14 volts will all of a sudden, will often jump up to like, 16, and it'll keep spiking up and down. And, that just causes real strange, erratic things.
I've seen numerous issues with bad alternators, so we're going to ... drifting off the battery, but the battery and alternator, they really do work hand in hand. And, a bad battery can wreck an alternator. So, it wouldn't have been surprising on this Mazda that it would have needed the alternator. It just didn't in this case. Or, a bad alternator can also wreck a battery. So either way, it's good to make sure they're both healthy.
Mark: So, this vehicle, as you mentioned, has Batman's Skyactiv technology. Does it have a bat signal?
Bernie: No, it doesn't. But, it's Skyactiv, so ...
Mark: What is Skyactiv?
Bernie: Well, it's a name, like Honda Eco Dreams, and yeah. But, it's a technology that Mazda's put together for the best fuel economy, for the best horse power, for the best fuel mileage, you know, which is important nowadays. You know, every manufacturer's trying to get the most they can out of their engines. So some of the features, it's got much higher compression. In North America, it's like 13 to one compression, which is really high for an average engine. I mean, it used to be like, 10 to one was really high. But, 13, that's like race car high. And apparently, in other markets, the engine's actually 14 to one compression, which is like, unbelievably high.
So, they're able to do this through the way they do the valving of the engine. It has direct fuel injections, as opposed to the standard port injection that we've used for many years. So, port injection injects the fuel into the intake manifold right above the intake valve, whereas direct injection, it's like a diesel and injects it directly into the cylinder. And, most engines nowadays have this technology, and it gets way more precise combustion. And, it allows things, having these high compression ratio engines.
So, high compression ratio engine is more efficient. But, there's a lot of problems like engine knock and pings. So, they've had to do a lot of work around that to make sure it doesn't knock and ping, especially on regular fuel. It's a pretty neat accomplishment.
Mark: So, if you're looking for service for your Mazda in Vancouver, the guys to see are Pawlik Automotive. You can reach them at 604-327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to call and book ahead, because they're always busy. Very popular guys, best auto repair in Vancouver. Or, check out the website, pawlikautomotive.com. YouTube channel, Pawlik Auto Repair, hundreds, literally, over 350 videos, and blog posts on both of those places about all makes and models and types of repairs. If you like reading about cars, there's tons ... and listening about cars, or two goofy old guys talking about cars. It's on there. And of course, thank you so much for listening to the podcast. We appreciate it. If you feel motivated, give us a like. Five stars is always nice. Thanks, Bernie.
Bernie: Thanks, Mark. Thanks for watching, thanks for listening. We totally appreciate it.