Battery corrosion washes off, but may indicate replacement

Plus: ABS engaging under normal braking

By John Paul Columnist / March 17, 2010

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Q. I’m a senior with a 2004 Toyota Camry with 68,000 miles. There is a lot of hardened white and green powder around the battery connections. Can this powder be cleaned without visiting the repair shop? Does this indicate that I need a new battery installed? I can’t seem to receive a straight answer from the service people.

A. The powder is corrosion formed by a reaction with the lead terminals and sulfuric acid vapors. You can clean the corrosion by washing the battery with a mixture of baking soda and water and then rinsing the battery with clear water. If the corrosion is very heavy, the battery cables should be removed and cleaned. Regarding the battery itself, the typical life of a battery in New England is three to five years. If the battery in your car is original, you might consider replacing it to prevent a future problem.

Q. My dad has a 2002 Toyota Sienna CE. The check engine light keeps coming on. He has taken it in for service several times to have something fixed and then three months later, there it is back on again. Is this a common problem? The mechanic told him that his own car (which is not even a Toyota) does the same thing and it’s nothing to worry about.

A. If the check engine light is on, there is a problem with the car. Although the car may run okay, as long as the illuminated light indicates there is a problem, you won’t be able to get an inspection sticker. When the light is on, there will be a code set that should help the technician find the problem. Considering the response from your mechanic, it may be time to find a new shop.

Q. I have a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix with 85,000 miles on it. While turning right and slowing down to no more than 10 miles per hour, the anti-lock brake system is triggered. In addition, the ABS light seems to come on more often now that mileage is getting high. Other than this, the car has been great. I have good mechanical ability, but need some help with this one.

A. The problem could be a broken wire at one of the wheel sensors or rust build-up between the ABS wheel sensor and the tone ring. Unless you see something obvious, like a broken wire, diagnosing this problem will require a scan tool or careful work with a digital multimeter.

Q. The other day, the heat wouldn’t kick on in my 2002 Hyundai Sante Fe (the car has 150,000 miles on it) and only cold air would blow out of the vents. After a while, I heard a slight knocking and the heat kicked in for about 15 minutes. The sound came back and the cool air came back too. Yesterday, my temperature gauge went all the way to high. What do you think has caused this problem? 

A. Start with a check of the coolant level. Based on your description, the radiator could be low on coolant and the noise could be air in the heater system. If the coolant level is low, filling it up may temporally solve the problem, but the system should be checked for a leak. Driving with the temperature gauge reading hot is a sure way to damage the engine.

Q. My Cadillac does not pass inspection because I can’t get the service light to go off. How long do I have to get it inspected again and do I have to take it to a Cadillac dealer to have repairs done?

A. If your car fails an emissions test in Massachusetts, you have 60 days from the date of the original inspection to get the car fixed. A good repair shop with the proper tools and technical information should be able to repair your vehicle.

Q. I have a 2003 Ford Windstar and the cornering lights won’t come on, yet the turn signals and parking lights are fine. How do I fix the cornering lights?

A. The cornering lights are controlled by the front electronic control module. The most common problem is a poor electrical connection. Like many of today’s vehicles, even the lights are controlled by electronics and are diagnosed with a specialized scan tool. 

John Paul is the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. He can be reached at or on Twitter @johnfpaul.