By on January 9, 2012

TTAC Commentator John R writes:


I just replaced the battery in my 07 Sonata sometime earlier this year and now it’s behaving like it needs another. I should probably mention that I’m running aftermarket HIDs (I know, I know). I know (now) when the right lamp starts to fade and change from blue to white or sometimes purple its time to change the battery, but its happening a lot sooner than last time. I got a good two years in between when I had the HIDs installed and the last time I changed the battery. Back then I thought it was bulbs but as soon as I replaced them it started doing it again. That’s when I replaced the battery. Now its happening again.

I don’t think the battery is the problem – its a Napa Legend (75 month) which I understand is more than decent. My questions are these: knowing that its probably the HID setup sucking up all the juice (which I think is happening) what do I need to cope? A new alternator? A new battery, but this time do use the auto-on feature for the headlights?

Sajeev answers:

Thanks for your letter. If the car starts and runs, the alternator is fine. Your only problem sounds like your shitty HIDs: you can have a parts store (like AutoZone) test the charging system for FREE to know for sure, but I bet I am right.

Lose those lights, they are just glare machines because you don’t have an HID headlight assembly to properly harness the beam generated from said bulb. They will blind you (more than normal) when you pass a reflective sign or when you drive in a thunderstorm at night on a well-lit road. That, and they are often unreliable junk from vendors who wouldn’t know quality control from a hole in the ground.

John R replies:

“Your only problem sounds like your shitty HIDs”? DAMN! Oh, well. Thanks, Sajeev. I’ll head to Autozone this week.

Shortly afterward, John R replies:


I just got back from Autozone. Not only will they test the charging system for free, but they’ll also charge the battery for free. I wish that was my problem, though. The battery came out 100% and alternator checked out fine. However, (and I’m not too surprised) the starter failed one out of three times.

Not often, but every once in a while before this episode started I would get the little “RAT-TAT-TAT” sound while trying to turn over the engine.

Now they can test the starter by itself – you just gotta rip it out. I guess its time to break out ye old Haynes manual…

Sajeev answers:

Well, they test both systems, but I rarely note the distinction between charging and battery/electrical systems as they are so interconnected in modern cars. It’s truly amazing what oddball electrical faults will show up because of a bad wire in the charging system, a FUBAR’d alternator, or a weak battery.

So now you need new headlights AND a starter?  Welcome to old car ownership: a poor initial diagnosis is like a kick in the crotch when you get that second opinion, no?

John R replies:

Well, hopefully just the starter. I’m going to take it out some time this weekend. Thanks for the AutoZone tip. At least I’ve got it narrowed down.

Sajeev answers:

Oops, I hate giving tips that make me sound like a shill. Because I only shill for Panther Love or anything Fox Body/E39/LSX-FTW. Probably.

I don’t buy remanufactured alternators/starters/etc from AutoZone anymore. But I did. I normally reference them because of their national name recognition (and I’m too lazy to make a roundabout generalization about free component testing when one word says it all) but many other parts places do the same free tests.

AutoZone was (is?) the worst (in terms of quality) for new or rebuilt components from no-name manufacturers. I’ve been burned too many times to trust them anymore.  That said, maybe Autozone improved their quality in the past 5-10 years, maybe we should trust them…but now I buy new or “rebuilt with 100% new parts” from other vendors, as availability for my older hoopties dictate.

Best and Brightest, chime in on your favorite vendor. Being stranded in the rain and multiple tow bills from their lifetime alternators has royally ticked me off.

While I do like Autozone for many brand name parts, I lost my faith on the other stuff. Except their cheapo wiper blades, they work just fine and are, well cheap. Stick with brand name stuff, shop other parts stores for those “FML, I’ll never do that job again in my driveway” parts like a starter.

And did you go back to factory style lights from a decent vendor? I sure hope so.

Send your queries to [email protected] . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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31 Comments on “Piston Slap: Whom to trust whilst Getting In The Zone?...”

  • avatar

    I have good luck with new parts from Advance Auto Parts. Quick google searches will find a 40% off coupon code, order online, pick part up in store. It’s nice being able to go right to the cash register and not getting stuck behind a dim bulb asking about car parts for 10 minutes and not buying anything.

    Aftermarket HIDs…. the only thing worse are truck nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen on the HID lights, except they are worse than truck nuts and Calvin pissing stickers: at least truck nuts don’t don’t blind oncoming drivers. On the bright side they do provide a nighttime “Douchebag Ahead” indicator since in the dark it can be hard to see the fart can muffler or areo wing on the trunk.

      As to parts, Mechanics I deal with say the Auto Zone parts are the absolute lowest quality parts on the market; they are the Dollar General of auto parts. Their parts are marked to people who buy on price only. Anecdotally I have a neighbor who buys auto parts from Auto Zone, and he is constantly replacing them but is happy because they usually fail under the warranty period so he thinks he is getting a great deal. I would only use their parts on a vehicle I was about to get rid of. But then, I don’t put HID’s on a Sonata either.

      • 0 avatar

        I find that autozone etc.. is fine as long as you get a lifetime warranty part. Unless it’s a real pain in the ass to replace, when it fails you just bring it back. Rock Auto is great, but i prefer lifetime warranties on electrical parts. Autozone also stores your warranty info, so they will take care of you if you loose your receipt.

  • avatar

    I prefer Autozone to Pep Boys. I’ve gotten good service from Autozone parts and see no reason to shame them.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always heard from people who may know (but possibly don’t) that NAPA is a cut above the rest. I live in a Pep Boys-free area, so I don’t have experience with them, but AutoZone and Advance are around every street corner here. I have gotten some good parts at NAPA.

      Of course, this is such an inexact science. You may get something great from these places and get a dud from a dealer. And price doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it.

      • 0 avatar

        I happen to live in a town with a NAPA warehouse; it’s fantastic. Walk up to the counter, order your parts, wait 5 minutes for them to pick it from the warehouse, walk out the door.

  • avatar

    A 2007 Hyundai qualifies as “old car ownership?” Ouch! My ’95 Avalon must be prehistoric, then.

    My best luck so far has been with online parts. Scouring eBay (picked up exactly what I needed – OEM Infiniti air intake ducting for my old ’95 G20 from a Midwest Infiniti dealer for $20 + shipping, I guess they were clearing out old stock) has been extremely helpful. I’ve also bought new OEM struts and a used 6CD changer for a ’96 Galant and an OEM Nissan in-dash single-CD player for a ’98 Maxima, as well as a replacement for a lost owner’s manual for said Maxima, all for less than $50 a pop.

    As far as NEW parts go, RockAuto has been my savior a number of times. They have absolutely rock-bottom prices and often a core charge/rebate for larger ticket items.

    LKQ has gifted me with some good buys on oddball stuff. It’s used, junkyard-sourced stuff, but they can get things that you can’t find many other places. They do everything from body parts to entire front clips… I’ve gotten a side mirror from them before for a buddy. It came color-matched and slipped right on.

    It also helps to become friendly with a local salvage yard. I’m lucky – it’s not exactly pick-n-pull, but there’s a 7500-car (100+ in/out per day), 100-acre $5m/yr salvage yard 6 miles from me. I’ve bought a fantastic set of 4 matching 80% tread-life-left tires there for $120 before.

    Advance and AutoZone are only for desperation buys, and though I’ve had decent luck with some of their consumable parts (filters, belts/hoses, spark plugs, batteries, bulbs), I probably wouldn’t trust their reman important stuff. I’ve heard many bad things about them in the auto repair world, such as mechanics who scoff at the idea of putting their parts on their own cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah 07 does not strike me as old car ownership. People still occaisionally ask if my 08 Hyundai is new (although that happened a lot more often last year)… and everything is original including tires and brakes. I wonder if he’s fiddled with anything else that could cause problems in his 07? I would be wary of installing anything that sucks down that much juice.

      I agree with the post about Advance. I have done some work on our other cars in the past (99 Saab 9-5, 02 626) and always end up ordering online with Advance, getting a good discount that way, then just pick up at the store. Quick, cheap and painless.

    • 0 avatar

      Just a postscript: I did not add the link for eBay… No clue how that happened.

  • avatar

    Anybody in the Houston area use a place called XL Autoparts? Supposedly they stock unbranded OEM parts. I have bought an inside A/C blower and O2 sensors for several cars and I have to say that each part looked exactly like the part I pulled off. Down to the stickers. In particular the O2 sensors looked really OEM not like the cheapy looking sensors I usually see from the usual auto parts store.

    Anyway I just wanted to mention an alternative to the usual stores or the stealerships.

  • avatar

    Having followed the words of others when it comes to quality electrical parts, I chose to replace the alternator in my 2000 Maxima at NAPA. I bought the top-shelf, year guarantee unit which promptly failed after a year.
    I ended up taking my car to a local electrical part rebuilder who did the PITA install for me. Even though the rebuilt unit also failed, at least when it did, they took it out, rebuilt another and did the entire job at no additional cost. Now the 2nd rebuild is over a year and show no issues.
    I’ve learned that no parts store is perfect and that while I do enjoy DIY repairs, when you are stuck DIYing the job a few times, it becomes a lot less enjoyable.
    I vote for finding a trustworthy rebuilder when it comes to electrical parts.

  • avatar

    I can vouch for the customer service at Rockauto. I ordered wipers based on their vehicle model parts list that physically fit but did not allow me to reuse the factory shroud and wiper spoiler. They gave me a credit without making me send them back and the rep I talked to was interested in the details so that they could correct the parts list.

  • avatar

    People that drive cars that they don’t really care about can continue to buy parts from Advance/Autozone/Pep Boys and even NAPA. If you own a furrin car, you’ll find that you’re much better off to buy parts from OEM vendors. I recently needed a starter for my 2002 Golf. I looked at all of the FLAPS sites because they generally had decent prices. But the parts were all questionable. Instead, I paid about $80 more than what Autozone wanted for their garbage and bought a brand new Valeo starter.

    I’ll buy oil and bulbs locally, but for everything else I’d prefer to buy it online from a vendor that sells decent quality parts. My preferred sites for my TDI part needs are are idparts, germanautoparts, metalmanparts and 1stvwparts (.com at the end of all of them). The local dealer is a last resort, but VW dealers do have great prices on OEM batteries.

    • 0 avatar

      You really have to do your research since a lot of the time certain OEM parts aren’t the best parts available for replacement use-not every part that’s commonly replaced was really designed perfectly to begin with (as I’m sure a VW owner knows too well), and there’s a huge variance amongst aftermarket manufacturers as far as quality goes so unforutnately you have to do a little bit of research and sometimes just go on a hunch. The stores are simply rebranding one popular part or another so if you can figure out which one it is you can figure out whether it’s a good replacement part. Some parts cost more than oem replacements even because they’re supposedly better built.

      And sometimes it’s best to figure out which manufacturer OEM’d the part for the car company to begin with and just buy that particular replacement part instead of a generic aftermarket part or paying for the manufacturer logo.

      Anyways, so far I’ve been pretty happy with the stuff I’ve gotten from NAPA but I think it does depend a lot on which part they happened to rebrand for your car.

  • avatar

    I’ve had such terrible luch with non-OEM parts for my Toyotas, from it being completely the WRONG part in the box, to being so fragile that the truck ate it in a few months, to just dead on installation, that I just gave up and started to suck it up and get OEM and consider the price increase a necessary evil for not having to replace the part. That’s not even counting that NAPA/Autozone/PepBoys didn’t have the right part…

    Here’s a list of parts that failed

    PepBoys radiator hose, dead within four weeks, crumbled bits of rubber shit into the cooling system
    NAPA alternator: said it was for LandCruiser, opened box to find it was Mitsu Montero unit
    Smog pump mounting bracket: didn’t fit screw pattern for ANY Toyota I’ve ever seen, AutoZone
    NAPA “rebuilt with original components” radiator: dead within 6 months
    Power steering pump, AutoZone: first told me it didn’t exist, then found me one “rebuilt,” which promptly disintegrated after a week or two, not sure if it wasn’t broken out of the box.

  • avatar
    Silent Ricochet

    Got a little freaked out when I realized that picture of the flooded autozone is the one from my town after Hurrican Irene haha..

    Anyways, back on topic. I trust and go to Autozone, only when I know exactly what I need and know that I can get a brand other than DuraJunk. Eg. Sparkplugs, Oil Filters, Routine Maintenance supplies and what not. If I have a real problem and need a quality part, I usually try other vendors because Re-Manufactured parts just plain scare me. I either take it to the family mechanic and get a quality part at their price, or I go to the nearest NAPA store where I feel that I can trust them a little better than a Teenager in a red shirt that uses a computer as a basis for their automotive knowledge.

  • avatar

    I’ve learned the hard way to go to NAPA for parts. Particularly brake parts, I refuse to buy the cheapest I can find.

    My mechanic is a NAPA repair shop, and I’ve had no complaints from the parts he’s installed in my cars.

    Although, one counterwoman at the local AutoZone hit on me. It was flattering, but creepy. Mostly creepy.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    General warning about parts from any non OEM vendor. I bought an Airtex fuel pump from Rockauto for a 2000 Ford Taurus per the part number in the Rockauto online catalog. After installing it, the car run extremely rich for a few minutes then would stall. I gave up and had it towed to my mechanic who could not find the problem either. Finally, I had it towed to a local Ford dealership. They declared the pump to be the problem. Rockauto promptly sent another one free of charge. The technician installed the new pump with the same results. Finally, they called Ford technical support and talked to an engineer. He said that the problem sounded like the Airtex pump was the incorrect duty cycle for the car. As a test, the dealer then disconnected the fuel line and ran the car off of an external fuel injector cleaner machine. It ran perfectly proving that the problem was not in the fuel injection system.
    After this, the dealer installed a new ford OEM fuel pump and canister. The car ran perfectly.
    So this $80 fuel pump ended up costing me $1400 due to Airtex’s mistake. I called Rockauto who went back to Airtex and verified the their error. ROckauto promptly removed the pump from the list of Taurus fuel pumps. Had I bought the Ford OEM part, for $300 including the canister, non of this would have happened.

  • avatar

    one part i’ve gotten remanufactured from autozone – distributor for a ford lima 2.3, has been solid.

  • avatar

    Depends on the part – consumables I buy at Advanced Auto. Simpler parts like sensors, etc. as well. Anything that takes me hours and hours to remove and replace get OEM parts – not worth the risk if they fail.

    That being said, I bought a Chinese-knockoff alternator for my 2002 Grand Marquis for $95, including shipping. It has been working perfectly fine for the last three months, though it does look like a little cruder copy of the OEM Motorcraft that came with the car from the factory.

    However, my 3 year old son could swap out an alternator on that car.

  • avatar

    Buying any kind of replacement part seems to be a real crap shoot these days. Even among trusted vendors, their manufacturers and suppliers used seem to come and go from one year to the next. Among national chains, I’ve had the best luck with NAPA, but even they’ve given me dud parts.

    Even more frightening is some of the crap being sold by what used to be go-to quality brands. It’s one thing to be burned by you-get-what-you-pay-for low end parts, but when you shell out for premium stuff and get defective junk, you’re really left wondering who you can trust. Exchanging defective parts is often less than useless, as you are often handed another unit from the same box the bad one came from (ask me about the three Standard Motor Products “premium” starter solenoids I went through in one week on my Ford sometime).

    What to do?

    1) Talk to independent mechanics you trust who work on your make and model and ask them what vendor they use for replacement parts. You may be surprised.

    2) If you are lucky enough to have a reputable rebuild shop in your area, take the time and trouble to do business with them. When I go to mine, I’m talking to the guy who actually does the work, and he stands behind what he sells. He’s sold me at least a dozen starters and alternators over the years with only one that went bad (blown diode in a Lucas alternator, replaced for free). He’s helped me sort out all kinds of electrical problems for a very reasonable fee. He’s not the cheapest in town, but he’s worth every dime.

  • avatar

    Aftermarket HIDs are the automotive equivalent of going on a first date with a bluetooth headset in your ear.

    No, wait, scratch that: they are the automotive equivalent of going on a first date with a bluetooth headset in your ear while shining a mag-light into your date’s face.

  • avatar

    I have been looking into HID retrofits for my MR2, the headlights on that car are terrible to the point of being dangerous. The retrofit is NOT just swapping in eBay HID bulbs, this a a proper HID projector that is fit into the factory headlight bucket, essentially replacing the halogen reflector. The conversion will run me a bit over $200 and a few hours work separating the headlight buckets, etc. Do you see a problem with these, if they are aimed properly, etc? Is the electrical system not up to capacity to handle this?

    Oh, and I use Advance for regular parts on regular cars, but any specialty cars or performance parts I shop elsewhere. Rock Auto seems pretty good, but my problem with them is high shipping charges offset thier “low” prices. To me thats a scam to come up higher on search engine results.

  • avatar
    George B

    My 99 Accord coupe currently has replacement front disks and brake pads from AutoZone. The pads leave more brake dust on the wheels than the Honda OEM pads did. Also use AutoZone for replacement batteries. Not completely satisfied with either the battery or the brake pads and will likely change next time.

    When part replacement involves a lot of labor I’ve started to use NAPA. I’m currently using replacement window regulators and axles from NAPA with good results. Also used a 2oz can of NAPA PAG oil/refrigerant to quiet down the original A/C compressor. Good parts, but they don’t stay open as late as AutoZone.

    I buy all oil, oil filters, air filters, and refrigerant from Walmart. Best prices plus one stop shopping 24/7. Had 91% isopropyl alcohol in the pharmacy department and a pistol cleaning kit in sporting goods that I used to clean the intake manifold EGR passage that had clogged up.

    I like the Tire Rack best for tires.

  • avatar

    I’ve got no complaints about AutoZone, but was pleasantly surprised to find my local NAPA is very competitive on pricing.
    My decades old memories of NAPA were that it was premium pricing.
    They also have far more competent counter help and an excellent machine shop.

  • avatar

    Aftermarket HID lights are a never ending headache. Even if you have a projector lense and didn’t just stuff a xenon bulb into a halogen reflector bowl, the optics are not ideal. Quality control on the bulbs and ballasts is non-existent. There is a reason an aftermarket HID bulb costs about 1/10th of what you would pay to replace an HID bulb in an OEM headlight.

    If the starter doesn’t somehow resolve the headlight issue (I would be surprised), I would look at the ballasts. HID bulbs only take high voltage to ignite the gases when you first turn them on; after that they shouldn’t draw much juice. Swap the right and left bulbs. If the problem follows the bulb, there is your culprit. If the right side continues to shift colors after exchanging bulbs, look at the ballast. This is all a moot point anyway – those lights have to go.

    As far as parts vendors and Autozone, I have a rebuilt (by Cardone) power steering pump from Autozone. I’ve had it in my E39 for about a year with no problems yet. The mechanic that installed it said Cardone is usually pretty good. This is the only part I’ve purchased from Autozone though. I try to buy OEM parts through online vendors specializing in BMWs and other European brands.

    I think anyone’s best bet for vendors is to visit forums specific to your make and model. Most forums feature a variety of supporting vendors that have good deals on OEM parts.

  • avatar

    I’ve found that OEM parts are often a better deal than aftermarket. Find a good internet dealership, and order from there. When I had a Pathfinder, a Nissan/Infiniti dealership in Scottsdale, AZ had all the parts catalogs online. The OEM struts (Tokico) were less expensive than a inferior Monroe or Gabriel. I’ve ordered from Subaru and Mazda dealerships, too.

    Never really been a big NAPA fan, just seemed like the same parts available anywhere else. Slap a NAPA logo on it, and charge more.

  • avatar

    May I disagree with the diagnose? I think your alternator is undercharging the battery. It may be the alternator itself or the wiring to it. Take a very good look at the wiring from the alternator to the battery positive. Sometimes the same wire goes also to the starter and that could explain both symptoms.

    Please make sure first you are getting full alternator output before changing anything else. Your battery will never get fully charged and will fail prematurely if the alternator is undercharging it.

    Been there, got burned by that twice.

    Edit: typo.

  • avatar

    What is the system voltage when the car is running?, it should be well over 12V.

    Try cleaning the alternator.. spray some engine cleaner Gunk on it, wait a few minutes and hose it off.. perhaps you have some oil residue built up in the brushes.

  • avatar

    I’m not a fan of either Pep Boys or autozone. More than anything though, find a good parts man. A good parts man will know a lot about fixing a car and give great advice. My experience at Autozone and Pep Boys is in general people who have little experience fixing cars and they are more or less just clerks who can read a computer screen.

    A good parts guy will also give you some great suggestions on what to check what is wrong with your car and if it’s not busy, he will come out into the lot and take a quick look at your vehicle with you. Find one of those and pay his prices for parts, you’ll be happier because you spend much less time fixing the wrong things.

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