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4th generation of BMW's popular 3 Series line of sedans and coupes.

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My car won’t start.

I have a 1999 BMW 323i. Pretty sure it is an E46. Could be wrong though. This is my first time playing around with a BMW. I just replaced the battery with a new battery, just replaced the alternator with a reman alternator. Started right up, but it was dropping RPMs when it was idling. Almost sounded like the alternator was working too hard but I made sure I got the right alternator with the right amps and everything. Drove it around for like an hour parked it. Came back out about 4-6 hours later. She started up, drove it for like 3 minutes and everything shut down on me while driving on an extension going 45 mph. Went to jump start the battery with brand new copper jumper cables and they started smoking and almost caught on fire. When I put the key in, no electronics turn on, it doesn’t crank at all. I know for a fact that the starter should be fine. It’s not new but it cranked fine and made no weird noises when it did turn over. There was no battery light turning on when I was driving it but every once in a while in the middle of the speedometer a light with a triangle and exclamation point in the middle would come on for a few seconds then turn off. The battery terminals look brand new. No corrosion. I just don’t get it. I can’t try jump starting it because I used two pairs of cables and both of them heat up to the point of smoking. I’m not sure what’s going on here. I knew BMWs have electric issues but I’m dumbfounded on what I should be looking for? Bad grounds? Bad connections? I’m confused man. Lmk

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Ok that’s what I originally thought. So is there an easy way to test for bad connections? And what do you suggest I should check? I mean now that I think about it, the headlights are kind of wack. I checked them out and it looks like some kid that had no clue what he was doing jerry rigged some halo lights in and the drivers side doesn’t even work. Maybe they are shorted out, they have water all in them. Maybe I should unplug them and see if I can’t get the car started. But I’m a little worried that jump starting the car may have damaged some electronics. But I’m not sure because when the car died on the extension and I tried restarting the engine, nothing would light up or turn on.

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Hi @doitmyselff ,

Have you checked the voltage of the battery or the level of the electrolyte in the battery to make sure that they’re both OK?

Disconnect the battery cables and use a voltmeter to measure the voltage directly across the battery terminals. It should be ~12V DC if is it OK.

If the electrolyte level is low or non existent then the battery may have boiled dry due to overcharging and damaged the plates.

Perhaps that’s why you were getting the warning light on the dash. Here’s an image from a 2000 BMW 323i (hopefully it is the same for your year model) that shows what the symbol could mean depending on what colour it was.

Block Image

(click on image to enlarge for better viewing)

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So it looks light the abs light the circle with the triangle and the exclamation point in the middle and it was yellow. I mean I shouldn’t have had any problems, it was a BRAND new battery. Literally just bought it. And when I went to go put the ground terminal on I missed the post and it sparked and it was almost like the terminal got welded to the post of the battery so I had to rip it off then place the terminal correctly on the post of the battery. It was kind of weird now that I think about it, but it’s not really out of the ordinary for terminals to do that right? I’m still confused. I’m going to try to read the voltage on the battery later on today. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Hi @doitmyselff ,

Getting a spark like that indicates major current flow so there is a short somewhere.

With nothing switched on there is only a small amount of current required for the clock and security etc, not enough to create a spark good enough to weld otherwise there'd be burnt mechanics all over the place

Now that I think about it, what if the ignition system is giving me issues? Because when I bought the car the kid gave me a key and it starts up with the key but it doesn’t look like a factory key, maybe it’s shutting down on me because it thinks it’s being stolen, but that still doesn’t explain why the alternator would be overworked. I am beyond baffled. I haven’t had any serious issues like this with any of the cars I buy and I buy a lot of 20 year old cars. Or maybe it could even the abs system? I’m at a loss for words. My original thought was some fuses are blown or maybe I got some bad connections somewhere

@doitmyselff

Start at the beginning.

Cars need power to start so check the battery first. If it is low voltage then it is being drained so you need to start pulling fuses to see what's causing it to drain

Place an ammeter in series with the ground lead i.e. battery -ve terminal - meter lead in - through meter - meter lead out to ground and check what the current flow is. Set the meter to 10 Amp DC scale just in case. As I said before when not running it should only be <200 mA of current or maybe a bit more but not in the Amps i.e. 1000mA+ category

If the battery is OK then move on. Check the fuses especially for the ignition system.

Most probably the alternator is being overworked because if there is a short in the system somewhere it is being asked to provide a lot more current than it usually has to even when all systems are on e.g. engine, aircon, headlights etc.

The big spark when connecting the earth cable is evidence of a problem.

Ok so yea it has to be shorted somewhere. I’m not big into the electrical side of vehicles but this is what I’m here for man, to learn and accelerate. I’m gonna mess around with all the electronics this week and see if I come up with something. Stay tuned and I’ll let you guys know how it goes. Thank you guys!

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