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Does anybody know what would cause the following symptoms?

I have a 1996 Golf MK3 diesel (not TDI).

I drove the car with no problem three days ago. Today I went to start it, and the battery is almost dead.

When I turn the ignition key, there is a rapid clicking noise and the glow plug indicator flashes rapidly. The motor won't turn over.

That was today. Everything below was two weeks ago:

One day the car worked fine and the next day the oil pressure lamp and battery indicator flickered red.

I started out on my trip and the battery was drained in less than an hour, but when I jumpstarted the car it ran fine.

I made an appointment with the garage, jumpstarted the car and started driving there.

En route, the same symptoms persisted, but then there was a noisy CLICK and everything seemed to go back to normal.

The mechanic replaced the alternator and told me the problem was fixed.

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    Thanks for the story about your car, but do you have a question? Did you charge/replace the battery? Did you call back your mechanic? – Gabriel Mongeon Dec 3 '14 at 16:33
  • My question is: what is going on (I edited the text to ask it more directly). I will call back the mechanic tomorrow, but I thought it would be good to have an idea of likely causes before talking to him. Two mechanics have tested the battery and found it to be good. I am leaning towards the idea that the problem is a bad connection between the battery and the rest. – Andrew Swift Dec 3 '14 at 20:02
  • Your problem could possibly be explained by corrosion at either end of either battery cable, or even corrosion inside the wire insulation itself. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Dec 3 '14 at 23:13
  • Thanks. That corresponds to other information I have read online. I'll ask the mechanic about it. – Andrew Swift Dec 4 '14 at 11:30
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The answer was that the battery was bad. Apparently it was a cheap battery and the failed alternator drained it.

Once it had been drained, it would no longer hold a charge.

Replacing the batter with a new, good-quality (VW) battery fixed the problem entirely.

One clue was that when I jumpstarted the car, all the symptoms went away -- no blinking lights etc.

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Your mechanic seems to have repaired the fault by replacing the alternator. A faulty alternator will drain the battery as you describe and can be quite dramatic in causing other symptoms.

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