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I have been lent a car and I took it out for the first time last night (it's a 2003 Chrysler). The car had been left for a while and the battery had been disconnected. I connected the battery and turned the key. It turned over well, ignited and then died (my foot was on the accelerator and it got up to 4000 rpm before I took my foot off and it died). I repeated the same thing 3 or 4 times. Then the next time, nothing happened when I tried to start the car (i.e. no starter motor noise, nothing but clicking).

I disconnected and reconnected the battery and then the car started the first time (no idea why or what difference this could have made); drove it for 30 mins; (it was dark, but the lights were working ok; the oil light was on for a while, but went out after 15-20 mins); parked for 15 mins; started without a problem; drove for 15 more mins; parked for 2 mins; started the car fine; drove for 5 mins then parked. When I tried to start again (30 mins later?), I had the same problem as initially: igniting then dying 3 or 4 times; followed by nothing happening except clicks when I turned the key.

I called AAA. They came (checked battery voltage?) and said since nothing was happening when I turned the key, it was probably a problem with the starter (I may not have fully described all of the history because I hadn't collected my thoughts at that point). When they gave me a boost, the car started fine.

My current plan is to take the battery to a shop, where they will check voltage, cold cranking amperage and do a load test.

So my question:

What's likely wrong here? Battery, starter, alternator, or other?

Thanks very much for any hints!

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  • It could be a lot of things. I'd grab the battery cables and give them a tug to make sure they're secure. I'd check the posts for corrosion. If it started fine with the boost, it is more than likely the battery.
    – Matt
    Jan 4, 2020 at 1:32
  • Sounds like battery.
    – narkeleptk
    Jan 4, 2020 at 3:39
  • Driving 15 or 20 minutes with the oil light on is not smart. Check the oil level as a first step.
    – Solar Mike
    Jan 4, 2020 at 7:45
  • Thanks @SolarMike: I learned there is a defective oil pressure switch, but there is no shortage of oil. Jan 5, 2020 at 7:06

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Problem solved! (by my wife).

It turns out (a fruitless trip to the repair shop [the battery and alternator are fine] followed by a further episode of non-starting) that the issue was that I had 2 keys: an original and a copy. Both mechanically turn the ignition lock, but with the copy the ignition fires and then dies after a few attempts after which it doesn't even turn the starter motor anymore. On the other hand, the original key works every time! I assume that the key contains some kind of transponder?

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    Some legislations (EU at a minimum) require new cars to be equipped with an immobilizer (I used to have a 1996 Audi A4, EU-spec, which already had this). Starting the car with a key which fits mechanically but lacks a transponder with the correct code will result in the exact behavior you are seeing: the engine will start but die soon. Same goes if the immobilizer is defective btw.
    – user149408
    Dec 13, 2021 at 13:25

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