Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Making my Odyssey start every time

This is a brief report on a something I did several years ago but remains relevant because people keep referring to it even today. Hence this blog entry which wraps up everything and also serve as a place to which others can link.

On Odyclub.com, a forum for owners of the Honda Odyssey, many people have bemoaned the design of the electrical system which allows the battery to drain merely by leaving the cabin lights on overnight. This is made all the easier because of a dashboard switch which turns them all on and overrides all the other switches. Because of the design, it's all too easy to hit the switch intentionally (for example, to gather up your belongings before exiting the car) and then forget to turn it off as you get out. The result is that the following morning, you end up with a dead battery. I've done this four times now in two years!

Honda really didn't think this through. There are numerous timers on the car and some of them do protect the battery already. For example, the built-in Honda navigational computer has such a device. (You can see it in action by turning the key from the on position to the accessory position. After 10 minutes, a window will pop up on the NAV screen saying "turning off to protect battery" and then it will power itself off.) So the circuitry exists but in the wrong place!

Several people at Odyclub have come up with different ideas for solving the problem but the one I like best is the Priority Start (which I'll refer to as PS for now). PS is a device that monitors the car battery and can tell the difference between when the car is running and when it isn't. If the car isn't running (meaning the battery can't be recharged), then the PS lets the battery continue to be used up to the point where further use would make it impossible to restart the car.

I ordered mine over the web from batterymart.com. They had the best prices at the time.

Installation was simple. The PS uses only 3 connections and no wire cutting is involved (although I did cut a few cable ties to get enough slack in order to position the unit in front of the battery). Total installation time was 15 minutes and most of that was rereading the instructions to make sure I hadn't missed something because it seemed too simple and straightforward. Here's a pic of the result.

In the picture, the positive cable connects to the PS in front of the battery and then the PS has a cable that connects back to the positive side of the battery. There's also a tiny wire from the PS to the negative side of the battery. In the picture, it has a green label on it - which I've since removed and replaced with my own more-meaningful label.

A concern I had is that anyone else working on the car understand what the unit is and how to properly disconnect it. I made up a little laminated tag and attached it to the ground wire to explain to remove that first and not to forget to reconnect it. Here's a link to it: prioritystart.pdf It's a pdf so you can resize it to any size you like.

PostScript 1

Since I installed the PS two years ago, it's saved my ass three times, allowing me to just get in and drive away in the morning. It's caused no trouble and is well worth what I paid for it.

PostScript 2

I called AAA and asked if they could make PriorityStart available with a discount to their customers. I pointed out that I had already called them 4 times for jumps. Figuring, oh, $50 a shot minimum, they could save hundreds each year by just GIVING me a PriorityStart for a free.

AAA said: "No." At the time, I figured they were idiots and maybe they just needed to hear from others.

In retrospect, AAA wants to keep their costs low but on the other hand, if people realized they would never again need a jump start, many people might reconsider buying AAA in the first place. Jump starts are the only service I've ever used AAA for. (Not needed their bail service yet!)

PostScript 3

I've continued to order other batteries from BatteryMart (camcorder, camera, computer, etc). Prices and delivery times are excellent and their breadth of batteries is amazing. I've never had to call customer service so I can't tell you about that.

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