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Discussion Starter #1
I have a 01 Outback w/ 137k miles. I park it outside. In the mornings (now cold weather) when I first turn the key to start it, it will just click once. Then I'll turn it off and try it again and it will turnover very slowly, then start- like the battery is very low. Once it's warm it will start fine.

It was a 6 year old battery, so I figured that was the problem. I replaced it a couple days ago and the next morning it did it again. I've been monitoring the battery charge and it's been 12.6v cold, and 12.6v warm, and 14.3 with the engine on and charging. So it appears battery and charging system is OK. This morning I checked the voltage before starting it and it was rock solid at 12.6v, so it doesn't seem there is a short, draining it overnight. No interior lights left on, etc. Yet when I tried to start it, same thing, very slow turnover, then started.

Any ideas? Could a starter going bad create a big power drain when the engine is cold? Wouldn't think so, but not sure what else.

Thanks for any tips.
 

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New batteries do need to be charged that is probably your issue 12v reading on a unloaded battery is a battery thats not really fresh.

My boat batteries when fresh are posting 13v unloaded

Get a battery charger - I really like my simple cheap radio shack trickle charger it has saved my bacon many times and takes up hardly any space.

Bad wire connections at the ground or starter can also bleed off power and result in a weak start.

How cold are we talking? If you last battery was 6yrs old fair guess you don't live anywhere that is really cold.
 

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I think subisailor's suggestion about connections or cables is the first place you should look. Older cars can have corrosion travel inside the cable insulation, can have corroded ground or other connections at the starter, etc.

the solenoid on the starter might be the next suspect.
 

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A single "click" without any sign of starter motor action usually does not indicate a low (but not dead) battery; a low battery more often leads to a stream of clicking as long as the ignition switch is at Start.

I'd start by measuring the voltage at the battery's positive and negative cable clamps when the key is turned to Start and there's just that first "click". If the Voltage drops from the 12.6 V level down to below 10 V, then I'd suspect the battery charge and put it on a charger.

If the voltage at the cable clamps remains above 11 V, then the battery isn't being drained by the expected heavy load such as the (not turning) starter, which suggests that the solenoid isn't closing the circuit from the heavy positive cable from the battery to the starter motor itself.

Bad contacts in the solenoid are not uncommon; they can prevent the necessary contact, or insert a higher than normal resistance, which would cause the starter motor to turn slowly. A stiff solenoid mechanism, which could be caused by old grease, would tend to not work initially, then work somewhat better on subsequent tries, and work fine when warm.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks all. It turned out to be bad contacts in the starter. (I finally took it in). Evidently there are two brass contacts within the starter that tend to wear down over time and cause intermittent contact. Local place replaced them and so far, it's working fine.

We spent the last several years at a ski area in Utah, so the old battery had seen a lot of sub-zero and single digit weather. Figured it was probably time to replace it anyway.
 
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