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Old 09-20-2009, 05:03 PM   #1
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Starter Battery Failure

Yesterday at T-minus 6 days 12 hours and 30 minutes to the September 26th launch date for the second SMB Colorado Plateau mission of the year, the SMB experienced total starter battery failure. Luckily, the vehicle was sitting in the driveway and not in a remote location.

The SMB had the front windows down during the record 92 degree F heat of Saturday, but the remote entry key failed to open the locked doors. Later in the evening, the engine started briefly allowing the windows to be put up. The next morning, the control panel was completely dead, with no sign of any electrical activity whatsoever when the key was turned. The Scangauge was functional, showing an extremely low battery voltage of 7.0, with 12.5 being normal.

After thirty seconds of no electrical activity, the engine started up with the help of a nearly fully charged house battery. The SMB was driven for 1.5 hours on I-15 with little improvement in battery performance. At the half hour mark of the drive, the Scangauge reported a battery voltage of 9.4. During the rest of the test drive, battery voltage varied from a low of 8.0 while climbing hills to a high of 11.2 while descending hills. Returning to the launch pad after 90 minutes, battery voltage still remained at a low level of 10.2.

The vehicle had performed flawlessly on the Labor Day expedition to southwest Montana 15 days previously, and had been driven several times on very short trips since that time. One week ago, the SMB was plugged in to shore power for three days to fully charge the house battery. When plugged into shore power after today's 90 minute test drive, the solar panel controller behaved erratically, producing a sharp clicking sound as the reported house battery voltage switched from a normal plugged in level of 14.2 to a moderately low level of 12.0. The SMB was left unplugged for the night.

Tomorrow morning if the SMB starts up with a tow from AAA, it will be driven into the local Ford dealer fro a checkout and replacement of the twin starter batteries.
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Old 09-20-2009, 05:05 PM   #2
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The mission launch clock is on hold

Until this electrical problem is fixed. The SMB has 26,000 miles (once around the Earth) on it's original batteries.

Anyone have advice on new starter batteries? And could this be a partial alternator failure?
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Old 09-20-2009, 06:01 PM   #3
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Re: The mission launch clock is on hold

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed in Montana
Until this electrical problem is fixed. The SMB has 26,000 miles (once around the Earth) on it's original batteries.

Anyone have advice on new starter batteries? And could this be a partial alternator failure?

I got about 32k miles on my original starter batteries before they gave out.

Replacing them on your own is a huge PITA. Next time I get a hint of trouble, I'll have them replaced asap.

R
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Old 09-20-2009, 06:41 PM   #4
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

Thanks EMRIDER. I was wondering how many miles people get on the starters before replacement is necessary.

I just hate when you have sudden unexplained electrical failures! The Scangauge showed no engine codes at all, but it may miss electrical failures.
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Old 09-20-2009, 08:00 PM   #5
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

Last Fri night I slept in Dennys parking lot in Hemet so I could arrive in the early AM in Idlewild, CA. In the morning when I tried to start the SMB there was nothing. Then the alarm started when I turned the key off so I had to leave it on. The lights came on bright at first so I knew it was not a dead battery. Battery cables looked good so I called Good Sam. They sent out a mobile auto repair. @#$&* my battery cables had corroded. It was such a small amount of gray powder I did not see it. The repair person said that my battery was being over charged. That is why it looked like it was leaking even though it is a closed battery and also why it was corroded. I never heard of that. He suggested i get a new yellow gell cell battery which can take the extra charging. Is that really the answer?

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Old 09-20-2009, 09:05 PM   #6
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

I just replaced my starting batteries. 5 years and 70,000 miles. Until I retired the van would be driven 20 miles to work, 20 miles home once a week. Now it is rarely driven unless we are on a trip, and the batteries died of boredom.

Mike
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Old 09-21-2009, 02:17 AM   #7
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

Ed one way to find out it's a battery problem is if you charge via your inverter and it pulls an unusually high amperage which never seems to taper off. Be careful because it can boil the battery or batteries that may be bad. Feel the battery boxes and if they or one is warm (or even hot) you've found the problem or part of the problem. I think you are hearing the sound of the separator operating. The separator clicking is normal under the circumstances and is trying to protect the house batteries. But your situation can also be caused by a bad alternator or poor connections as well. Sorry but I don't trust Ford much and would like to trouble shoot the problem myself before I took it to the shop. If it's under warrantee Ford will be reluctant to swap both batteries if only one shows bad and that's not advisable.

Good luck and tell us what you find.

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Old 09-21-2009, 06:04 AM   #8
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

Thanks DaveB. I thought that clicking sound was the battery separator, but I have not heard that sound before when the SMB has been plugged in. Don't have an inverter since we don't have a microwave, just a 2.7 CF Norcold frig. The SMB just has the old Speciality Concepts Mark PV Controller for the solar panels.

I will have to dig out the battery warranty info before I drag the van to the dealership. We are extremely fortunate to have a really good service department at our local Ford dealer, who works on all five of the Sportys in the Helena area. We will see how well they handle this situation.

Mike, 70,000 miles sounds like a lot of mileage for the original batteries, but you are operating in a warmer winter climate than here in the frozen north.

Angel, you should never boondock next to a Denny's. The mere proximity to one of those cholesterol laden slam breakfasts can gum up anything in a Sportsmobile!

Thanks for the advice everyone.
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Old 09-21-2009, 07:46 AM   #9
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

Angel - There's another post here on the forum re starter batteries with lots of info. I had to replace both of my batteries every six months (three times). Over charging was the problem. I replaced with yellow tops and they also went bad. Overcharging. Went to Ford and got them to check the alternator/regulator and they said it was fine. I finally convinced them to replace it and the problem went away. It's been nine months now all all is good with the world. Anyway, that's the fix I did. Good luck
You too Ed.
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Old 09-21-2009, 08:16 PM   #10
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Re: Starter Battery Failure

Battery Status Report

Started up the Sporty this morning after the first freezing night of the fall season. After three attempts the diesel engine started roughly, but with no lights on the dash or the Scangauge. I was planning to call AAA for a tow so I decided to back the SMB out of the driveway and onto the street. No Go. There was not enough electrical energy to even move the stick into reverse.

I called AAA with my RV policy and specifically told them to send a tow vehicle to handle a 10,000lb camper van. 20 minutes later the AAA approved tow arrives and says they can't handle a 10,000lb camper van, even though their heavy duty tow truck is usually parked about 6 blocks from our house. Grrrrr.....

The tow operator jumps the SMB, and lo and behold everything works, and even the battery shows a nearly full charge. I decide to drive the Sporty five miles across town to the Ford dealership.

We arrive there 15 minutes later, and i park outside the service entrance and stop and start the Sporty twice to confirm that everything electrical is still working. And it is. I leave the vehicle there after describing the problem in some written detail. I always write down what i think is wrong before turning the SMB into a mechanic.

Later that afternoon, I talk to the service rep, who is quite knowledgeable about E350 vans. One of the original starter batteries has several dry cells and the other has partially melted, possibly from my 90 minute drive on the Interstate the day before. The Ford dealer can't analyze the alternator until the two starter batteries are replaced.
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Mohawk Royalex Solo 14 foot canoe (light white-water)
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Dagger Royalex Legend 16 foot canoe (white-water)
Maravia New Wave 13.5 foot raft (fishing and white-water)
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