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Old 05-22-2011, 11:20 PM   #1
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Weird electrical stuff - help!

I'm having some really weird electrical issues. It started when I went out to start the van after not driving it for a couple of weeks. Turned the key to run, glow plugs fired, Wait to Start turned off, no problems yet, everything normal.

Turned the key to start and everything went dead. No engine turnover, no starter turning, not even a solenoid click. I turned everything off and started over. This time when I got to "Run" (before turning to "Start"), my voltmeter on the dash showed weird voltage swings between 0 and 8 volts. A handheld voltmeter on the battery posts showed 12 volts, but the headlights wouldn't work, no accessories worked, auto locks wouldn't work. Meanwhile, the house system is fine.

I tried to jump start the van. No luck. I used a trickle charger. No luck. The van batteries were replaced just over a year ago.

I suspected a short in the starter motor, and my brother has had to replace two starter motors in his van, so I bought a starter motor and installed it. As soon as it was installed, I turned the key to run, and everything was normal. At start the engine turned over but wouldn't start due to low batteries. I charged the batteries with the trickle charger. It started! Problem solved! I drove around for a while. Everything worked except the radio. Okay, will deal with that later.

Got home, parked, idled while I hosed down the driveway (big driveway and lots of dirt from the van). Then parked and turned it off.

Went out the next day to take a drive. The keyless entry worked fine, but the van wouldn't start and was back to weird voltage fluctuations between 0 and 8 volts. After this, the keyless entry no longer worked, and everything was dead in the water. Radio still didn't work. Battery still read 12 volts with nothing on.

I checked all the cables under the hood and there are no obvious worn spots. I bought a battery load tester. I checked the batteries (2 chassis batteries in parallel on the diesel). Still 12 volts, but only 200 cold cranking amps. Okay the batteries are low. I turned the ignition switch to radio - the radio works! So that's not the problem.

I dug into the house electrical system. The house battery is at 11.4 volts, and when on shore power with the breaker on, still on 11.4 volts. Problem with the converter? Checked the converter. Both 30 Amp fuses on the output of the converter are blown. Pulled the fuses. Disconnected the shore power. Disconnected the house battery from the distribution bus. Replaced the fuses. Tried to reconnect the house battery to the distribution bus - arced and blew the two fuses on the converter again. No other loads on the house bus except for the CO sensor on its 3 Amp fuse, and it was fine.

Which brings me to my theory: BAD CONVERTER. Thus, I can't charge the house battery from shore power, so, when the van is running, the house battery is sucking charge from the chassis batteries and the chassis batteries aren't recharging enough unless I drive for a really long time, which I haven't done.

So, my questions for those of you who know more about electrical than I do:

1. Am I making any sense?
2. Would a bad converter result in this problem?
3. What is the easiest way to isolate the house battery from the chassis batteries?
4. Can I hook up the trickle charger to the 12V positive distribution bus and the ground inside the van to charge the house battery, or will this cause problems? (I'm thinking of charging the house battery, then charging the chassis batteries so that I can get back in business while a source a new converter.)
5. Did I just buy myself a spare starter motor?

Thank you for your help!
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Old 05-23-2011, 12:28 AM   #2
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

Very possible.

If you have a surepower separator I would physically disconnect the leads. You should be able to charge from there to both battery banks from those leads but use a good 10 or 12 amp charger, not a trickle charger. The starting batteries usually have a jump lug under the van close to the batteries (I'm thinking yours is a diesel?) and you can charge there as well. After you get a good full day charge check it again. I know it's difficult to check the leads but they should be removed, cleaned, and re-attached with battery compound.

Still something doesn't seem right. I've had the sure power separator stick on more than one ocassion but it almost sounds like a poor connection or short issue...I'd just take the house system and separator out of the loop for the time being while you get a good days charge and re-check the batteries load. Go from there.
Thats what I like about a good battery bank monitor. I can see how much is going into each system. A bad alternator might not show its not putting out a full charge also. I had that happen...it kept up but when I put a load on, the voltage gauge would slowly lower.

Good Luck
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Old 05-23-2011, 02:41 AM   #3
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

Make sure the grounds are good. Was the engine properly grounded after the initial starter replacement?

Z
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Old 05-23-2011, 11:26 AM   #4
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

This is some kind of high resistance connection, check and clean battery connections, grounds etc.
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Old 05-23-2011, 12:04 PM   #5
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aldercrest
Checked the converter. Both 30 Amp fuses on the output of the converter are blown. Pulled the fuses. Disconnected the shore power. Disconnected the house battery from the distribution bus. Replaced the fuses. Tried to reconnect the house battery to the distribution bus - arced and blew the two fuses on the converter again. No other loads on the house bus except for the CO sensor on its 3 Amp fuse, and it was fine.
Pull those fuses and test hot side, with fuses out test other side for continuity with ground.

Not sure why you jump to bad convertor because the fuses blow, but with fuses out you can drive around and wait for the sure power to close and see if the alternator is putting power into the house side- without the convertor mucking it up.

You can disconnect the green "start" wire from your separator instead of disconnecting the whole thing. The green wire closes the separator, and on mine at least I felt it served to mask and confuse starter problems.

You can also supply 12v to the start tab and manually close the separator to test function... please pay attention to if it closes immediately or takes x seconds if you do... it will answer an outstanding question of mine and I no longer have one to test.

Basically I'm thinking a short is blowing those fuses, when you start the separator connects and the start circuit is now connected to the shorted circuit. Keep in mind I have a long standing issue with the green start wire, so my diagnosis may be thusly biased.
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Old 05-23-2011, 01:12 PM   #6
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

One other thought not mentioned. The Progressive Dynamics converter/charger manual indicates those 30 amp fuses are intended to blow to protect the unit from reversed polarity in the case of swapped positive and negative leads to it.
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Old 05-23-2011, 01:49 PM   #7
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

You can disable the separator by pulling the ground wire. I agree with Jage pull the start assist wire, when this is all over you can see if you want to wire it back up correctly. After that you should be able to check out each battery system independently. You may need to trace your battery wires, I had a the house battery rub against the frame, the wind would blow and shut down the charger, when I would get in and start looking just me walking in the van would cause the short to disappear in the middle of debug.

good luck
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Old 05-23-2011, 03:23 PM   #8
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

Just be aware that a heavy load can weld the separator contacts together...that is what happened to me so pulling anything but the main bus wires may do nothing. I pounded mine with a hammer until the contacts broke loose. Worked OK after that. With that said nothing might not be wrong with the separator, I'm just saying take everything out of the loop to make it easier to test. You might even have to pull each battery out and test it on its own. Its amazing what a bad battery or connection can cause. Isolate and test...can be a PITA. You might have an intermittant problem. I always start with the easy stuff first if possible. Think of it as an adventure
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Old 05-28-2011, 09:50 PM   #9
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

Okay, here's an update. It's been a long week with some grandparent health problems, and I only got back to this today. After reading the tips here, I continued my search.

Quote:
Originally Posted by daveb
...but use a good 10 or 12 amp charger, not a trickle charger.
Check - I have a 12 amp charger. I charged both the house battery and the chassis batteries (separately), and both came up to over 12 volts.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zeta
Make sure the grounds are good. Was the engine properly grounded after the initial starter replacement?
Zeta - I'm not sure what you mean, so no? Like I said above, after the original starter replacement everything started and ran normally. The only odd thing was that my radio didn't work, but after charging everything, it ran fine again with the ignition switch in the accessory position. This makes me think that maybe it wasn't getting enough juice while the van was running, which would lead me to think about a bad alternator?

Quote:
Originally Posted by joey2cool
The Progressive Dynamics converter/charger manual indicates those 30 amp fuses are intended to blow to protect the unit from reversed polarity in the case of swapped positive and negative leads to it.
I don't have the manual - that is actually helpful and could point to a problem on the chassis side. Keep reading...

Quote:
Originally Posted by jage
Not sure why you jump to bad convertor...
...because I'm still learning about this stuff. But joey2cool's comment above sort of turns be against that theory.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jage
You can disconnect the green "start" wire from your separator instead of disconnecting the whole thing.
My separator is buried under the radiator overflow and the power distribution box. I can see how the positive wire from the alternator to the power dist. box was cut and installed to the separator and then continued to the dist. box, and I can see the lead going from the separator to the house battery. I can't find the green "start" wire, but I will keep looking.

So anyway, enough of the reponse, and on to the latest issue tonight. So, after charging both batteries, everything was operating normally with the engine off and with the key in the Accessory position. I load tested the chassis batteries. Each is rated at 1,000 cold cranking Amps at 32F. I didn't get 1,000 Amps with the load test. Not a great sign, but it did start before, and very easily.

Without disconnecting the chassis and house systems, I decided to try to start it anyway. I turned the key to On. Glow plugs went normally. Voltage dropped to about 9V. Glow plugs off. Voltage didn't increase much, at least not back to 12V. I waited maybe 10 seconds then turned the key to Start. Loud pop, a puff of smoke from the right front engine compartment, and then nothing.

So, definitely a short of some type. So, with the focus on the chassis system, I have two potential issues:

1. Bad chassis battery (or batteries). Getting low CCAs and poor recovery after the glow plugs, so I guess it's a possibility even with year old batteries.

2. Bad alternator. As noted above, everything operated normally, including the radio, with the key in the Accessory position. But when I did get it started last, the radio did not work. And after starting it, running it for a while, and letting it sit overnight, it had nothing going on the next day. Could it have run completely off the batteries with no recharge from the alternator?

Would welcome thoughts. My next one is tow it down to Ford on Tuesday and let them have a go.
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Old 05-28-2011, 10:33 PM   #10
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Re: Weird electrical stuff - help!

I think you have a diode isolator not a separator...The S&S your reporting sounds like a isolator problem that might have compromised your batteries. I'll try to find the post concerning those.

[edit] A couple of posts that might help but I'm not sure this is the total cause of your problems just sounds similar. Many times one thing can lead to another or multiple problems might be happening. John talks about corrosion on a relay but in other posts talks about some problems with diode isolators and the relays SMB used on the earlier vehicles.

viewtopic.php?f=14&t=3292
viewtopic.php?f=14&t=1245
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