The 400 dollar wire

It was around five o'clock in the afternoon on a sunny summer day in Ontario, NY and Bob was just finishing cutting the lawn when Don wandered over to the driveway. "Howdy, neighbor." Don looked a tad tense and the words sounded like he had to struggle to get them out. "I hate to bother you (how many times have I heard that in my lifetime?) but I'm at my wits end." He looked a bit embarrassed as he told me of his tale of woe with his Dodge Dart. Seems that he had been going to a local repair shop for the past two weeks with dead battery problems. Now Don and Bob were really good friends and both quite neighborly so it stood to reason that Don had been a bit reluctant to "bother" Bob with his car problems. After all, Bob had a lot of rolling stock to take care of himself and didn't need a neighbor's problems to worry about. But it was just about the last straw - he had just laid out 75 dollars for a new battery bringing the grand total to nearly 350 dollars and the battery was dead once again.

"Could you take just one look at it for me? I don't want to take any more of your time, but I just don't know what to do!!"

"OK, I'll be over in five minutes - let me wash up and grab a voltmeter."

Don walked back to his yard whistling a nervous tune as he scratched his head. Bob grabbed a simple little Radio Shack voltmeter and strolled back through the now wet grass as the dew began to settle.

"Pop the hood and let's have a look. What have they done so far?"

An embarrassed Don began to tell his saga of having the local garage tow him to the shop about a week ago from the Super Duper parking lot. Battery was dead. Couldn't jump start it, or so they said. First try was to charge the battery. Oh, and while they were at it they put on a new alternator - just in case, they said. 125 dollars plus towing.

The next day it was dead again - this time in the library parking lot. Another tow - another charge. And of course another 50 bucks. Sub total around 200 dollars. They told Don that his voltage regulator was bad so they replaced it - another 50 bucks.

You guessed it - three days later another dead battery. This time they sold him new battery cables and a fan belt. Another 40 bucks. Charged the battery for him too!

Three days more and another dead battery later they finally told him that he needed a new battery. Well, that oughta fix it, right?? Wrongo! The new battery did last a little longer - four days. But darn it all, it was dead in the morning. And Don was out another 75 bucks.

Well Don just couldn't face Joe the mechanic one more time. After all what was there left to replace?? That's when Don decided to ask Bob for help.

Bob whipped out his trusty voltmeter - about the size of a cigarette pack.. Now Don had watched Joe use lots more expensive tools in the shop, so what could Bob do with this little gadget? But Don knew better.

After starting the engine Bob put the voltmeter across the battery terminals and saw a good solid 12 volts. Too low a voltage. He increased the idle speed and watched the voltage move up ever so slightly to 12.8 volts. Still too low. Even at a high RPM the voltage never got over 13 volts. At first glance one might think that the voltage regulator or alternator was bad. But Bob knew to check back along the circuit to see where the voltage drop was occurring. A probe of the "bat" terminal on the alternator was probed - bingo! 14.6 volts, just about right.

So the alternator was OK. Bob followed the heavy red wire from the alternator and discovered that it went into a connector on the firewall.

"Does this thing have an ammeter, or just idiot lights?" Bob asked. "It has an ammeter."

Bob glanced at the dash and saw the ammeter and followed the wire from it to a large connector on the inside of the firewall! Hmmmmm. Backprobing the connector showed that there was a huge voltage drop across the connector. He pulled it apart and watched small black burned connector parts fall from the firewall. The main wire from the alternator went directly through the firewall connector and to the ammeter, and since an ammeter has to be in series in a circuit, all the current necessary to charge the battery goes through that wire. Bob cut both ends of the wire and inserted a 10 inch piece of 10 gauge wire in place of the burned connector. That was it! 50 cents worth of wire and a half hour of "tinkering" or what the industry calls "diagnostics". If Joe had done any diagnostics at all he would have found the problem as Bob did, and Don would be several hundred dollars richer.

Bob chewed out his ever grateful neighbor for not asking him to check it out first. Don agreed that he would not hesitate to ask in the future - Roxanne, his wife baked Bob an Apple pie.

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