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Puzzling Electrical Issue

This is a discussion on Puzzling Electrical Issue within the Bullet Birds [1961-1963] forums, part of the Thunderbird Model Years category; Here's one I haven't seen in the manuals or in Google searches. I was starting up the '61 today. While ...

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  #1 (permalink)   IP: 70.140.182.217
Old 01-30-2016, 06:49 PM
 
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Puzzling Electrical Issue

Here's one I haven't seen in the manuals or in Google searches.

I was starting up the '61 today. While cranking, everything suddenly stopped -- and I mean everything. Even the generator and other idiot lights went out. I backed off the key, turned it to every position, and nothing. No lights, not even a click.

I disconnected the battery (which is probably a year old), and tested it. Full voltage. Then reconnected it and tried to start the car again. Now the idiot lights once again lit up at the key's first position, and at the second position I heard the solenoid click. But nothing else happened. Thinking the solenoid might be fried (it's an old one), I replaced it with a new one. Same problem.

Every time I try to start it, the same thing happens -- lights come on, solenoid clicks, lights go out. And every time I disconnect the battery and reconnect it, the lights will come back on again. It kinda "resets" itself.

The starter is just a few months old, and the cables are all good. Everything was working fine up until today. I haven't done the jumper thing on the starter yet. I could do that, but the "resetting" thing just makes me suspect that some relay is getting stuck (and that disconnecting the battery lets it reset). But I really have no idea.

Anyone have any inkling what this could be?
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Old 02-02-2016, 09:24 AM
 
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If you lost headlights as well (or some other non ignition source) your problem is close to the battery. The battery cables could be breaking down under where they crimped on (even if they are fairly new). The more likely cause is at the starter solenoid where the main power feeds branc out. The eyelets corrode (even if they externally look good). Take them off and use sand paper to clean them. A test light comes in real handy at this point. Also don't rule out the ground side as well. If it is igniiton only any junction (including eyelets on circuit breakers) could be at fault. The back of the ignition switch or the switch itself could be the culprit. If it gets the best of you figure out what all you lose (test everything) and re post. Good luck. Remember a 10 dollar test light will save you hrs of time.
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Old 02-02-2016, 10:14 AM
 
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Thanks, HeadacheGuy. Indeed, the whole shooting match goes dead, including headlights. I also took a multimeter to the solenoid and, without getting into detail, concluded that it gets stuck closed when I try to start the engine. When I disconnect the battery, it resets.

Some other guys are recommending that I have the battery load-tested. Although it's relatively new (about a year old, not many hours on it), they say it could have an internal defect that will cause it to show full voltage but lack the amps needed to crank the starter.

A bonus question is whether that would cause the solenoid (two in a row now) to remain closed until the battery is disconnected.

In case you can't tell, electrical stuff just isn't my thing!
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Old 02-02-2016, 08:35 PM
 
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Low voltage will indeed cause the solenoid to stick closed. I was in disbelief the first time I saw it years ago and ran into it many times since.There is a fireshow of current jumping across the terminals inside when it has weak holding pressure due to low voltage that will fuse the terminals. If done enough times it will burn the contacts and you will have to replace it. Batteries can arc internally and die violently and seem to come back to normal after the load is gone. Best way to check is right on the terminals with a voltmeter when attempting a start. If it drops out below 9 volts or lower and you know the battery is charged, the battery is junk. (Poor mans load test). easiest to have the battery tested but make sure it is LOAD tested. Conductance testers which many places use can give you a false positive ( I have both at my shop and the conductance tester gathers dust).
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Old 02-02-2016, 08:46 PM
 
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Outstanding information. I'll load-test the battery in the next couple of days, and will replace a couple of cables for good measure. I'll report back.

Thanks again!
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Old 02-06-2016, 12:15 PM
 
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UPDATE: Bottom line, the problem is fixed, but I honestly don't know why. I'm just happy she starts and I hope the problem doesn't recur. And if it does, I hope it's nowhere unfortunate. So here's the story:

I bought a load-tester for the battery, and everything checked out. The battery is very healthy. I then bypassed the solenoid and the starter engaged, although it was kinda weak. So I did a voltage-drop test across the battery as I hit the starter and everything was good. The voltage dropped down a little, but it looked from the meter to be above 10 volts. I'd previously removed the solenoid, so I put it back on. I jumped the positive battery terminal to the "S" post on the solenoid and BAM! The engine started cranking like crazy.

So I started to wonder ... had I somehow reversed the brown wire, which had been connected to the "I" post, and the red wire, which had been connected to the "S" post? Just as an experiment, I connected the brown wire to the "S" post. Got in the car, turned the key to position 1, and the engine started spinning like crazy. Well, that told me the wires had not been mixed up! So I connected the wires to the correct posts (brown to "I," red to "S"). Got in the car and turned the key to position 1. Lights lit up like before. Then I turned it to position 2, where all the trouble was before. But this time, the car started right up.

I really have no idea what's going on. I'd like to say I cleaned some contacts or did something else objective, but I didn't. The good news is, I'm back in business. The bad news is, my mystery remains unsolved and I will forever be wary of getting stranded. Perhaps my diddling cleaned up a bad connection somewhere. Perhaps I'll be cursed with an intermittent problem. Alas.

Thanks to HeadacheGuy for taking the time to help. I hope I can return the favor someday. Cheers!
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Old 02-07-2016, 11:30 AM
 
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Congrats! Even though they didn't look bad I suspect disturbing the connections at the battery and at the solenoid were the key. If it were the I and S post thing it would not have explained why you lost power in your headlights. One is the solenoid energizing post, the other is the ignition coil bypass wire post (to bypass the resistance wire for higher voltage when starting). If it happens again do your voltage drop tests on those fusible links coming off the solenoid.Again, congrats. These problems can suck when they are intermittent.
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Old 02-07-2016, 01:00 PM
 
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Yeah, I suspect you're right about the connections. The whole "I" and "S" thing was really just a Hail Mary. I've found that those can sometimes shed light on things, particularly if you have multiple root causes. But if I had to make a guess, I'd say there was a bad ground connection somewhere, and that an arc or a shudder or something sent things belly-up in an instant last weekend. And it's my hope that the fresh, tight connections and new cables will prevent any further issues, at least for a while. If it happens again, I'm coming back to this thread! Cheers and thanks again.
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