Electrical meltdown—advice (and/or consolation) needed

Discussion in 'E3 General Discussion' started by corvair kid, Nov 7, 2017.

  1. corvair kid

    corvair kid Member

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    My drive home from SoCal vintage on Sunday ended prematurely (but only 18 miles from home, could have been worse driving from LA to Oakland!) with the apparent death of my electrical system.

    First sign of trouble, in retrospect, was when the radio speakers abruptly started crackling loudly. Turned the radio off and my copilot noticed that the detachable faceplate was hot. The rest of the drama began to unfold about 5 minutes later. My headlights, which tend to dim and brighten a bit, dimmed all the way off. As soon as I realized this, I began signaling to pull to the right (the running lights were still on), hoping to make it to the next exit. The turn signal seemed to set of a cacophony of popping sounds, smoke coming out of the A/C grille (the A/C doesn't work and wasn't on), and my passenger noticed smoke inside the instrument cluster—before the dash lights went out, along with all other lights. By the time we made it to the shoulder, giving up on making it to an exit, I didn't even have brake lights.

    I managed to run over something on the shoulder, too, puncturing my right rear tire. When it rains it pours, I guess.

    We got a tow the rest of the way home, so now I have a dead Bavaria sitting on the street in front of my house.

    I haven't had a chance to take a good look yet, and I'm not sure what to look for. I called my mechanic (Bill Arnold in San Rafael) who said that this might require swapping out the dash wiring from a parts car...a process I'm not sure I have the inclination for, probably don't have the budget for, and definitely don't have the space for.

    I guess my questions are these:
    • Has anyone else experienced this? What was the cause/remedy? What kind of cost might I be looking at here?
    • What should I (assume I'm a total lay person) look for as I probe the insides of my dashboard/under the hood?
    • If worst comes to worst, what would an electrically fried but otherwise fairly nice driver-quality Bavaria, that was running great, be worth? Do I have a total albatross on my hands? I don't necessarily want it to come to this, but my budget only goes so far and while I have the luxury of not needing to drive every day (and my SO has another car), this is my primary driver and I do need a car I can drive.
    Thanks...
     
  2. teahead

    teahead Well-Known Member Site Donor

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    Possible your wiring to the radio wasn't fused?

    Factory-type (Blaupunkt/Becker) radio or aftermarket?
     
  3. corvair kid

    corvair kid Member

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    Aftermarket ('90s-era AM/FM/cassette) running through aftermarket speakers on the parcel shelf.
     
  4. HB Chris

    HB Chris Well-Known Member Site Donor

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    I would open up the taped harness on the driver inner fender and see if anything is melted, look under left side of dash near headlight switch, fuse block, etc for burned/melted wires. Instrument cluster comes out pretty easily, you can ull it as well. Early e3 and e9 don’t have fused headlights, crazy.
     
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  5. duct-tape

    duct-tape Member

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    You definitely fried a ground. Probably started at the stereo. Luckily, you can disassemble like 90% of the dash without having to take the dash off.
    (I did it last week)

    If you're inclined to fix wiring, it won't be impossible, but it's gonna take you a while.
    You'll probably need a new cluster.
     
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  6. jmackro

    jmackro Well-Known Member Site Donor

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    Perhaps I don't understand what duct-tape is saying, but I don't agree with some of his advice:

    I don't know what "fried a ground" means (perhaps duct-tape can clarify). If a circuit loses its connection to ground, it passes no current; wires melt when they are trying to pass too much current.

    I'm skeptical that it started at the stereo, which is probably fused. Yes, I know that corvair kid heard a crackling sound through his stereo, but a stereo will pick up any electrical interference. A more likely source of the problem is the headlight wiring, or some other high-current circuit.

    I do agree with those two statements.

    You mean the gauge cluster? How would that get damaged if the headlight, radio or other wiring has melted?

    HB Chris offers good advice. Inspect all of the wiring harnesses, including behind the gauge cluster. You will probably see some melted insulation. Use the damaged wire's color code plus a wiring diagram to determine where the damaged wire comes from/goes to. That will indicated what has shorted out.

    I wouldn't be too quick to give up on the car. Fixing electrical problems is time-consuming, but not expensive.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
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  7. bluecoupe30!

    bluecoupe30! Active Member Site Donor $

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  8. sfdon

    sfdon Well-Known Member Site Donor

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    Radio violet wire is direct to ignition switch at fuse 10. Famous problem.
    The other nasty is wisch wasch bottle - always hot
    When one wire becomes a de facto fuse in a harness - the harness dies.
     
  9. duct-tape

    duct-tape Member

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  10. jmackro

    jmackro Well-Known Member Site Donor

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    OK, maybe the gauge cluster is damaged. Or maybe smoke was drifting everywhere. My point is that corvair kid shouldn't jump to the conclusion that his car is totalled; it may just be a wire that shorted out and melted some insulation. Until he completes the autopsy, we can only guess what the problem is.
     
  11. HB Chris

    HB Chris Well-Known Member Site Donor

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    The Blumax had smoke in the cabin before it was sold, the heater fan wire in the fresh air plenum shorted out sending smoke into the cabin, alarming at first but no damage done.
     
  12. Ohmess

    Ohmess I wanna DRIVE! Site Donor $

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    I learned from chasing down the damage to my car (caused by a half-assed stereo installation) that most of the damage to wires that are overloaded occurs at the ends. Thus, when you find a problem on a particular wire, you need to trace the routing of that wire and check its integrity at each connector. Problems must be fixed and this process must continue until you find an undamaged connection. In addition, for each damaged wire you find, disconnect one end of the wire and check for continuity of the wire. If you find continuity in a wire with one end disconnected, the wire has probably melted somewhere along the way so as to allow a connection to another wire. You need to find this and fix it. Then you need to perform the disconnect continuity test again to make sure you have fixed it correctly. And as you are doing this, look closely at the wiring harness for signs of additional damage. As noted, this process is tedious, but not difficult.

    Given your description of what happened, and the fact that you have an aftermarket stereo, the first thing to do is to remove the stereo and examine its wiring closely. Follow every wire and check on the condition of each wire, with a particular emphasis on the connections that were made when the stereo was installed tapping into the factory wiring. Perform the wire disconnection test described above for the wires within the stereo circuit. As Don notes, the power wire to the stereo is probably where this problem began.

    Then check the fuse block, starting as Don notes with fuse number 10. Obviously, note any blown fuses and check any circuit with a blown fuse for problems. In addition to the normal circuit trouble shooting, you need to perform the wire disconnection test for the wires within any circuit that has a blown fuse.

    Then, remove each remaining fuse one at a time and examine the plastic near the tabs that hold the fuses, looking for signs of overheating. If you see any, you will need to examine the wiring at the back of the fuse block to those connections, and check the wiring in those circuits. Note that some of the circuits in our cars are daisy chained together at the back of the fuse block, and this fact does not appear in the wiring diagram in our user manuals. I believe that fuses 6&7 and 8&9 are linked at the top of the back of the fuse block. If you see any indication that these circuits may be problematic, report back and we can double check this.

    Given your description of the lighting problem, you also should remove your light switch and examine the wires connected to your light switch. You also should check the wires at both headlights. Here again, if you see any indication of heat damage to wires, you then need to determine the routing of the wire and check it at the other end. Then perform the disconnect continuity test. Then fix and test again.

    I went through my entire electrical system like this; it can be done.
     
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  13. thestein1016

    thestein1016 New Member

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    I'm working through something similar. My paint guy was driving the car at night when he noticed smoke coming from the dash. My recommendation is to purchase the blue books, pull the dash, and start looking at what wires are burned through
     
  14. corvair kid

    corvair kid Member

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    Thanks for all of the tips—I'll work through as many of these as I can once I can get to the car. We're doing a bit of crisis triage right now: a sick cat is at the top of the list, then getting my Corvair running properly so I have a car I can drive when I need one, then figuring out how deep this electrical mess goes. Plus a bunch of holidays in there...anyway, I'll keep this thread updated when I know more!
     
  15. Ohmess

    Ohmess I wanna DRIVE! Site Donor $

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    Also, check on ebay whether this guy has a nice blown up color diagram for your car: prosperosdiagrams

    These are very helpful for the type of work you need to do.
     
  16. corvair kid

    corvair kid Member

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    He did, and I've ordered one. Thanks for the tip!
     

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