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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Intermittent failures



One of the most annoying problems when repairing something is intermittent failures. If it's broke all the time, the problem can be chased down. When something fails, but only occasionally, finding the culprit can be a heck of a lot harder.

A few days ago I took the van down to the store to pick up sine odds and ends. It was supposed to be a there and back again trip. Getting there was fine, but then the van would not start. The starter motor would not do a thing. We just came back from a long trip to the coast and had no problems.

Out came the tool box. The battery is almost new, but I had to start somewhere. I took the terminals apart and cleaned everything. They didn't look bad, but you never know. At any rate, that didn't work. The vehicle is a Ford ES 350 one ton diesel van, so the engine is hard to get to. Pulling the doghouse inside the cab didn't reveal anything obvious.

To complicate matters, my camper van is a converted ambulance. That means on top of the crappy Ford electronics is a massive overlay of stuff installed by Wheeled Coach. Ambulances are full of electronic gizmos and I don't understand half of it.

After tinkering with it for a while I borrowed the store's phone and called my wife to pick me up. While waiting for her I decided to pull apart the main ambulance switch panel. There was a clicking sound in there like a stuck relay. After jiggling things around a bit, and pushing on all the wire connections, the van started up.

I called my lovely wife, but she'd already left home to get me. Good thing is was only a couple miles away.

I'm happy the van started, but I've no idea if anything I did actually affected the outcome. It could be something as simple as the starter motor starting to fail. Since then, I've driven about 300 more miles with lots of starting and stopping. Zero problems.

However, it did fail me once so I keep expecting it to fail again. Only after a long stretch of no problems will I relax a bit.

Sometimes I think people messed up when we let our transportation become more complicated than a canoe.

-Sixbears

20 comments:

  1. Horses weren't too bad either. Mine could always be counted on to start in cold weather.

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    Replies
    1. For me, the problem with horses is that they have a mind of their own.

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  2. I bet there is not a correct wiring diagram to be found either! First step of all trouble shooting is powered applied? Trust me I worked Tech support for the military and civilians and some think a PC must always work even if the electric grid is down. Don't get me started on the morons that think a cable outage is a 911 emergency!

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    Replies
    1. Of course there's no wiring diagram. Tech support must have been a nightmare. I'm a big fan of my multi-tester.

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  3. Car electronics are a mystery to me. On my 13 year old Jeep, the passenger side electric window button only works when it is cold outside. In the summer, only the main window panel switch will open it. It's been that way for years.

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    Replies
    1. Gremlins. Must be Gremlins. You have the kind that don't like the cold. :)

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  4. Who was it who said Keep It Simple Stupid...

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  5. Didn't they have a problem with those vehicles catching on fire and burning to the rims?

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    Replies
    1. Yep. Got two large fire extinguishers on board.

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    2. You are well prepared, a fire suppression system would be the next step up, pull a handle as you exit and the vehicle fills with foam. Sounds like a fun project, maybe get a foam generator off of an old fire truck.

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  6. Yep, I prefere canoes, too, but the river doesn't always go where I want or need to go.

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    Replies
    1. That's a heck of a thing, isn't it? Maybe we should reconsider where we have to go?

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  7. My first guess would be a bad cell in the battery. But it seems deeper than that.

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    Replies
    1. New battery. Still no repeat of the problem. That's what makes it so hard to track down.

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  8. our car was acting up and it was an alternator that only worked when it felt like it. maybe it was a movie star in a former life?
    deb harvey

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    Replies
    1. That would certainly explain it . . .

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  9. Next time just punch the dashboard a few times, like an even tempered grown up!

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  10. I had a whining noise under the hood. My mechanic could never hear it after I cut the engine off and he came out to start it. Finally, on the way to school, driving on the interstate under construction, all lights on the dash lit up. The power steering failed, the motor and transmission did not work. I manhandled it off the next exit ramp which, thankfully, I was approaching.

    As I jumped from the wrecker with my car on the rollback, I asked the mechanic if he could figure out what was wrong now since it was no longer just intermittent. He assured me it would be easy now.

    I really resent having a serpentine belt because breaking it ruined two other things under the hood.

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