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Old 09-17-2009, 01:41 AM   #1
ssmercurys
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Default Electrical mystery

So starting facts you probably need. 1997 Saturn SL1 160,000 miles.

It started about a month or so ago with flickering lights *by this I mean everything, dash/headlights. I never see the voltage light turn on ever, no SES codes.

I had the alternator and battery tested at Advanced Auto Parts and they said everything looked good even under full load *lights on, ac on full blast with vents open.*

Could it still potentially be the battery/alternator anyways? I have checked the battery connections and the posts on the battery are clean however the other ends that connect to the fuse box and negative which looks like its in the frame, are quite dirty. I was thinking about replacing the cables all together to see if that would fix it however I only want to do that if I know that could potentially be a problem.

Today it actually started flickering again only this time, it stalled coming out of a parking lot, still no dash lights or anything, when it stalled the lights were still on and were the same brightness they were when it died. However I was able to start it right away and drive home and it didnt do anything the whole way back.

Any help or suggestions would be nice Or if you also think replacing the cables would fix it.
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Old 09-17-2009, 09:49 AM   #2
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Are you sure your dash lights and SES light do work? You might try having the auto parts store plug in their code reader and see if anything comes up.
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Old 09-17-2009, 09:58 AM   #3
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Yeah they work . I see them when i have the key in the on position before i start the car . I just had my codes read about2 months ago and only thing was an O2 sensor which I fixed.

This morning I found my positive battery cable was pretty loose . I have now tightened it back up . Will not know if that did anything until dark.
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Old 09-17-2009, 10:18 AM   #4
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Quote:
Originally Posted by ssmercurys View Post
This morning I found my positive battery cable was pretty loose . I have now tightened it back up . Will not know if that did anything until dark.
I would be very willing to bet that was your issue. I thought you said you checked them...
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Old 09-17-2009, 10:51 AM   #5
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Yeah it was dark when I did so I probably didnt see it. However if thats not the cause and it still happens tonight, what else could I rule out? I am quite freaked that the alternator could still be a problem.
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Old 09-17-2009, 11:09 AM   #6
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

It's not the alternator. It's going to be the loose cable. When the alternator fails, it fails. It's not on and off. All the lights go off eventually, and they do not come back on. Practically every light in your cluster will illuminate and then everything will shot down and the car will roll to a stop. That's all there is to it.
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Old 09-17-2009, 11:10 AM   #7
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Quote:
Originally Posted by ssmercurys View Post
I had the alternator and battery tested at Advanced Auto Parts and they said everything looked good even under full load *lights on, ac on full blast with vents open.
I don't think they load tested your alternator. Having quite a bit of experience testing batteries & alternators myself, I can tell you with absolute certainty that if you had all your accessories on while they load tested your alternator, your car would've stalled or at the very least struggled to stay running. Simply seeing an adequate output voltage on the alternator is not enough to accurately determine if it is good, but that is a common mistake that novice parts guys make. The load test also will be inaccurate if the ammeter probe is not wrapped around ALL of the ground cables going to the battery.

I think you either have a bad alternator, or battery cable(s). Check the major ground and power terminals for corrosion. A failing fusible link (special wire that runs between the +12v posts on your alternator and starter) may also be to blame.

Lastly, does your voltage/battery light temporarily turn on during the self-test when you first turn your key from OFF to the RUN position? If not, that alone is likely the problem. IIRC the alternator will not put out a charge if that light bulb doesnt work/is burnt out.

EDIT:
Quote:
Originally Posted by ssmercurys View Post
This morning I found my positive battery cable was pretty loose . I have now tightened it back up . Will not know if that did anything until dark.
This alone can cause alot of weird stuff to happen. I'm betting this fixes the problem
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Old 09-17-2009, 12:44 PM   #8
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Yes the bulb works when I turn the key to the on position/from off and so forth, but it shuts off when I start the car.

I just had another check after I tightened it of the battery and alternator (even if this isnt 100%)

Battery - 13.83v
No Load Alternator reading *idle* - 14.17v
Load Alternator *subs, a/c full blast, high beams - 13.95v

The guy said all checks out, so hopefully it was something as simple as that loose connection. I will have to wait for darkness to fully test it out.
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Old 09-17-2009, 12:49 PM   #9
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

what i do if i suspect a charging system malfunction is i have this led volt meter that i plug into the accessory outlet & i watch the voltage as i drive. if i see the lights dimming or what not, i just ovserve the voltage.
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Old 09-17-2009, 12:50 PM   #10
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Quote:
Originally Posted by ssmercurys View Post
Yes the bulb works when I turn the key to the on position/from off and so forth, but it shuts off when I start the car.

I just had another check after I tightened it of the battery and alternator (even if this isnt 100%)

Battery - 13.83v
No Load Alternator reading *idle* - 14.17v
Load Alternator *subs, a/c full blast, high beams - 13.95v

The guy said all checks out, so hopefully it was something as simple as that loose connection. I will have to wait for darkness to fully test it out.
yes those values are about normal. a loose connection will certainly cause voltage fluxuations...
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Old 09-17-2009, 01:01 PM   #11
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

a normal battery that is fully charged should read about 12.6 volts. the charging voltage must be greater to overcome internal battery electrical resistance. obvoiusly your charging system isn't working if the voltage is showing a reading less than the fully charged battery voltage while reving the engine. a 13.5 14.5 reading is great.....

hell even my motorcycle while idling @ 700 rpm with all the lights on shows a voltage of about 13.2, with a slight twist of the throttle it goes up to 14.9.....
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Old 09-17-2009, 02:58 PM   #12
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Default Re: Electrical mystery

Quote:
Originally Posted by OnDaGround View Post
It's not the alternator. It's going to be the loose cable. When the alternator fails, it fails. It's not on and off. All the lights go off eventually, and they do not come back on. Practically every light in your cluster will illuminate and then everything will shot down and the car will roll to a stop. That's all there is to it.
That's actually not entirely true.. Alternators have more than one diode.. usually a diode trio.. If just one fails, the alternator will still function, but you will notice flickering lights while driving at night for instance.... just a constant flicker..

This was a really common problem on early Chevy Venture/Montana vans. My friends bro had one that had the alternator fail that way on his. The vehicle was still driveable, but the flickering at night drove ya nuts.
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