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Old 09-11-2010, 12:25 AM   #1
cgbrock
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Default Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Hello - new to these forums with a 2008 Outlook. I am at the end of the rope with this problem, which is driving me crazy because I may be the last person on earth who actually listens to far-away AM stations while driving at night!

Any clues you can give would be appreciated.

Problem: a loud, continuous growling static is heard on the AM band only, and literally drowns out weaker stations.

If key is turned off without opening driver door, radio stays on but growl stops after exactly 15 seconds (not the same time when the lights turn off – this occurs a few seconds later). Growl then reappears when key is turned back on.

The dealer installed a noise filter on the power line to the radio, which did nothing.

Using a portable AM radio as a detector, the growl can be heard when the radio is passed over the top of the engine, in front of the engine, near the fuse box, etc. Volume of growl varies as radio is moved over various components, but there does not seem to be one isolated source. If the portable AM radio is passed over the wiring in back of the radio, the growl is loud. It appears that something is injecting RF noise into the car’s wiring.

If the car radio is disconnected completely, the growl continues unabated and can be detected with the portable radio as above.

The problem used to not exist, then became intermittent, now is continuous.

The problem used to be temporarily fixable by pulling the “Batt 3” fuse, which seemed to “reset” something and the growling would stop for a period of time, then reappear. Now, pulling this fuse does nothing.

Pulling each and every fuse sequentially does nothing to the growl.

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Old 09-11-2010, 07:04 PM   #2
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Can you attach an audio clip?

Does noise change in any aspect if radio is tuned across AM band (550 to 1700)?

Does noise stop instantly if battery ground cable is disconnected?

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Old 09-11-2010, 08:56 PM   #3
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

cgbrock ... I was watching Notre Dame / Michigan FB game when posting above ... and left out a few key words.

It'd be best if you were testing with the portable AM radio when battery was disconnected.

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Old 09-11-2010, 09:52 PM   #4
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Sounds like a ground loop issue.

Things to try:

Check your battery's age. Old batteries can't filter noise as well and so noise issues like this can come seemingly out of nowhere.

Upgrade your Battery and alternator/engine grounds to the chassis. A high quality 4GA wire or 0GA wire will make a big difference in the overall electrical system.

While you're at it, upgrade your radio ground. And your antenna ground. AM radio (if it still exists) is heavily dependent on a good ground for the antenna.

Those things failing, there's some other electrical device on the same circuit causing it. I had a similar issue that was my phone charger being on that line. Do you have any other devices installed in the car, even something as simple as a phone charger?

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Old 09-11-2010, 10:20 PM   #5
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

XRL ... looks like some good suggestions.

I located one service bulletin addressing radio static.

Many 2007 - 2008 GM platforms affected.

Bulletin calls for radio reprogram for three basic issues: (1) volume fluctuation, (2) excessive static, or (3) weak reception of some FM stations.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf 08 Outlook - Radio - Excessive Static.pdf (34.6 KB, 44 views)

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Old 09-12-2010, 12:58 AM   #6
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by XRL View Post
Check your battery's age. Old batteries can't filter noise as well and so noise issues like this can come seemingly out of nowhere.
Checking the battery isn't a bad idea, but it should be fine as it is no more than 3 years old.

Quote:
Originally Posted by XRL View Post
Upgrade your Battery and alternator/engine grounds to the chassis. A high quality 4GA wire or 0GA wire will make a big difference in the overall electrical system.

While you're at it, upgrade your radio ground. And your antenna ground. AM radio (if it still exists) is heavily dependent on a good ground for the antenna.
These upgrades should not be necessary in a completely stock vehicle that is this new. The fact that the OP used a different radio and still got the same noise proves that the antenna ground is not the cause of the noise.

Quote:
Originally Posted by XRL View Post
Those things failing, there's some other electrical device on the same circuit causing it. I had a similar issue that was my phone charger being on that line. Do you have any other devices installed in the car, even something as simple as a phone charger?
I was thinking this too because chargers in general can sometimes cause a lot of noise/interference. The fact that the noise stops after 15 seconds kinda rules this out though. I'm assuming that none of the 12V accessory power ports are switched so any connected devices would remain active regardless of the ignition switch status as a result.

I know you said that removing this fuse now has no effect, but I think you may have narrowed it down to one of the circuits associated with the BAT3 fuse.

The things that the BAT3 fuse supplies power to are the door locks, DRL, power windows, HVAC controls, rear wiper motor and rear washer motor - most of these circuits remain active during the Retained Accessory Power (RAP) mode. I would leave the car's AM radio on after the noise stops, then turn the headlights on/off, use each power window individually (try express up & down features too if equipped), use the rear wiper, etc. to see if you can produce the noise again. FWIW, I was surprised to observe that I was unable to produce any AM radio noise when using any of these items during the RAP mode with the AM radio on in our 2007 Chevy Equinox. Ditto when using a portable AM radio (that was plugged in to a wall outlet) and moving it around under the hood.

Try removing any relays and circuit breaker for power windows related to these features and turning the key on/off (to enter RAP mode) too to see if the noise persists during those 15 seconds. All of the relays for these items are located in the I/P fuse block.

If you have the optional HID headlights, I wonder if one or both of the ballasts is the source of the noise; especially if the ground for those is weak.

Does removing the key from the ignition affect the noise at all?

Have any aftermarket electronic devices been installed?

I'm thinking the answer to this is obviously yes, but just to be sure...Does the noise occur all the time or only if the vehicle is parked in a certain place?

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Last edited by ruley73; 09-12-2010 at 01:08 AM..

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Old 09-12-2010, 10:12 PM   #7
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

GM vehicles are notorious (in car electronics circles) for crappy factory grounds. Is the Outlook one of the vehicles with a rear mounted battery? I'd think that it's a strong possibility that it could be related. I agree, it *shouldn't* be an issue on a newer stock vehicle, but there also shouldn't be timing chains that snap and Vue that replace multiple wheel bearings per year. It's cost cutting at its finest(worst).

The battery could be a likely issue. If the battery has been drained a few times, the car exposed to severe temperature changes, or just the car sitting for a decent amount of time (or like my mother's car only driven for short trips every few days) the battery could be severely weakened. It's also possible that GM OEM'd a 3 year battery, I've seen vehicles with OEM 3 year batteries before, conveniently the same warranty on the bumper to bumper of those cars.

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Old 09-12-2010, 11:07 PM   #8
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by XRL View Post
GM vehicles are notorious (in car electronics circles) for crappy factory grounds. Is the Outlook one of the vehicles with a rear mounted battery? I'd think that it's a strong possibility that it could be related. I agree, it *shouldn't* be an issue on a newer stock vehicle, but there also shouldn't be timing chains that snap and Vue that replace multiple wheel bearings per year. It's cost cutting at its finest(worst).

The battery could be a likely issue. If the battery has been drained a few times, the car exposed to severe temperature changes, or just the car sitting for a decent amount of time (or like my mother's car only driven for short trips every few days) the battery could be severely weakened. It's also possible that GM OEM'd a 3 year battery, I've seen vehicles with OEM 3 year batteries before, conveniently the same warranty on the bumper to bumper of those cars.
I agree with all of this. The wiring -although deemed adequate by some electrical engineer to please the bean counters- definitely should be beefed up IMO. One other thing that doesn't help is that the majority of the newer GM vehicles implement a BCM-regulated charging system that only puts out what the BCM feels is necessary to keep the battery charged and meet the demand of the electrical load.

Sometimes I'll be driving down the highway and the voltage meter in the DIC in our Equinox says "12.6 Volts Battery Normal". It might stay there for 30 miles at a time before it climbs back up to 14.1 Volts - which is where I'd like to see it all the time. I was told by the dealership that this was in fact normal operation and that it is supposed to extend battery life and increase fuel economy. I will say that there are no noticeable effects like dimmed headlights or the blower motor slowing down when it reads 12.6 Volts when its running. So maybe it's not as bad an idea as it seems.

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Old 09-13-2010, 12:20 PM   #9
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by far2grumpy View Post
Can you attach an audio clip?

Does noise change in any aspect if radio is tuned across AM band (550 to 1700)?
It is there across the entire band, but more pronounced at the upper frequencies. I'll attach an audio clip tonight. It's definitely an interesting sound - not your typical radio static.

Thanks for the great suggestions. I am going do some more investigating tonight to explore these other possibilities and will post the results.

I tend to think that it's not a ground problem, for the reason ruley73 stated, but will check that also.

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Old 09-13-2010, 01:12 PM   #10
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Could this be from one of the electronics (engine/bcm/transmission computer)? Your radio may be picking up the noise from one of these circuits if the ignition is ON. In ACCessory position, only the radio is powered up. Ignition ON powers up all the electronics; the engine computer is already waiting for the starter to turn the engine over so its humming as well as the bcm. Their internal electronic clock circuits generate frequencies that are usually filtered but if a capacitor breaks down, this noise leaves the circuit and becomes amplified by the radio. Do you have OnStar? This may be the source also if something went wrong. Each of these mini-computers has their own electronic clocks that can send stray noise out anywhere but are heavily filtered to restrict electronic noise interference from reaching our speakers.

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Old 09-14-2010, 09:16 PM   #11
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Okay, sorry for the delay. Here is an audio clip of the growling static - enjoy! Checking the other suggestions now...
Attached Files
File Type: zip Saturn Outlook radio growl.zip (127.0 KB, 37 views)

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Old 09-14-2010, 10:17 PM   #12
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

When the battery ground is disconnected, the noise stops both in the car radio and the portable radio.

No devices are plugged into the 12v outlets except the phone charger. I pulled that, and it made no difference.

I pulled every relay and every fuse. No change.

I sat in the car and during the retain accessory power mode, tried every possible switch: door locks, power windows, front & rear wipers, washers -- anything that had power in the ACC mode. No change in the noise.

What are HID headlights and how would I know if I have them?

The noise occurs all the time, not just when the vehicle is parked in a certain place.

Now, here's the breakthrough: See the attached photo of a fused connection on the battery positive terminal (just to the right of the negative terminal). It's a 10A fuse and when I pull it, the noise instantly decreases to almost nil. It's still there but barely audible unless you crank the volume. What is this connection for? Is it stock? It looks like an aftermarket thing because the connectors are taped to the power cables with black tape. With the fuse out, I can find nothing that does not work properly on the vehicle. The really odd thing is that the noise on the portable radio in the engine compartment is unchanged!
Attached Images
File Type: jpg DSC_0432-1.jpg (177.4 KB, 26 views)

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Old 09-14-2010, 10:20 PM   #13
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

There is also a black plastic ring around the positive battery cable - could this be the noise filter that the dealer installed? I thought they said they installed the filter on the power cable in back of the radio. When I pull the plug on this black ring, no change in the noise.

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Old 09-14-2010, 10:50 PM   #14
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by cgbrock View Post
Okay, sorry for the delay. Here is an audio clip of the growling static - enjoy! Checking the other suggestions now...
I've listened to the audio clip and I'm leaning toward agreement with fdryer ... the interference sounds to me like a pulsed DC signal. I've not looked at the Outlook scheme but earlier Saturn's have the BCM "talking" to IPC, PSCM and SDM on Class 2 Data Circuit at an average 10.4 Kbps at a nominal 7 volts.

Another possible troublesome signal is the BCM also acts as gateway for the ECM/PCM and EBCM using the CAN serial data line.

I'm drawing on 50 years experience working with military and commercial aircraft and clearly recall the problems created for communications equipment by high-speed pulsed DC circuits. The best defense against radio-frequency interference (RFI) is to shield and separate such wiring from sensitive receiving hardware. I'm not sure any vehicle builder puts much effort into wiring.

Pulsed DC signals can actually serve as transmitters and either the basic, or a higher-order harmonic frequency, can be induced into the candidate radio receivers RF, IF or audio circuits.

I understand the dealer installed a filter network on the power feed but the best prevention for co-located interference - such as pulsed DC - is shielded wire, physically separated wiring, or a very selective RF section and/or a superior noise limiter in the audio stages of the AM receiver.

In my opinion - if reception of low to medium strength AM signals - of the highest fidelity - are the order of the day, you might try an upgraded after-market receiver and check for results.

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Old 09-15-2010, 12:34 AM   #15
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by cgbrock View Post
When the battery ground is disconnected, the noise stops both in the car radio and the portable radio.

No devices are plugged into the 12v outlets except the phone charger. I pulled that, and it made no difference.

I pulled every relay and every fuse. No change.

I sat in the car and during the retain accessory power mode, tried every possible switch: door locks, power windows, front & rear wipers, washers -- anything that had power in the ACC mode. No change in the noise.

What are HID headlights and how would I know if I have them?

The noise occurs all the time, not just when the vehicle is parked in a certain place.

Now, here's the breakthrough: See the attached photo of a fused connection on the battery positive terminal (just to the right of the negative terminal). It's a 10A fuse and when I pull it, the noise instantly decreases to almost nil. It's still there but barely audible unless you crank the volume. What is this connection for? Is it stock? It looks like an aftermarket thing because the connectors are taped to the power cables with black tape. With the fuse out, I can find nothing that does not work properly on the vehicle. The really odd thing is that the noise on the portable radio in the engine compartment is unchanged!
That fuse is for OnStar. It is factory-installed and is shown in the upper left portion of the wiring diagram I've attached below.

2008 Saturn Outlook - Power Distribution.pdf

Our Equinox (thankfully) does not have OnStar so it is not a factor for me.

HID headlights are brighter, whiter headlights that many new cars come with. If you see what looks like a typical headlight bulbs when you look into your headlamp assemblies then you don't have them as HID headlights have a projector lens placed in front of them. This can be seen in the pic below.

Saturn Outlook HID.jpg

A typical noise filter for a radio needs to be installed within a few inches of the radio and wired into the radio's power source for it to do any good.

The filter that is installed to address the TSB that far2grumpy referenced is supposed to be placed near the Vehicle Communication Interface Module (VCIM) so it probably won't be visible in the battery compartment. I can't say for sure though since I don't know where the VCIM is located.

I don't know what the black ring is. To me it looks like a simple guide to hold the cable in place, but do any of those wires plug into it? It looks like they do and if that is the case, I don't know what it's for

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Last edited by ruley73; 09-15-2010 at 12:40 AM..

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Old 09-15-2010, 09:42 AM   #16
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Quote:
Originally Posted by cgbrock View Post
Now, here's the breakthrough: See the attached photo of a fused connection on the battery positive terminal (just to the right of the negative terminal). It's a 10A fuse and when I pull it, the noise instantly decreases to almost nil. It's still there but barely audible unless you crank the volume. What is this connection for? Is it stock? It looks like an aftermarket thing because the connectors are taped to the power cables with black tape. With the fuse out, I can find nothing that does not work properly on the vehicle. The really odd thing is that the noise on the portable radio in the engine compartment is unchanged!
I believe that fuse is for OnStar.

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Old 09-17-2010, 07:04 PM   #17
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Default Re: Bizarre electrical / radio problem

Thanks for all the helpful advice. I'll think I'll leave out the OnStar fuse.

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