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Old 11-22-2019, 12:28 PM   #1
Melissa_M
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Default battery vs. alternator

warning: watching me waffle back and forth on this may cause dizziness As usual, I try to be complete but concise on the details

Battery is 2y.o. (Interstate), alternator is original, belt is clean and tight.
I regularly use a smart battery charger on slow charge.
78K miles

Intermittent illumination of ABS or ABS+BRAKE light that resolves with engine restart. This has been going on for a year, so the battery was only a year old at that point
Got code read once, 36
The FLAPS machines ALWAYS say my battery is BAD - even when brand new and fully charged - and they can never tell me what parameter makes it “bad”. This has happened with every battery I've every had in the car. Fun, right?

FLAPS machine says alternator is good, only checked it once tho
Thought I solved this when I found my battery cables were loose.
But it returns

Over last month I have only been able to charge battery to around 12.2V. I am using the same HF DVM and I periodically check against another non-HF DVM.

I am aware of significant figures and measurement error, but the ABS light does indicate an issue.

Generally, I find about the same voltage before/after I run my errands (under 20 miles RT with 3-4 waypoints). Every time I get the DVM on it while running (I do not always monitor voltage while running) I am seeing around 1V higher than whatever the non-running voltage is.

Last time I drove it, I left with 12.2V on non-running battery (recently charged), ran my errands, and by the last stop I got ABS+BRAKE. When I got home, I measure 11.9V non running and 12.9V running. This trip was slightly unusual because I ran headlights while driving (normally I don't).
Does this mean my alternator is not charging it, or is the battery simply not taking/keeping the charge?


Since I cannot get the battery to charge past 12.2V it seems like the battery is bad (cell). But since my last trip drained the battery from 12.2V to 11.9V I kinda think that points to alternator?
Or maybe it’s both? Is 1V alternator output marginal?

I can probably get a warranty replacement on this 2yo battery. I got one on the previous battery, too, right at 2 year mark. I don’t recall exactly what my issue was with that previous battery was, but I know I was not getting the ABS light.

If the ABS light is voltage related, I also don't get why the light always goes off with a restart, altho it is certainly possible that code is still in memory. I need to pick up a (cheap) abs code reader.

FLAPS= parts store
HF= harbor freight
DVM= volt meter

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Old 11-22-2019, 01:07 PM   #2
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

ABS Code 36 = ABS Voltage under 11.6v and ABS is disabled.

12.9v while running indicates an alternator issue, weather it's actually a bad alternator or just poor connections. Generally, under 13.4v indicates a failed or nearly failed voltage regulator in the alternator.

I'd clean up all the battery cable connections first; 2 on the bell-housing, 1 on fender next to battery, 1 on frame rail near/under the horn and 1 on the fuse box in addition to the 2 screw terminals to the battery. I believe they're all 13mm nuts, except the battery terminals which are 8mm and the fender next to the battery which is 10mm. Fine grit sand paper (220+) or a brass wire brush works great, even the 3pk of brush's at Dollar General for about $3.

I can upload the full diagnostic table for Code 36, but it's fairly specific to the ABS being under-powered while it seems your entire car is under-powered.

Last edited by fetchitfido; 11-22-2019 at 01:16 PM..

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Old 11-22-2019, 02:16 PM   #3
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Sounds like an alternator issue to me.

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Old 11-22-2019, 02:41 PM   #4
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

The basics listed above covers all the main power connections to reveal any corrosion preventing battery and alternator operation. While my car is not an S-series, 12v electrical systems are the same for virtually every vehicle using a 12v battery and alternator. My Duralast battery is over four years old yet still shows 12.5v on standby (engine off). Engine running with alternator outputting, voltage jumps up to 14.5v. Third battery and third alternator on a 16yr old car. The second alternator failed shortly after installation and replaced under warranty. I'm presuming the S-series should have the same voltages; 12.5v on standby, 14.5v with engine idling. Placing electrical loads complicates troubleshooting so no electrical loads are suggested other than simply starting the engine and monitoring 'running' voltages. In one sense, approximately 2 volts above battery voltage suggests the alternator is recharging the battery while supplying all the electrical power the vehicle needs. Less than 14 volts suggests everything listed to check including a tight drive belt before concluding alternator issues. A 1 volt difference, with all things considered, suggests an alternator already announcing impending failure.

You can always have the alternator tested on the car by auto store testing equipment (Pep Boys) or remove it for bench testing in auto stores providing free tests. Autozone is another place for battery and alternator testing. When in doubt, try a different auto store. I've read of consumer reports critical of Autozone. In my neighborhood, Autozones are everywhere and friendly enough to be helpful, even with loaner tools for one time use (strut spring compressor, bushing tool, exhaust pipe expander, etc). Pep Boys helped me diagnose a faulty external voltage regulator on a Ford wagon when it was replaced less than a year before failing. The test was done in the car with engine idling and free.

An alternator put into a Nissan Sentra failed about two weeks after installation. Autozone made good on the second replacement but tested it before handing it over to me. That one works. (lifetime warranty).

In general, battery voltage should be around 12.5v, alternator output should be around 14.5v. Car batteries are still made with six individual 2.1 volt cells. When charged, a battery should show 12.5v+ when new then stabilize to around 12.5v for most of its life. Even battery chargers, either trickle or several amps, will show batteries charged to 12.5v (charger disconnected). Descriptions given seem to point to the alternator. I think bech testing may reveal whether or not this alternator is faulty or at least borderline.

For comparison purposes, find another Saturn or any car and measure battery then alternator voltages.

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Old 11-22-2019, 06:12 PM   #5
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Try reading battery voltage, with the engine running at a "fast idle" (~2000 rpm), using an AC scale on the meter. If the AC voltage is much more than 1V, then the alternator probably has some bad diodes.

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Old 11-22-2019, 09:44 PM   #6
Melissa_M
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

I tried reading AC voltage (previous thread) and was not able to. If there is a bad diode, do you definitely hear issues with the radio? Or is that just a possible indicator?

I will clean the connections, thanks for letting me know the proper tools.

I will try to get the alt tested again, I thought they basically measured voltage output, but what else does it test?

Still don't know about the battery, tho , because it will only charge to 12.2V

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Old 11-23-2019, 01:25 AM   #7
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

No, the radio operation is not a definitive indication of alternator condition.

Were you unable to perform the AC voltage test, or did it come up with essentially zero VAC? If zero, was that on a fairly low range, like 20V or less?

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Old 11-23-2019, 01:05 PM   #8
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

I was getting like 26VAC with car running or not. Same on my other car.
We went back and forth discussing a lot of stuff in this thread (http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/sho...=236189&page=2) and at the end of it I felt like the alt was OK.
But if I'm getting 1V output now, I guess I'll go ahead and try to do the alternator myself. Should be easier than the starter that I did, right?

Did this marginal? alt fubar my battery, too, since it will only charge to 12.2V?

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Old 11-23-2019, 01:30 PM   #9
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Well strike that. Just did another check.
car off: 12.2V
running 14.3V minimum
running with accessories 14.3V minimum
car off 12.3V

Sounds like a connection issue (will clean it when I find my sandpaper stash) but it all looks so clean. Or the voltage regulator (intermittent)? Can you replace just that?

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Old 11-23-2019, 02:09 PM   #10
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

I wonder if the FLAPS incar test just does alt output and the bench test also does the diodes?

I understand the best way to measure VAC is at the alt (i was measuring at battery), so I haven't done that because it means I gotta pull the wheel/splash shield (Yes, pulling a wheel is hard for me).

When rain stops maybe I'll give it a go.

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Old 11-23-2019, 02:12 PM   #11
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

so this is a regulator replacement?
Dorman 84568 2-Wire Socket External Regulator Extender

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Old 11-23-2019, 02:33 PM   #12
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Melissa_M View Post
Well strike that. Just did another check.
car off: 12.2V
running 14.3V minimum
running with accessories 14.3V minimum
car off 12.3V

Sounds like a connection issue (will clean it when I find my sandpaper stash) but it all looks so clean. Or the voltage regulator (intermittent)? Can you replace just that?
CORRECTION: first I tightened the battery cables a very tiny amount. Like 1/100 of a turn.
Just got it to charge to 12.6V
Seems like that should make me feel better

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Old 11-23-2019, 03:53 PM   #13
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Side post batteries are horrible. Slightly loose and they look fine but the battery tests dead (and eventually the terminal backs out of the battery entirely). Slightly tight and the soft lead terminal in the battery strips out rendering your $70+ battery useless and likely out of warranty. GM only likes them because you can stick them higher (vertically) under the hood than top posts.

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Old 11-23-2019, 05:35 PM   #14
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

14.3 is good. I would not suspect the alternator or regulator. I assume ours is built into the alternator.

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Old 11-23-2019, 08:59 PM   #15
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Post Re: battery vs. alternator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Melissa_M View Post
so this is a regulator replacement?
Dorman 84568 2-Wire Socket External Regulator Extender
No, that isn't a regulator. It's an extension cable. Alternators have built in voltage regulators. Below, in order; alternator (usually replaced as a unit), internal voltage regulator when alternators are rebuilt (top and bottom view). Repairing alternators requires above average skills to disassemble, clean, replace bearings/brushes/voltage regulator/machining commutator and soldering skills. Mechanical, electrical, electronic knowledge and some common sense.

With new found revelations of simply tightening one battery terminal and seeing voltage output jump up to 14.3v from 12.9v seems to be connection/corrosion related to electrical connections. Mechanical and electrical connections go hand in hand with main power (battery, battery cables). If you disconnect both battery cables and examine them, you should see on the cable terminals a round washer type with four punched areas similar to star washers, The serrated edge bites into the soft lead battery side terminals to prevent the cable from rotating while biting into the soft lead for better electrical contact. Other images show corrosion on these terminals.

Are you seeing higher standby voltages with the higher alternator output? If the poor connection(s) resulted in less than ideal charging from the alternator, the battery may need several driving cycles before standby voltage comes up to 12.5 instead of 12.1
Attached Images
File Type: jpg alternator.jpg (14.8 KB, 1 views)
File Type: jpg vr1.jpg (22.7 KB, 4 views)
File Type: jpg vr2.jpg (26.8 KB, 3 views)
File Type: jpg corroded terminal.jpg (7.1 KB, 5 views)
File Type: jpg corroded terminal-1.jpg (9.7 KB, 5 views)
File Type: jpg sideterminal2_med.jpg (110.5 KB, 2 views)

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Old 11-23-2019, 09:50 PM   #16
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

There is no visible corrosion on my stuff, but I certainly have never cleaned any of it. I imagine even a small layer of invisible corrosion could be an issue.

I'm concerned about battery health because of the the impared charging. I'm glad you mention that a few cycles will be needed.
Going forward I'm not feeling great about getting the connections 'just right'.
I'm still gonna work on measuring the ACV, too.

Thanks for all the feedback, this helps me so much and it's probably obvious that I really need it.
Now I am going to start planning the party for my saturn...21 is just around the corner. You bet there's an oil change coming.

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Old 11-23-2019, 10:30 PM   #17
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Melissa_M View Post
There is no visible corrosion on my stuff
Pull the covers off of the ends of the battery cables as the corrosion can build under them and not really show.

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Old 11-23-2019, 11:55 PM   #18
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

Side posts are famous for looking perfectly fine on the outside while being crap on the inside, as pictured. The corrosion doesn't look that bad but it can impede the electrical connection a lot.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg side post battery cable.jpg (44.4 KB, 4 views)
File Type: jpg corroded side post battery cable.jpg (50.1 KB, 8 views)

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Old 11-24-2019, 02:51 AM   #19
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Default Re: battery vs. alternator

The rubber battery cable covers are relatively soft and pliable so can peel them back to expose the metal terminal and wires. Any powdery residue is the result of battery acid vapors drying out and leaving bluish white powder. This is easily cleaned with a mix of water and baking soda. This solution can be brushed on with an old toothbrush or disposable brass bristle brush, the type sold individually or in packages for a few dollars. Wooden or plastic handles with brass or stainless bristles. When applied to battery terminals, the solution will immediately bubble up as it reacts to dried (or wet) battery acid residue, dissolving and neutralizing dried sulphuric acid. Plain water rinse. Wet battery acid will slowly eat cotton clothing if splashed on when brushing. Wear eye protection and disposable plastic gloves if you're concerned about skin reaction to this residue. Baking soda and water neutralizes sulphuric acid. Try not getting this solution into the battery as it will neutralize acid, killing each cell contaminated with this solution. Most batteries are sealed but many still have removable caps for periodic topping off with distilled water. I've brushed this solution on top terminals on other cars and forego gloves with water nearby for rinsing and emergency eyewash if goggles aren't worn and powder becomes airborne, becoming an eye irritant.

A light coating of grease, petroleum jelly or oil can help prevent future corrosion of clean battery terminals.

Ac voltage when measured, shouldn't be higher than 0.020 volt or twenty thousandth of one volt. In electrical terms, alternators generate ac voltage then pass thru six diodes that rectify, convert ac voltage to dc voltage and regulated to less than 15v dc for vehicle use. If one or several diodes fails, breaks down, the faulty ones pass ac voltage thru the regulator and output to the electrical system. All vehicles operate on dv voltages. Ac voltages can harm electronics. The very small ac voltage would be leakage and not a factor unless surpassing the value given. Measuring for very low ac voltage also requires a good multimeter capable of measuring millivolts (0.001 or one one thousandth of one volt). A multimeter must be able to measure and display millivolts in order to make any assessments of a faulty alternator. I wouldn't be concerned of ac voltages if the alternator outputs 13 volts+. All measurements taken from the battery terminals.

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