Weird charging issue

Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 22nd 2014, 3:45am

Hi
I've been struggling to figure out an issue with charging on a 93 cargo astro 140K.

A year ago i noticed my voltage gauge was showing a very low reading while on the way to the shop (no idea how low because the gauge just reads low - high etc) and since i was there to have a pro install some new spark plugs for me (too much hassle myself!) i had them check my battery and alternator etc. They ended up replacing the alternator after testing it and i left a happy camper as everything was working perfect.

The next day i noticed voltage was reading very low again on the gauge and it didnt appear to be charging so i drove it back to the shop and they swapped in a second new alternator. They tested the alternator and the 2nd one they just swapped in and said both were perfectly fine. I have printouts for both with perfect readings. Regardless.. i left with the second one in and all was well again.

The next day it was doing it again.. showing very low charge. I drove around for a bit keeping an eye on it and then i flipped on the headlights and the gauge shot straight back up and i could hear a huge difference with the alt. I scratched my head and went about my day.

Being swamped with life etc i've never been back to that shop in a year. Instead every time i crank up the van i turn on my headlights as automatically as putting on my seatbelt and watch the gauge go from struggling to proper. I can turn them off right after and it will still read proper and sound proper (usually). Its like it needs a good load on it to kick in?

Now a year later my 6 year old battery finally started to pack it in so i replaced it today.
I still have the charging issue.

In the past year i've done a fair bit of work on the van myself, with little to no knowledge. I don't have literature or wiring diagrams either. i Just try to use common sense lol.
Plug wires.. cap/rotor, cleaned up all the grounds and other wiring i could find on the van, checked a million wires by eye, (although ive never touched the starter or alternator wires for some reason lol) learned to use a multimeter and tested a few wires.. checked for parasitic drains etc and havent found a significant prob. Checked fuses and fuseable links. Ive swapped out a dead temp sending unit and a spewing oil pressure sending unit, brakes, water pump, shocks and more simpler regular maintenance. I try to take care of her but I can never find the time to explore wtf is up with the charging till now. (because i have a day off lol and i don't want to potentially ruin a nice new battery.)

If anyone has any experience or ideas with this or maybe a direction to at least start in, or questions, i'd appreciate anything you all have to offer.
thx n happy easter monday :)
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby chevymaher » April 22nd 2014, 3:48am

Test at the battery while it is running. Inside gauge sux and is always wrong.
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 22nd 2014, 4:07am

It's reading normal while running, with the new battery.
I just went outside and got these readings..
13.2 V pre start
12.6 when i start the van..
i reach in and turn on the headlamps and it jumps to
14.6 with lamps on and an obvious sound from alternator.
If i reach back in and turn off the lights it goes up to 14.7 even.
a few mins later i turn it off and it reads 13.2 again.
hmm lol
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Astrofarian » April 22nd 2014, 4:17am

Bad ground @ dashboard was a GM flaw in the 90's...hook a booster cable to the battery neg & ground it under the dash....see if that makes a difference? Good luck!!
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 22nd 2014, 4:26am

Thanks I'll try that tomorrow and let u know :)
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 22nd 2014, 4:32am

Oh also, if it may be important, I noticed while getting the voltages for you guys a few mins ago... that when i turned on the headlamps to get the charging to start, the sound of my door chime went from crystal clear to more of a distorted chime, and then back to normal again when i turned them off. Never noticed that before i guess because im always driving or reaching into the window.
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby chevymaher » April 22nd 2014, 4:35am

Sounds like a ground. I went through mine years ago. Straightened alot of Tom Foolery out.
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Lumpy » April 22nd 2014, 6:44am

"Ground" is an amazing concept put into practice when it comes to vehicles. The low voltage, high current situation in vehicles is a lot different than the higher voltage and lower current we might be used to in 120v home gizmos.

Loose grounds, bad grounds, corroded grounds, small wire size grounds (or positive connections) are a much bigger problem than when our kitchen blender has a weak connection to it's AC power supply.

That's why "The Big 3" typically makes such a dramatic difference when people perform the mods.

Big wires with tight connections rule!


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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby RECox286 » April 22nd 2014, 4:48pm

Weird ! Never have had anything like that happen in over 40 years of "tinkering".

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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 23rd 2014, 3:09am

Astrofarian wrote:Bad ground @ dashboard was a GM flaw in the 90's...hook a booster cable to the battery neg & ground it under the dash....see if that makes a difference? Good luck!!


Welp that didn't seem to make any difference but... !
I started pulling fuses while under the dash and the first one i tried 'DRL' fixed my issue. The gauge immediately jumped right up and after restarts its perfect. As soon as i plug DRL fuse back in and restart i get the problem.
Im assuming thats the daytime running lights? What else is on that circuit..
time to browse the forums i think lol

So far turning on headlights helps.. and pulling the DRL fuse. I wish i hadn't gone to my dayjob all day today.. this is way more exciting :)
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 23rd 2014, 10:53pm

Does anyone happen to have the wiring diagram for the DRL circuit on the 93?
I noticed i have other probs on that one as well with the left light not turning on fully etc.

I have some tranny fluid issues right now so im fixing that but i'd like to suss out wtf is up with this charging thing this weekend :)
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Astrofarian » April 24th 2014, 4:44am

chevymaher wrote:Sounds like a ground. I went through mine years ago. Straightened alot of Tom Foolery out.



Your "light not turning on fully" is a CLASSIC ground issue. Or think of it as an poor connection...whatever. Do like Lumpy said and upgrade some cables. You'll be amazed what a difference it can make. Elec gremlins are no fun but beating one down ROCKS!!!
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 24th 2014, 8:10am

Astrofarian wrote:
chevymaher wrote:Sounds like a ground. I went through mine years ago. Straightened alot of Tom Foolery out.



Your "light not turning on fully" is a CLASSIC ground issue. Or think of it as an poor connection...whatever. Do like Lumpy said and upgrade some cables. You'll be amazed what a difference it can make. Elec gremlins are no fun but beating one down ROCKS!!!


Yep, i've been reading about the 'big three' earlier and i'm totally up for that. I went through those wires the other day and cleaned everything up but i'd never have thought upgrading the cables would benefit anything. Reading all the posts about upgrading has me stoked even if it doesn't fix my issue... It can only help plus it'l give my OCD a thrill lol
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby chevymaher » April 24th 2014, 12:47pm

Honestly it seems to be the junction block where it goes through the firewall. It has weak ground and positive looses volts going through it. Only so many amps pass at one time. Consequentially voltage drops. I went through all this because my volt gauge drops when you turn on things. Lights A/C etc. Each additional thing causes a additional 1/2 volt drop on the gauge or so. I took out the gauges and soldered wires on the back of the gauge. Gauge is perfect it is the power supply.
I ran a ground to cab body. Factory it is on the radiator core support and has to make a long journey to where you need it. That straightened out radio buzz issues and interior light dimness.
I ran a hot to the gauge on the wire I soldered on. Basically bypassing the junction through the firewall from my fan relay. Solved the amp/volt drop when you turn things on. But i had the wire running through the door. I never ran the power it through the wire wall permanent. The additional grounding solved the gremlins. Everthing worked and I knew what the problem was. Case closed I just dont worry about it.
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby JaxSPL » April 27th 2014, 2:08am

I'm having somewhat the same issue as skooks. My voltage gauge will read properly one time, but not the next, and sometimes it jumps all over the place. I just replaced both the alternator and battery and still having the same problem.

I've started the Big 3 upgrade, but haven't finished. Just got to connect all the wires and haven't had the time. I believe that will fix the problem. Luckily for skooks he doesn't have a 95. I don't think (might be wrong though) he has that electronic transmission. When my voltage drops, the transmission starts behaving badly and goes into limp mode. Not good.

Skooks, keep us updated on how things are and if/if not you got it fixed. Have patience my friend, it's well worth it.
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 29th 2014, 6:13am

Yeah, JaxSPL, that must be what was happening to my van the other day... the voltage messing with my shifting! I was totally in limp mode when the voltage dropped. Instead of thinking that was the cause i went and put off upgrading the big three to change out the old old tranny fluid instead LOL. ugh. Its shifted fine since, and it needed changing for sure but... thanks for that post.

My favourite store 'Princess auto' here sells 4 gauge welding cable for cheap so i picked up some for the upgrade and i already have some side terminal adapter extension thingies and good wire lugs etc. Im all set. Will let you know how that goes on the weekend.
I also have a (15 dollar) 93 Electrical FSM from ebay still in the mail that im stoked to get my hands on. If anyone in the future needs anything from it ill hook you up :)

Oh also i dont see any factory ground strap from block to chassis while snooping around under there with 4 tires still on the ground.... anyone know where its supposed to be? Ill just run my own i guess but not seeing one makes me think there isnt one.. and i cant see that as being too good lol
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » April 29th 2014, 6:27am

Oh and chevymayer..
junction block at the firewall... are you referring to the one behind the battery with the 4 fusable links?
(or 3 since it appears i only have 3 wires coming from it. And i dont see any signs that there ever was a 4th wire far right) hmm
I cant wait for that electrical FSM ...
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby chevymaher » April 29th 2014, 10:56am

Skooks wrote:Oh and chevymayer..
junction block at the firewall... are you referring to the one behind the battery with the 4 fusable links?
(or 3 since it appears i only have 3 wires coming from it. And i dont see any signs that there ever was a 4th wire far right) hmm
I cant wait for that electrical FSM ...

Yes that is the one. Mine has 4 and I am sure it is different on the various years.
Mine has been removed sometime in the past and replaced with a bolt down style junction block.
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Re: Weird charging issue

Postby Skooks [OP] » May 18th 2014, 9:00am

I thought about starting another thread to deal with my DRL issue, but its seems obvious now that its totally related so i might as well.. here..

As i said earlier my charging doesnt kick in unless i turn on my headlights lol
When i pull the DRL fuse everything seems fine, chargewise.
I have the wiring diagrams and thought it would be simple but im stumped now.
iF anyone here is an electrical wizz i'd love some input.

Here's the deal..
Headlights ON with engine OFF ----- low and high beams work perfectly.
The left headlight grounds through the inactive DRL relay and back to chassis.

in RUN, headlights OFF ----- DRL's 'appear' to be ok.
Proper fuse voltage goes through the DRL relay, activating it, thus turning that left headlight ground wire into the power wire... by allowing proper DRL fuse voltage to travel through it, straight to the left headlight. It then goes thru that left high beam in series to the other highbeam.. which effectively cuts the voltage to each light in half.
So all appears well?
(but my voltage now shows very low on gauge and van struggles electrically.. and doesnt jump up where it should until i turn on headlight switch...)

in RUN, headlights ON ----- my left headlight stays dim on high and low beam, but the right headlight works proper.
In this state the headlight switch is supposed to send power to the DRL module and tell it to deactivate the relay so that the normal headlights can work normal again. but the module isnt deactivating the relay.
(but my voltage moves back up proper on gauge and stops 'struggling')

The first thing i did was test the relay and i can get it to work fine on the workbench. So i went to the wreckers and grabbed a new module for 5 bucks but that didnt do the trick. So i checked all the voltages at the module and got some peculiar readings.

Theres still 6 volts on the yellow wire from the light switch to the module, even with the headlight switch off, in RUN.
the switch is fine. Where is that voltage coming from? is it backfeeding somehow? it can only be the module which its not supposed to, or the headlamp switch which is fine, or the highbeam 'dimmer' switch, which is fine. Or i guess from a short or something in that wire somewhere in the harness? it looks fine and theres continuity etc.
Everything ive learned about electricity i think ive learned in the past few weeks so am i missing something obvious?
Somehow theres a lot of voltage kicking around and without that relay deactivating my left headlamp cant ground while van is running and headlamp switch is on. and when switch is off i assume theres a big enough issue that its messing with my whole system.

Playing with the parking brake (which should also enable and disable the module, like the light switch) affects the voltage gauge too.

I dont know if i should just forget about solving it and live with it or what lol.
But if anyone has any advice or even succeeds in understanding anything i just typed ;) then feel free to offer anything, or ask anything.
I can try to scan the diagram but it takes up 4 regular size paper so ill have to do some serious editing, if it helps.
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Time: 5:08pm
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