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Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems Vol. 2: Projects

Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems Vol. 2: Projects

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Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems Vol. 2: Projects

427 pagine
2 ore
May 15, 2015


In this revised edition, brilliant color photos and explanatory step-by-step captions detail the installation of the most popular, functional, and beneficial upgrades for enthusiasts of varying skill levels. This volume is essential for anyone looking to upgrade his or her classic vehicle to modern standards.
May 15, 2015

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Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems Vol. 2 - Tony Candela


Thank you for picking up my second foray into the topic of automotive wiring. This book is designed to give you clear and concise step-by-step directions for completing the most common electrical projects of a performance nature. Here, you will find information that is presented in real-world terms that you easily understand: quite the contrast from the typical installation manual that you don’t read anyway. Heck, we don’t need no stinkin’ manual.

I think you’ll really enjoy this book because, quite simply, it picks up where the installation manual leaves off. Admittedly, some excellent installation manuals are included with aftermarket products, such as those included with MSD ignition products. But they stick to a fairly straight path. This book presents a lot of what if scenarios and provides the answers. I’ve included every photo and diagram that I think you’ll find necessary to get you to the Promised Land. In addition, if I use a specific tool or part, I give you the information that you need to obtain it. Remember, the objective of any project is to complete the work correctly the first time.

Does this look familiar? It is an example of the just get it done attitude, and it is all too common with enthusiasts’ prized possessions. Can you imagine how difficult this is to service? Are all circuits protected properly? Sometimes, it can be difficult even to begin fixing a problem like this. After all, where do you start? The best recipe is to avoid it altogether.

The projects in this book are laid out in such a way that the first ones are the easiest to comprehend and complete, and the later ones are the most difficult. Trust me, I’m a seasoned professional with more than 25 years of experience in this field, and the 1941 Willys in Chapter 6 threw me a couple of curve balls! But have no fear, I show you the solution to every challenge I encountered. I’m confident that you’ll find something between these covers that has been on your to do list. I’m also confident that you’ll find something here to add to your list.

If you’ve read my first book, Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems (CarTech SA160), you can look at this book as Part 2. Maybe you own the first book, or maybe you just borrowed your buddy’s copy. If you haven’t read it, that’s okay, too. If you find that the content of this book assumes that you know the basics, you are correct. If you’re a little rusty when it comes to making solid electrical connections, using a digital multimeter, or being sure of the difference between SPST and SPDT relays, you may choose to pick up a copy of Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems. (I may from time to time refer to specific chapters or pages of Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems for additional information that pertains specifically to the projects featured in this book.) I’m confident that you’ll find the information in this book easy to digest, informative, and valuable.

I’m fortunate to have so many friends with hot rods, and many of them are featured here. All of the work shown was done in either my garage or one of theirs. Although I spent years working in the best installation facilities (and still have a few of them available to me), this is proof to you that you can easily do these projects in your garage, under your carport, or in your driveway.

Before we get our hands dirty, I’ll share a story with you that I think you’ll relate to. Shortly after Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems went to print, a friend of a friend contacted me about his Mustang, a 1967 Shelby Eleanor clone. Chris, the owner, complained to me that he had some electrical problems that he needed help sorting out. I scheduled time to meet him to see if I could offer some assistance.

When I arrived, I was blown away by the yellow-and-black paint scheme of this car. It had the right wheels, the right stance, and the right engine: a healthy 347 stroker engine that made about 450 hp. What a gorgeous car; I’d park this steed in my stable any day! As we talked, I realized that he had owned this vehicle for nearly four years but hadn’t driven it even 200 miles in that time. Why? Simple. He was scared to death that the electrical gremlins in the car would strand him or, worse yet, cause an electrical fire. A friend of his had recently had his project car catch fire in his garage, and it burned his house to the ground.

As I looked the vehicle over, I realized that it was not very different from many that I see at local gatherings. Specifically, numerous aftermarket accessories had been added to a completely stock electrical system. Sure, this car had a brand-new reproduction wiring harness in it, but it still had similar current-carrying capabilities as the original wiring harness. After all, it was designed to replace an old, worn-out, hacked-up one and power the exact same stock Ford accessories installed in the car. This vehicle was fitted with these aftermarket electronics:

•MSD 6AL ignition system. 7 amps maximum; no worries here

•18-inch electric fan

•2 pairs of PIAA fog lights. Remember, this is an Eleanor clone

•Auto Meter gauges. No worries; current draw is on par with the factory gauges

•Kenwood AM/FM/CD player. No worries; current draw is minimal

•Aftermarket A/C. The repro harness addressed this, so no worries

Chris was really concerned; when he parked the car overnight, the battery would be totally dead in the morning. Try as he did, he was unable to determine the source of this problem. He had several friends try to help him solve this problem. After four years, and having the dash out of the car numerous times to no avail (a real pain in the neck!), he felt it was time to resolve these issues so he could begin enjoying this car. I agreed to help, and he dropped the vehicle off at my house for a week.

The first thing I did was measure the current draw on the battery with the ignition off and both doors closed. I recorded more than 3 amps; that’s a bunch. Yep, time to remove the negative cable so that I don’t run the brand-new battery flat; he had just purchased it the day before.

When I dig into a problem like this, I typically don’t look for the problem. Huh? Let me explain. Based on what Chris told me, I felt there were numerous minor problems to be uncovered, and boy, was I right. You see, Chris had given me enough information to determine that there could have been problems that he wasn’t even aware of; the first hint was the fact that numerous people had attempted to help him resolve the current-draw problem. There could be no telling what I would find. Sure, he had a list of things that didn’t work or didn’t work properly that he wanted fixed, but none of them was in any way tied to the major problems. Those would be the current draw and the source of power for that current-hungry 18-inch electric fan. Time to get to work.

This is how a completed wiring project should turn out. Note the vast amount of electronics in the tin of the 1967 Nova street/strip vehicle (profiled in Chapter 5). Careful planning went into this project. Each circuit and relay has the appropriate protection, and all of the wiring is laid out with an eye toward serviceability.

After two days of fixing smaller problems, and I found many, it was time to dig into the current-draw problem. I had the car totally apart and had access to the complete wiring harness, so I was able to quickly determine the root of the problem. After I’d unplugged every fuse in the fuse panel, disconnected the Kenwood stereo, and disconnected the ignition box, I still had the same current draw. A quick look under the hood, and I was staring directly at the external voltage regulator for the alternator. I had it unplugged in seconds, and the current draw dropped to about .5 amp.

As I probed the regulator harness with my digital multimeter, I noticed that the I terminal (ignition) had 12 volts on it with the key off. This caused the magnetic field of the rotor to be energized, which was the source of most of the current draw. It took me a little while longer to determine that the ignition switch was wired incorrectly, causing the problem. The same circuit that powered the regulator was also the source of power for the gauge cluster. When I addressed the problem, the current draw dropped to zero; as in, not even a milliamp.

Now, let’s look at this from a little different perspective. If I would have attacked this problem the way most people do, I would have likely found the current draw from the regulator. I could have then assumed that the wiring harness was wired incorrectly, cut the wire to the regulator, and run a new one to the ignition. After all, current draw would have been reduced to about .5 amp. And the electric fan worked, so why mess with it? This is absolutely not the way to tackle such a problem.

And that fan? Well, further investigation revealed that its 14-gauge power wire (too small) was spliced into the 18-gauge wire from the ignition switch (unfused) to the MSD ignition. This splice was behind the main A/C vent assembly and extremely difficult to access. It was soldered, but the connection had seen so much heat through it that it had melted about 2 inches of insulation in every direction away from the connection. This confirmed Chris’ worst fear; a fire was a definite possibility. Rest assured, I fixed this, and all of the other problems on his list, the correct way.

Two months after Chris got his car back from me, I saw it parked at a local car show. He was so excited to be driving and enjoying it. He exclaimed, I haven’t driven it in two weeks, got in it this morning, and it started right up. And everything still works!

Each of the projects in this book can be approached in the right way or in the wrong way. I show you how to tackle each one in the correct way, in a way that I think you’ll easily grasp. The result is that you’ll be able to avoid the heartache Chris endured and enjoy your vehicle.

This 1967 Mustang is one sweet ride, and it draws a crowd everywhere it goes. For four years after it was built, the owner wrestled with electrical gremlins of all kinds and was scared to drive it. Now that the electrical is solid, the owner can enjoy the car without fear of it not starting the next morning.



Before beginning, I should note that this book makes the assumption that the vehicle you own has a 12-volt negative-ground charging system. That is, the vehicle is equipped with a 12-volt battery, and its negative terminal is connected to the vehicle chassis. If you own a vehicle with a 6-volt or even a positive-ground charging system, the theory still applies, but the specifics do not.

Safety First

Generally speaking, an automobile presents a number of challenges when a person is working on or adding to the electrical system. Very high currents are possible in a 12-volt system; short circuits can be very dangerous and can quickly cause fires. In addition, accessing or routing wiring in many areas requires you to contort your body into the weirdest of positions.

You need more than a basic understanding of and respect for the complexity of the electrical systems in today’s vehicles to work on them competently. When in doubt, seek the advice of a professional, even if it means paying that person to do the work. Making simple mistakes can have serious consequences.

Hazards Presented by On-Board Computers

Modern vehicles have many luxuries that we now take for granted, including fuel injection, a fully electronic automatic transmission, an antilock brake system (ABS), variable valve timing, a supplemental restraint system (SRS), and many more. Each of these requires lots of decision-making power, power found in an on-board computer.

Working on vehicles with on-board computers requires specialized tools. I strongly discourage the use of a standard incandescent test light on any vehicle with an on-board computer. I also discourage connecting 12 volts or ground to any wire that you’re not 100 percent sure what it’s connected to. I certainly wouldn’t do this in modern vehicles. Even the radio harness in today’s vehicles can include numerous connections to on-board computers, such as the vehicle speed sensing (VSS) circuit or a data connection to a vehicle locator, as examples. Don’t be a cowboy here. Only make connections to wiring you’ve verified.

Finally, many of the connections between computers in the modern vehicle are of a new variety. Different BUS systems (such as CANbus and MOST bus) are used in some vehicles, and the information transmitted on them is digital. Fiber-optic cables may also be used to pass information digitally between components.

Again, if in doubt, I recommend that you contact a professional. It’s less expensive to swallow your pride than to pay for a costly mistake.

Disconnecting the Battery: When?

When working on or servicing automotive batteries, always wear eye protection. Many automotive batteries have sulfuric acid within them, which is extremely caustic and can cause irreversible damage.

When working on or servicing automotive batteries, remove jewelry, such as rings and watches, as they are great conductors. Should they accidentally come between the positive battery post or terminal and the vehicle chassis, they could cause a short circuit. This results in extremely high current flowing through them, and the resulting heat can cause severe burns to fingers, hand, or wrist.

Never work on or around an automotive battery with a lit cigarette! In addition, keep open flames away from the battery, as they can cause a lead acid battery to explode!

I’ve always been perplexed when the first line in the instructions of any aftermarket product begins with Step 1: Disconnect the Battery. In many cases, this isn’t necessary or advisable. Now, I’m not condoning that you do not follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but you should understand when to disconnect the battery and when not to. Quite simply, you’re disconnecting the battery to eliminate the risk of damaging the vehicle’s electrical system when working on the vehicle; sound judgment, indeed.

I recommend disconnecting the battery when you are:

•Making major changes or additions to the electrical system.

•Making extensive changes to the vehicle’s drivetrain, exhaust, or suspension components.

•Working around a battery in tight quarters; the end of a wrench or ratchet between the positive battery terminal and the chassis is a good way to get in trouble fast!

•Unplugging a module or computer for any reason.

•Disconnecting any large power wires from anything, such as alternator, starter, fuse box, ignition switch, etc., as these are typically tied right to the battery.

•Welding to the chassis, frame, or body.

•Drilling holes through the firewall; a drill bit can quickly pierce a harness as it breaks through and short it to ground!

The above are simply common sense. Chapter 1 of Automotive Wiring and Electrical Systems includes more information on safety. Even the correct way to disconnect and reconnect a battery

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