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1951 Buick Super Riviera Charging Issues

Guest pastortim

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Guest pastortim

Dear Friends,

I recently purchased a 1951 Buick Super Riviera with 70,000 miles on her.

For some reason the battery is not charging causing the car to run really bad when the charge goes down.

I don't know anything about these cars, I basically bought the car to re-sell...so by the way if your looking for one, here it is!

I looked online to see if I could replace the generator and couldn't find any!

The car is super clean and I would really like to fix the charging problem.

The gauge shows the needle to the left I think there is a D on that side and a C on the other side. It stays towards the D side.post-110912-143143107296_thumb.jpg




















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You could try tapping the voltage regulator with a screwdriver handle 3 or 4 times. Sometimes they stick especially if the car is not used very much.

And just generally look over the wiring for loose or frayed wires on the generator and regulator.

Other than that, suggest you call around for a good auto electric shop to diagnose and repair it properly. It is unlikely your generator has failed although not impossible. You really need to diagnose the problem and do not waste money replacing random parts that may be ok.

If you know any old car guys in your area they may be able to recommend a mechanic. Any good auto electric shop should be able to fix it but it is best to find one that is familiar with the older models.

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Just adding to Rusty's comments. Connections can be an issue, so you can undo the generator terminals, clean with fine sandpaper and reconnect. Ditto with the regulator.

I don't know your skill level, so I'm hesitant to suggest any other service procedures, but I see what looks like a shop manual, and they give a good breakdown on how to diagnosis these problems, which if you decide to outsource the problem might help.

Bear in mind that the wiring can have various issues, and the insulation can be very brittle after so many years, so handle with care.

It does look like a nice car.


Edited by Buicknutty (see edit history)
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A slipping fan belt could be the problem. The fan belt should be looser than on an alternator car. It should be tight but not too tight, if you press down in between the pulleys with your thumb it should deflect about 3/4 of an inch with light pressure. Like squeezing a melon to see if it is ripe. It should not be too hard or too soft. If it is real loose adjusting the belt may be all it needs.

I sensed from the question that he is not technically minded. That is why I tried to give a non technical answer. It looks like a really nice car. An amateur could really mess it up, and waste more money than hiring a professional.

Believe it or not there are lots of auto electric rebuilders who can work on old generators, starters and regulators. I am not saying all of them, but they are around, especially in small town and rural areas where there are a lot of old tractors and farm machines still in service. And in cities there should be at least one shop that caters to the vintage car and industrial engine camps.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)
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Guest pastortim

The gauge shows the needle to the left I think there is a D on that side and a C on the other side. It stays towards the D side.

Should it be on the C side or D?

Thank you everyone for such great advise, I am not mechanically inclined haha

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D= Discharge


Before you start the needle should be in the middle. Turn on the key it should go slightly toward D. Start the engine it should go toward C. Rev up the engine it should go more toward C.

A generator does not charge much if at all, at idle. It puts out more electricity the faster it goes. Max output around 30 MPH.

When you go for a drive the gauge should go toward C, possibly up to 1/4 of the way, if the battery is low. As the battery charges up it will slowly drop to just barely to the right of the line.

With the battery low, I have driven for up to an hour before the gauge came down but, normally it should be barely above the middle line when the battery is charged up.

In traffic with the engine idling, and with headlights, radio, etc turned on it may go into D but go back to C once you get moving.

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If the needle is always on the D side even with the engine running the charging system is not working. The problem could be the fan belt, the generator, the voltage regulator or the wiring. It could be something as simple as a loose wire or corroded wire. Maybe the voltage regulator needs to be cleaned and adjusted. Or it could mean you need a rebuilt generator.

The only way to be sure is to have someone examine the car, test the generator and diagnose the problem. Unless you know a real, real old mechanic you will need an auto electric specialist. The average young mechanic today has never even seen a car with a generator. Alternators began in 1961 so you can imagine. But, auto electric rebuilders deal with generators all the time since they are still found on farm machinery, industrial engines, and cars like yours.

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Do you have a battery charger? Could be a good investment. At least you can plug it in and charge your battery, making it possible to drive the car limited distances and saving the battery from being ruined.

Make sure you get one that charges either 6 volt or 12 volt batteries. Some only do 12 volt, that kind is no good to you.

A cheap one is fine as long as it is 6 volt. The cheap one charges slower but that is actually better for the battery than a quick charge. The charger can be left on overnight, or for a couple of days and will do no harm. Some, called "battery tenders" are made to be left on all the time when the car is out of use.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)
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You might just try the standard diagnostic test; run the engine at atleast a fast idle and watch the ammeter while you BRIEFLY use a short jumper wire and ground the Field terminal at the generator or regulator to ground - don't leave it connected any longer than necessary. If while the Field terminal is grounded the ammeter shows a very healthy charge, your regulator is at fault. If it shows no charge the generator is at fault.

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Guest pastortim

I followed the advise given here, I went and cleaned all of the ends and connectors, replaced one wire and put new connectors on the regulator, started it up and immediately went to the center, gave a little gas and went over to the C. I took her for a ride and she stayed on the C the whole time except when Idle it went to middle!

Started right back up every time!


She will make someone very happy someday!


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