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40 Buick special not charging battery


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I know this topic has been covered before, but there just doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer. The charging system on my 40 Buick is not working. Checked the generator on the car and it is working. Took generator to two shops, one replaced a bushing, went through it and said it was fine.  About two years later brought it to another shop with the voltage regulator and it worked fine. He adjusted the VR charging rate to 7.7 volts down from a little over 8 volts. I installed it back in the car and it did not work. Then I put a 10 ga. wire ground from the VR to the frame. It worked then, but was buzzing unusually loud which could be heard inside the car when driving.  Took it back to O Reiles auto parts and replaced it with a new one. Now the new one does not work. Installed and wired the same way. Even changed the ground cable (flat weaved type) from batt to engine. New one had less than half the resistance than the old one.  Still don’t work. The car has a new wire harness on it. Double checked that the VR and generator was wired correctly too. Any ideas. Thank, Tom

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Not sure if they make a 6v version but you can get a lookalike alternator that has all the regulation internal. Basically takes all the external unknowns out. Runs straight to your starter/battery. And that's it. 
 

Here is the mistake that most people make. They disregard the existing wiring configuration because THAT could not be the problem. They disconnect this and that and make sure all goes back the way it was but they never actually Check The Wiring. So here is what I would suggest. Disconnect everything you can find that isn't associated with just the starter, the coil and the battery. If you have voltage to the coil and you turn the starter, the car will start with nothing else connected. 
 

Start the vehicle and check the voltage at the battery. If you have to go buy a cheap multimeter then do it. If you don't know how to work it then Google it. It ain't that difficult. Set it to DC and see what you read at the positive terminal. if it's still bad go back and check the wiring at the regulator. And I mean actually look at each connection. There are many charts that show how it should be wired. Assume nothing.

 

I suspect something was wired wrong when the harness was installed and it has never been corrected. Google how each component should be connected. Again, if you've removed everything, there won't be much left to be wrong. If you get that far and there is good voltage to the battery then start reconnecting things and watch the voltage at the battery. If you already found the problem then the rest is gravy and if you haven't then the problem should present itself as you reconnect. 
 

Just remember "The guys at ORieley will NEVER fix your problem. Only YOU can do that".

Edited by Skidplate (see edit history)
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Thanks for the input. I have checked the voltage at the battery while the engine is revved up. Never showed more than 6 volts. Should be about 7.5. It worked with the noisy voltage regulator. The noisy voltage regulator was continually charging the battery as long as we were accelerating. The battery was fully charged. The ground wire between the regulator and frame fixed that. It worked with the noisy regulator, so I’m thinking my new regulator is bad.  At least the cut out for the battery on the regulator.  I like your idea of eliminating all the other electrical components on the car. Will try that. 

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Get an NOS Delco regulator, not the modern stuff from the parts store. They never work correctly. As a test, you can ground the field wire to make the generator go to 100% output, which you'll see on the ammeter. That way you know your generator is good. Basically, that's all the regulator is doing anyway. I always perform this simple test before I replace anything so I know which component is suspect. I'm with the others in thinking that the regulator is junk. Pay the $60 or $90 that an NOS unit costs and hopefully that will work correctly for you.

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Was that still true in 40? I didn't think so, but I might be a year or two off. At some point Buick started using the "GEN" or "ARM" terminal for the starter system ground.

 

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I found this note on an ad for a modern replacement for a voltage regulator: 
 Note: Due to modern battery design, voltage regulators can’t be used to charge low or dead batteries. Doing so will destroy the voltage regulator and void the warranty. 

Your humming modern regulator may have been ruined by being used on a low battery.  6-Volt Delco Type Voltage Regulator (Standard Quality) - The Brillman Company

 

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One probably shouldn't be relying on the car to charge up a dead battery anyway, but the idea that you can't is completely nuts. LOL! Who engineered that? Don't buy that regulator.

 

As for buzzing, they work by buzzing! That's how they regulate. I don't recall it ever being objectionable, or even being able to hear it with the engine running unless the lid was off the regulator.

 

The system is designed to protect itself. There are three relays. 1) a cutout disconnects the generator when it is not charging 2) a voltage regulator that buzzes away when the battery is full, and 3) a current regulator that only does anything when the battery is low. I imagine it buzzes too, but you'll probably never have the opportunity to hear it. What on earth did they do to this new regulator so that it can't charge a low battery? Leave out the current regulator relay entirely? Replace it with a fuse? Maybe rivet the cover on so you can't see?

 

In 1940, heck even in 1980 there was a difference between a regulator for positive and negative ground. This is because there are various precious metals on the points to allow for long contact life. Two points that contacted each other would be of different metals. For positive ground that all needed to be done in reverse. Now there is no difference between a replacement regulator for a positive or negative ground car. How can that be? Did they just leave the silver and platinum or palladium or whatever out altogether? Precious metals are expensive. Hmmm....

 

New regulators don't weigh anything. How can that be? Regulators are made of magnetic steel parts and copper wire. I wonder what they leave out to make them that light? The copper maybe? Copper is expensive. I suppose aluminum wire could be made to work, but the wire would have to be bigger and that would require re-engineering the relays. Hmmm....

 

There isn't much to go wrong with a regulator. Most of the old ones work or almost work. You typically don't need new. Of course a catastrophic failure of a regulator is possible, and then maybe you need another, but usually it is just dirty points that can be cleaned by dragging brake kleen soaked paper between the points. If that doesn't work maybe one drag of a tiny file. You don't want to lose the platinum or whatever is in there. Less is more with the file. Worst case the voltage may need to be set.

 

I have yet to hear even one success story with recent production regulators. Don't buy that crap.

 

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The theoretical voltages posted above correspond to specific gravity levels in the acid/water mixture that can be checked with a hydrometer. Anything less that about 1.93 volts per cell and the battery is getting damaged. If it sits long at all, it will be too sulphated to recover. Additionally, discharged batteries freeze easily in cold weather and this often breaks lead plates away from their attachments, disconnecting some of them. In the old days, the cases used to break. That happens less now with soft plastic cases, but the internal damage still occurs.

 

Voltage checks on a battery are great in theory. In real life, they are like solutions to engineering problems that involve a spherical cow, not very useful. Save voltage checks for the charging system where they are useful, and where tenths of a volt really are significant.

 

The best you can do with a completely dead battery is make sure the plates are covered and if not add water, charge a long time with a real battery charger and hope it still works. If it is good enough to start the car, that is a good sign. You are still not out of the woods, as it may be good enough to crank the engine, but still too sulphated to take a charge properly in the car. Drive it for a week. If the battery hasn't gone dead and the car still starts, call it a win.

 

Once again, the idea that a car's regulator cannot be allowed to charge a dead battery is completely crazy. It is definitely not the best way to charge a dead battery, but the system is designed to protect itself from overcurrent. That's why it has a current regulator. Also, it is the *generator* that is really in the most immediate danger in an overcurrent situation, not the regulator.

 

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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Great information from all the guys posting. Still waiting for a follow-up from the original poster to see if the vintage NORS NIEHOFF voltage regulator he just purchased on eBay has taken care of the problem. Bill, please give us an update, when you can. John

Edited by Jolly_John (see edit history)
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5 hours ago, Bloo said:

In real life, they are like solutions to engineering problems that involve a spherical cow...

Ha - never heard that one before!  I'll add that to my 'come-back' rolodex.  :P

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Hi guys, installed the Niehoff VR today and drove the car 83 miles. Turned the headlights on for 15 minutes and the gauge never showed a charge. Checked the battery when we got home, using a volt meter between the battery posts while revving the engine and it only showed 6.3 volts. After shutting down the engine the battery checked out at a little over 6.3 volts. It was at 6.49 volts when we left for the ride.  We could have taken the car right home to continue working on the VR, but the weather was fantastic and the sun was shinning, so we stretched out the test drive.  The Niehoff VR does not have a place to attach a ground wire, so in the next day or two I intend to remove it from the car and drill a hole in its base and use a screw to attach the 10 gauge ground wire. And yes, we remembered to polarize it.  I use the chart as a way to determine what is happening with the battery. Getting a charge or not. Last fall we drove the car for just short of 200 miles. It ran great, but had to push start it at a gas stop.                                          
     I had a pleasant conversation with Dave Tacheny today on the subject. He said he will call me back in a few days to see if he can find a good Delco VR. He also said he is getting rid of his 1940 and 41 parts and intends to be in Cleveland this year. Food for thought. 

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1 hour ago, Business_As_Usual said:

The Niehoff VR does not have a place to attach a ground wire

How many wires did your old regulator have? I hope three? GEN-ARM-FLD ?

 

There should be two wires going to the generator from the regulator (plus a third for a ground if it has one, has that been addeed?). Big wire goes to "A" at generator end and "GEN" or "ARM" at regulator end.

Small wire goes to "F" at generator end and "F" or "FLD" at regulator end.

Big wire from main harness goes to "BAT" on regulator.

If there is a small wire from the automatic start wiring, it also goes to "GEN" or "ARM" on the regulator. It probably won't start without.

 

See if all that is ok. If you have to correct anything, re-polarize and try again.

 

Yeah, I'd rather have a Delco regulator, and if Dave offers one I'd probably grab it, but Niehoff made high quality stuff. This regulator should work fine.

 

Try grounding the "F" terminal on the generator with a jumper wire for a test. That should make it charge a lot. Don't leave it that way, it's too much, just test. If that doesn't make it charge, the generator may need inspection.

 

 

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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Already did the ground the field terminal test and the generator worked fine. I’m going to go over all the ground cables and wires and see if that helps. That noisy VR worked, which leads me to believe it is the VR. Not sure how old this Niehoff one is, but I will open it up and see what, if anything transpired inside.  I agree with Bloo, Niehoff did make quality parts. Did not have time to work on it today, sorry to say.  I have the shop manual and a 1940 Motors manual. It is a three post VR, Bat, Arm, and Field from left to right, like is shown in the manuals, and I have checked the wires many times for correct wiring. I did change a ground point from the body to the frame. I’m going to try to go back to the original body ground point to see if that works, like it did with the noisy VR.   Thanks to all for your input. 

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Did manage to run a ground wire from the VR to the frame today.  Drilled the hole, used a self tapping screw from an old VR, and attached the ground wire before mounting VR on firewall. I did not tap a dimple in the VR to start the hole. Didn’t want to take a chance on damaging the VR.  Didn’t have the time to test it yet, so I’ll have to wait till late next week. 

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All voltage regulators issue a buzzing sound because that is how they regulate the current and voltage.   It is important that the mounting holes have the rubber grommets in place as they will lessen the sound you hear and the cover should be on securely.   It looks to me that you have done everything correctly given all the good advice from the contributors to this thread.

Joe, BCA 33493

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