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Driving from Texas to South America in an '87 4runner

Old 08-20-2012, 03:05 PM
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Looks like a fantastic journey. I am eagerly awaiting each new post.
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Old 08-21-2012, 07:19 AM
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We wrote a short article, discussing the finer points between driving, backpacking, cycling, or traveling the world by motorcycle. This one's for all of our readers who are contemplating how to go about their journey...however we would love some feedback in the comments section if you have relevant experience, feel free to contribute to the discussion!

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Old 09-07-2012, 01:36 PM
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Hey Brenton and Shannon. I happened across your site when I was researching OME springs. Fantastic documentation of all this. I'll be reading through it all. Congrats on getting married too!
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Old 09-10-2012, 06:21 PM
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The 4Runner is possessed! I guess we asked for it...

Thanks for the virtual hug Ocell and thanks again to all you Yota-lovers reading our little thread.

Just about a month ago Shannon and I were chatting in the shower (I know you're jealous already but I couldn't resist). I mentioned that so far our journey has been all rainbows and unicorns...no getting stuck to our knees in mud, we're never hopelessly lost (just slightly lost), and no frustrating breakdowns so far. I told her that I want to push the vehicle further along with our own limits, trying to bring some adventure into this little road trip of ours.

I was surprised when Shannon fully agreed and we made plans to get silly when we head into the PetÚn region. Keep in mind the PetÚn is the Amazon of Central America...also keep in mind that we'll be passing thru during the wet season. What better way to spend our honeymoon, right? What a gal.

Little did I realize, that the very first DAY that we head in that general direction we get surprised by maniacal electrical gremlins.

So I'm driving up into the mountains, out of the Lake Atitlan area and I suddenly notice that my brake light comes on. That's not uncommon, since I usually have a bandanna tied around my parking brake and it sometimes gets caught extended just enough to trip the switch and set off the light. Not this time...there's no bandanna, and I check three times to make sure the parking brake is all the way off.

Shannon asks me what that means (which is usually best to ask AFTER I've figured it out), so I tell her it could just be low on brake fluid. Except for the fact that I had just topped off the brake fluid before we left. So I pull over, pop the hood and take a look. Everything looks great. I take a peak under the 4Runner, and again, everything looks good. Okay, that's weird.

So we take off and as I'm driving I'm playing 20 questions with myself, trying to brainstorm why that stupid light seems to be screaming in my face. Suddenly I remember that the brake light can be the first clue when the alternator isn't putting out enough juice. Well now that you mention it the voltmeter looks like it's reading a little above the halfway mark when it usually reads much higher, almost to the mark just below 18 volts.

So I grab our cheapo slightly questionable voltmeter that we keep plugged into a rear cigarette lighter to monitor our aux/house battery. It says the alternator is bouncing around between 9 and 11 volts. Oh great, it looks like the alternator is gonna bite the dust. So I pull over again and get out my multimeter to get a legitimate reading from the alternator. Of course, my multimeter has failed when I need it most. I take a moment and spray some WD40 directly at the alternator, hoping to displace any water from when I recently washed under the hood (did I forget to mention that tiny detail?).

So I put my faith in the cheapo cigarette lighter voltmeter and tell Shannon we're running strictly on the battery's juice, so we need to get somewhere quick. I luckily find a paid parking lot (parqueo) that's directly across the street from an "electro-mecanico" and around the corner from a parts house. Of course it's raining like that scene from Forest Gump, but at least this parqueo has concrete instead of mud and there's a bathroom, so we make plans to stay the night.

Now in this situation, I've found it's best to throw my hands in the air, maybe shake my fist at the sky...and then get some food and maybe a beer. Luckily across the street we find a comedor (cheap eatery) and we promptly get to it. We come back to find out that the guy who runs the parqueo decides to NOT let us sleep in our vehicle there overnight since they also have hotel rooms. We tell him we're on a budget and we want to sleep in our rig, but it doesn't sound like it was his call anyways. I tell him we're going to find another parqueo to sleep in our vehicle, as long as it starts up.

We were surprised to find out it started back up and now our cheapo voltmeter was reading between 12 and 13 volts. Either there was water messing with the alternator and the WD40 did some magic, or this cheapo voltmeter is as unreliable as I thought. The volt gauge on the 4runner is now looking like normal too so that's vote number two. I decide to press on and closely watch the cheapo voltmeter AND the volt gauge and see if anything acts up.

We make it this way for another two hours and the cheapo voltmeter is eventually looking happier and happier. After a few clicks we're steadily pushing above 13 volts while winding through the Pan-American highway, so I'm thinking we're golden. Thank god I don't have to rebuild the alternator in a muddy parking lot in Antigua, right?

Next thing I know the cheapo cigarette voltmeter is reading even higher and higher. It's steadily above 15 volts and eventually even climbing up to 16.5v. Well that's probably not good.

We're about 20 km outside of Antigua, our destination for free camping until we head to the PetÚn region, and all of a sudden the 4Runner becomes possessed. The LED for the alarm is suddenly flashing super-bright blue, like a hipster that suddenly decided two hits of Ecstacy would be better than one. At the same time the windshield wipers turn on uncontrollably and go into hyperdrive, back and forth like
. The low fuel light is telling me in Morse code to please stop torturing my 4Runner in these strange, foreign lands. Several things are going on at once and it's hard to pay attention, while I'm dodging chicken-buses on the carratera inter-americana. Shannon's freaking out, asking me what's going on before I even have time take my foot off the gas pedal.

Next thing I know there's a big flash/pop. The poltergeist is suddenly gone and a little puft of smoke comes from somewhere around the tilt column or behind the dash directly in front of me. I turn on my hazards and I'm surprised to find that they work and decelerate into the shoulder. Luckily the engine is still going, but all of the gauges are dead except for the speedo. The clock, radio, and any cab lights are toast and the cheapo cigarette lighter voltmeter tells me nothing aside from "I told you so". Bastard.

I get out and check under the hood, everything looks normal (and clean!) . I test the headlights, brake-lights, and running lights and they all work. Now I have to decide between dealing with this right here and now, in the middle of sketchy-town Guatemala, or keep on for another ten minutes to the gringo-comforts of Antigua.



Our wipers stuck in 'poltergeist mode'

So we made it to Antigua with no more problems aside from the fact that our 4Runner is now deaf, dumb, and mute. I know that's not politically correct but our vehicle no longer has feelings at this point. After a decent check-up, it looks like no fuses are fried, I can't find any toasted wiring, the 4Runner won't start back up unless I do the screwdriver trick to the starter, but somehow the aux. battery is fine and dandy. When I restarted the 4Runner, the aux. battery's circuit showed 12.4 volts with the cheapo cigarette-lighter voltmeter so I can only assume that the alternator is officially toast.

Of course our natural reaction after all of this was to head to the nearest bar and indulge in happy-hour Cuba Libres and hot-wings. What better way to take the edge off and contemplate our current situation. Luckily we're stuck in a fun city with free camping and all the comforts of home.

I can't help but wonder if the overcharging alternator fried the wiring between it and the factory fuse block. I wouldn't be surprised if our computer was sacrificed too. Luckily we're only a 30 minute chicken bus-ride away from Chimaltenango, which seems to be the 80's-90's Toyota pickup and 4Runner's life-after-death. Parts should be no problem to find, but I just need to figure out the full situation.

Last edited by Ruined Adventures; 09-11-2012 at 08:21 AM.
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Old 09-10-2012, 06:34 PM
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What are your thoughts?

In Summary:

the alternator got wet...

Then it was overcharging (15-17 volts)...when the 4runner went Poltergeist on me it actually flashed over 24 volts at one point!

Now everything in the cab is dead: the gauges, gauge lights, dome light, clock, radio, cigarette lighter, ignition, alarm.

The isolated aux. battery is fine, along with all of it's associated accessories.

It appears that the alternator is charging, but the vehicle won't start unless I use a screwdriver to jump the terminals on the starter.

I'm just curious what you guys think about all this. I'd love to know if any of you have theories or similar experiences. Let me know, thanks.

Now that I've had a couple drinks to get the wheels turning, I've somewhat fixed the multimeter so hopefully I can figure more out.
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Old 09-10-2012, 06:55 PM
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I think you should start by getting a good multimeter and possibly a proximity tester (this is very helpful at times). You should also pray that the computer isn't dead. The only time I have ever had an odd electrical problem on mine was when I accidentally attached one of the wires for the battery to the block... I was basically shorting everything out. nothing worked at all. well good luck. electrical problems are horrible to try to solve.
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Old 09-10-2012, 07:48 PM
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I'll join along for the ride. Sub'd
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Old 09-11-2012, 03:05 AM
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If you saw the smoke genie come out, you need to trace the cause. Did you bring a wiring schematic of your rig? Start tracing wires, sounds like your ignition wire may have arced, not sure. Since you are driving a 20 plus year old vehicle on some really bumpy roads you could be pushing the vibration limits of the wiring and rubbing wire housings on metal will eventually wear thru. Also double check your fuses, and the fuseable links under the hood.
Alternators do not care about water...ever notice that they are not sealed and driving thru any puddle will through water right up into them? I would get a decent Voltmeter to check the alternator condition while it idles, should push out arounf 14volts.
Sorry i can't give you a definitive answer, but you lwill need to start taking the dash and column abpart to look for the faulty wire, oh, and also make sure you did'nt trip the circuit breaker next to the fuse box. I can't recall what the breaker controls, but one of them is for the electric windows(if you have them.

good luck
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Old 09-11-2012, 08:20 AM
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Thanks for tips guys, on my way to find a new multimeter...turns out that is possessed too!

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that we currently have a very active volcano in our backyard?

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Old 09-12-2012, 03:58 PM
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Any luck finding the problem? Sounds like a chafed wire as already said.
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Old 09-12-2012, 07:21 PM
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did you make sure one of the little rubber grommets didn't fall out of the firewall?
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Old 09-14-2012, 05:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Ruined Adventures View Post
Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that we currently have a very active volcano in our backyard?

And, now may be in full eruption mode today from press reports here in the U.S. Stay safe!
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Old 09-15-2012, 08:57 AM
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I was talking to my dad about your electrical problems. He is an electrician but he said that it could be the voltage regulator just because of the volts going up and down before it finally stopped. I don't know. he knows a lot more about this stuff then I.

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Old 09-15-2012, 09:14 AM
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Voltage regulator is what I was thinking also. Perhaps it let the alt put out double what it should, and some wiring with thin chafed insulation that was cool with 12 V burned when pushed with 24?

I had a friend who bought a car with a bad regulator. It was a 70s car and didn't have a computer to fry, but all of the light bulbs in the car were burnt out and it boiled the battery whenever he drove it.

http://www.autoshop101.com/trainmodu...or/alt111.html


It's definitely wire tracing time, which is an uncomfortable and time consuming. Luckily you guys have nothing but time and you're in a beautiful and safe place. :-D

Best of luck.
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Old 09-15-2012, 10:12 AM
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Thanks guys, that's been my strongest theory so far. The voltage reg makes the most sense...in my research I've found a few other people who've either power-washed their engine or gone a little too deep in water crossings, then have diodes act up or voltage regulators crap out. All the firewall grommets are still in place, all of my fuses are good.

I did notice this. There was a fusible link that I couldn't tell was melted or intact because the sight-glass was cloudy. I tried to pull it out and the contacts stayed in...it almost appeared like one contact had the plastic melted around it. The weird thing is that this is supposedly the spot where a diesel truck has a fusible link for the glow plugs (panel says "GLOW AM-1"). Do you suppose someone just jammed a spare fusible link in that spot? It's been like that for years, and I doubt it has anything to do with my issues, but it still made me scratch my head.



Unfortunately this short has pointed out how crappy of a job the alarm installer did...he actually zip-tied most of the wiring to the parking brake, which is completely idiotic considering that it is a constantly moving part.



I've found out the hard way that the brake light is not only a warning sign for the alternator not adequately charging, but it's also a sign of overcharging.

At first I didn't understand why both my batteries are still around 12.4 volts, even though I drove for another ten minutes after the poltergeist, plus I've bump started it a half dozen times since the poltergeist episode, while the alternator is putting out less than .5 volts. The batteries were just that overcharged! Luckily my batteries are Odyssey PC1200 (dry cell), so there were no explosive results, but I imagine the excessive charging was not easy on their lifespan.

Did you know there's two fuses and a relay behind your climate controls & glove box?



Yesterday I was doing some wire tracing and I'm a little puzzled. So far I've found no chafing points or any signs of singed wiring or worn insulation. In regards to the smoke genie, I've realized that the little puff of smoke could have actually come from the alternator (or anywhere under the hood), and traveled thru the tube that the steering shaft travels thru the firewall. I've found no evidence of the smoke genie's origin. Although I've noticed there's gold fairy dust all over my turn signal/combo switch (recently the brights stopped functioning normally due to a poor contact, this is fairly common and the 2nd time I've had to clean the contacts).



I traced the ignition wire from it's harness and found that it has over 12v all the way to the soldered points behind the ignition cylinder (solid brown wire). When I turn the key, I can hear the continuous duty solenoid (batt. isolator) click like normal, but no other sign of life asides from that. Everything that's powered by the fuse panel under the hood is fine, along with everything powered by the aux battery.



RBX, thanks for the tip. FYI: the top circuit breaker is for power door locks (which I don't have, thank god) and the bottom one is for power windows and the power rear window.



I can start the engine by doing the starter/screwdriver trick, and it runs just fine, so this tells me the computer is at least half-alive. Of course with the computer unplugged it's dead in the water. So there's still a possibility that the ECU is a culprit.

I'm pulling the alternator to rebuild it. I had the foresight to bring the alt. brush assembly on this trip (most common piece to fail on the alt.), but of course I didn't bring the IC regulator . Luckily there's an electromechanico two blocks away who rebuilds alternators and I'm praying he can replace that. If not I'll be headed to Chimaltenango or Guatemala City to find a replacement. If I head that way, I'll take the ECU with me to test/replace. After the alternator is good, I may drive the 4runner to a nearby mechanic who speaks english and get a little help tracing down this short. I'm no good with wire chasing and I'm too distracted right now with Guatemala's Independance day!

It certainly could be worse. We're camping for free (with cold showers) and we're in an awesome city. The other night we had a great view from our camp, showing the lava explosions from Volcan Fuego's recent activity approximately 6 miles away. That same night there was also fireworks and lightning at the same time...pretty memorable stuff.






So yes, my current theory is that the voltage regulator allowed the alternator to overcharge, which gave the smoke genie motivation to impregnate the switch combo fairy, who gave birth to an electrical gremlin! Make sense?

Last edited by Ruined Adventures; 09-16-2012 at 12:04 PM.
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Old 09-15-2012, 10:40 AM
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I don't think your ECU has anything to do with the start circuit. It's all pretty mechanical (wires, switches, etc, no super sensitive electronics) If you can jump the solenoid contacts and it runs and drives, I think your computer is good.




It sounds like your ignition switch is probably good if some things turn on when you switch it.

Have you checked for power at the starter relay? To be clear, I don't mean the solenoid, there was a relay added starting in 1986 between the ignition switch and starter solenoid. The power to energize the solenoid coil was a lot for the ignition switch, so they added a relay

So the ignition switch powers a relay, which powers another relay (solenoid). I think that is the opposite of redundancy :-)



http://www.4crawler.com/4x4/CheapTricks/Starter.shtml

Check for power there from your switch.



Does your steering wheel screech like hell when you are turning?

That gold dust is from your spring loaded horn contact that rubs on the steering wheel ring contact. I'd bet the contact material is gone, and the brass holder is being worn away... and it make a heck of a screeching noise. That happened on my 88 4Runner. I applied a little a dilectric grease on it whenever it would get squeeky. It didn't affect electrical conductivity, but lubricated the contact and eliminated the noise.





I had that same issue with the bright lights failing to turn on due to pitted contacts in the combo switch.
If you haven't yet read Roger Brown's write up on the fix, it's pretty easy. http://www.4crawler.com/4x4/CheapTri...eadlight_Combo




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Old 09-15-2012, 11:06 AM
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Is there a ignition cut out on your alarm?

I had an alarm installed on my 88 4Runner, and it was a big mistake. They did a terrible job of wiring it... it stopped locking/unlocking the doors after two weeks (I'd disarm the alarm, and have to open the door with the key). I didn't know it, but the 'ignition cutout' on it is basically a relay in the starting circuit spliced in right after the ignition switch. So, with the alarm installed, the start circuit is basically:

ig switch --> alarm activated relay --> factory starter relay --> solendoid on starter

I had a gremlin for years that I could never fix since I didn't know how the alarm worked. The problem was like what you guys have now in that every once in awhile (especially in hot weather) I couldn't engage the starter. I could easily push start the truck, I could probably have jumped the starter, but the ignition switch wouldn't engage the starter.

If you have an ignition cut out on your alarm, that little relay is 'normal closed", meaning that if it is not getting power from the alarm, then the start circuit is "open" and the switch can't power the factory starter relay. If the alarm is disarmed, then it powers (closes) the relay and you can start the truck. Unlike the factory relay, that alarm relay is probably powered all the time, whenever the alarm is disarmed. IF it were to die, then you might have a puff of smoke from under the dash area, after which your ignition switch wouldn't be able to power the starter relay/starter.

Also, didn't you say that your interior lights and such don't come on? Didn't those blink when you arm/disarm the alarm? Alarms are normally wired into those too, as well as the marker lights. (head lights and brake lights aren't typically).

Yeah, so I'm thinking the issue might be in your alarm system as well as the alt volt regulator. The unregulated alt pumped too much juice and fried some alarm system components?


When someone fortunately one day suggested that my issue could be the alarm relay failing, or the installer's splice job failing, I removed the alarm relay from the start circuit and fixed the spliced wiring, which had been done 100% with theses pieces of trash



I didn't have the gremlin appear again in the last few months I had the 4Runner before I sold it.

Best of luck.

BTW, I'll never get an alarm installed again. At most, I'll install one myself that simply has a motion sensor and also connects to the dome light. If it senses movement or power to the dome light while it is armed, it alarms. I'll never let an installer touch my wiring again, especially critical systems like the starter circuits.

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Old 09-15-2012, 03:21 PM
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The fusible links are bolted in from the bottom. You have to split the fuse box in half (top/bottom) to get to them.
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Old 09-16-2012, 02:54 AM
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Hi Ruined Adventures, love your adventures! Sorry that the gremlins are ruining them.

Originally Posted by Ruined Adventures View Post
...how crappy of a job the alarm installer did...he actually zip-tied most of the wiring to the parking brake, which is completely idiotic considering that it is a constantly moving part.
Yep, one more reason why I got a first-gen Runner, so I can do all electrical stuff myself, so I'll be sure it's done right and clean.

Originally Posted by Ruined Adventures View Post
... When I turn the key, ...but no other sign of life asides from... Everything that's powered by the fuse panel under the hood is fine, along with everything powered by the aux battery.
Sorry, pls clarify, "no sign of life". No ignition? No fuel, no lights? But when you jump starter solenoid contacts the starter starts. Does the starter merely crank but no ignition even when ignition key is on start position, or you are able to start with ignition when you jump solenoid contacts?

So yes, my current theory is that the voltage regulator allowed the alternator to overcharge, which gave the smoke genie motivation to impregnate the switch combo fairy, who gave birth to an electrical gremlin!
Yes, over-voltage could damage many things.

Originally Posted by Toyotero View Post
I don't think your ECU has anything to do with the start circuit. It's all pretty mechanical (wires, switches, etc, no super sensitive electronics).
It sounds like your ignition switch is probably good if some things turn on when you switch it.
Have you checked for power at the starter relay? To be clear, I don't mean the solenoid,
Agree with Toyotero.
If u have no assistant to turn ignition key while you observe starter solenoid, I You can McGyver it like this:
[YOUTUBE]
[/YOUTUBE]

Originally Posted by Toyotero View Post
there was a relay added starting in 1986 between the ignition switch and starter solenoid. The power to energize the solenoid coil was a lot for the ignition switch
Yep, I measured 12-14 amps when solenoid is energized.

Originally Posted by Toyotero View Post
so they added a relay So the ignition switch powers a relay, which powers another relay (solenoid).
I don't know if you noticed it, guys, but although Toyota's intention was right (to relieve ignition switch of high solenoid coil current), implementation was wrong: If you look closely at 1986-1988 schematic, the 12 Amps needed to energize solenoid still passes through the ST1 contacts of the ignition switch
It's discussed on my post here.
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Old 09-16-2012, 12:33 PM
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I wouldn't say electrical gremlins are "ruining" our journey, just making things a little more interesting and giving us more time in one of our favorite cities.

Toyotero, great call on the source of the fairy dust, that screeching noise has been bugging the hell out of me since BEFORE we left on this trip. Unfortunately this is the second time I've had to fix those worn contacts for my brights...thank god for Roger Brown (that should be a bumper sticker slogan for old Toyota drivers).

When the alarm guy did the installation, I asked about the kill switch and he said it would only disengage the starter, not the ignition. I originally wanted to avoid a kill-switch because I've heard so many horror stories like yours, but I figured the starter kill would be easy to bypass. I don't believe the interior lights were wired to the alarm, just the marker lights (doesn't answer the brake lights not functioning). There is a hidden button that overrides the starter-kill, but it appears that the alarm has no power at all. I can't arm/disarm it whatsoever...When the alternator first showed signs of undercharging and we stopped at the parqueo. The alarm barely functioned, and the arm/disarm sounded almost like a screech. This was before alternator began to overcharge and the big "pop" sound and smoke genie that killed all the electronics. By the way, this is the alarm in question...what a waste of money. It was a last-second decision.

After the alternator is rebuilt this week, I may gut the alarm and see what happens. My brother installed some driving lights for me before leaving WA, and he wired it to the deck light switch. I highly doubt that he screwed anything up considering he's an electrical lineman and her really took his time to make sure he was doing it right. Maybe I will gut those too...we'll see.

Sorry RAD4runner, I should've been more specific about "no signs of life". When I turn the ignition, I do hear the continuous duty solenoid 'click' (the solenoid is for isolating my starting battery/aux battery. However aside from that, there's no cranking from the starter, no click from the starter relay, no gauge lights, warning lights or gauge needles moving (unless I'm cruising at speed, which shouldn't matter because the speedo is mechanically driven), no stereo, no clock, no blinkers, no windshield wipers (wipers are still stuck at half-swing), etc. The starter only cranks when i jump the solenoid contacts, then the engine will start fine and continue to run. Great video by the way, never thought of using the FST for that!

Not sure about fuel, I suppose I should check for voltage at the fuel pump's contacts with the ignition turned? I should assume that the fuel pump is running when the ignition is turned because otherwise the engine wouldn't crank over with the solenoid jumped.

I haven't tried jumping the starter solenoid's contacts with the ignition off, I'll give that a shot for giggles. Every time I've done it with the ignition in the on position.

Last edited by Ruined Adventures; 09-16-2012 at 12:38 PM.
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