Diagnostics, Not Just for Breakfast Anymore (Post #490) 4/24/2014

Florida Orange Juice Growers Association had a slogan in the 1970’s, “Orange juice, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.” It was used to encourage people to drink orange juice during the day, not just at breakfast time. It’s clever and a lesson for us. Diagnosing a problem should not stop with only one solution, keep diagnosing through the problem.

Diagnostics is the root of what we do to fix our Land Rovers. If you can’t diagnose the problem you can’t fix it. This was made painfully financially clear to me last night. I had what I thought was a bad starter. I’ve written two blog posts about it in recent days.

Flatbed of Shame

Starter Problems (Again)?

When the ignition key was turned the bendix would engage and the motor would not turn the flywheel. After taking the starter off the Range Rover I tested it. It worked off the vehicle. The spinning of the motor was weak in my opinion. I assumed that I had a bad starter.

I took the starter to Northwest Alternator and Starters. As far as I’m concerned, Bob is “the man” when it comes to electric motors. He rebuilds all manner of electric motors. He was working on some OGE motors when I called Thursday.

Northwest Alternator and Starter, Inc. 405-842-0575
Northwest Alternator and Starter, Inc.
329 NW 94th St, Oklahoma City, OK

The plan was to have him rebuild my alternator. This is a common thing with hard to find electric motors. The Range Rover Classic starter is not a rare item but I thought he could possibly rebuild the starter quicker than I could get one sent in from the coasts and cheaper than a new one too.

Bob called me the next day and gave me some bad news that the starter did not have rebuild parts available. However, he could order a new starter for me. So thinking I’d spend my dollars locally I had him order it. His cost was the same as the vendors on the coasts and his shipping was cheaper. I offset that with local sales tax, but that’s okay. It would be in on Friday.

Bob reported that the brush pack on the starter was low. Brushes are what transmit the current to the commutators…. oh hell just watch this Youtube video (01:27)….

Back to Bob, he said the brushes were low. Brushes wear out because they are made of graphite. His diagnosis was lack of sufficient current to the commutators. So there we have it, lack of current causing a failure to turn the flywheel. That’s what I had come up with.

Bob was able to get my starter in the next day. His supplier had an order coming in the next day and my starter was on that overnight shipment. Bully for me! I picked up the starter and got it on the Range Rover just in time for Mr. Fisher to come home from work. He saw the bonnet up and stopped by to see if he had missed all the fun.

I had just finished and was ready to test the new starter. Click, click, click. WHAT THE HELL?!?

I continued to turn the key hoping something different would occur. I’m stubborn like that. The starter did spin once but the battery was quickly exhausted and I heard the tell-tale discharged battery fluttering relay sound.

Mr. Fisher came back with his Chevy Traverse and we attempted to jump the Range Rover. Pastor Nick came over too and together we all stared at the Range Rover wondering why it wouldn’t turn over.

It occurred to me then that perhaps I had a bad battery. Every thing else had checked out. So I took the battery off and we went to O’Reilly’s Auto to have it tested. DEAD BATTERY came up on their battery tester. That battery wasn’t that old how could it fail?

Turns out the battery was in fact old. It was at least 4 years old and I had replaced it once already under warranty. This time my warranty had run out so I purchased a new battery.

We brought it home hooked up the battery cables. I went in to the cab and turned the key, before I had reached the stop at the end of the turn of the switch the Range Rover roared to life. Well hell.

So my diagnostic skills failed me. Mr. Fisher was disappointed as well because this issue mirrored exactly a problem we worked together on Mrs. Fisher’s Pontiac. In that situation jumping didn’t help, nothing would turn the starter. And he failed to recall that problem and add that experience to our pool of diagnosis.

The Take Away

Rule number one: Always check and or replace the cheapest part first. The wires were good. The battery was 112$(US). I should have tested the battery after I confirmed the wiring was good to go.

So now I have a spare starter on the shelf. It has enough left on the brushes to be a good short term spare. This is a modern luxury SUV problem. Electrics make our lives easier but have their short comings too.

My cousin Danny asked the obvious question, “Who puts an automatic in a 4×4?” Well Danny, Land Rover does, and Jeep does, and Isuzu does, and Toyota does, the list goes on. If my Range Rover had a standard transmission, I’d have push started it and gotten home. At some point the Range Rover would have stopped running due to a failed battery just like back when my alternator failed.

Thanks for reading and happy diagnosing and Happy Rovering.