Tuesday, 2 February 2016

How to deal with a flat battery

A flat battery has implications way beyond not being able to start your vehicle now a days and it always happens at the most inconvenient of times. Then the panic sets in because you have read somewhere that you cannot jump start it or believe that is the case because it states something in the hand book about going back to the main agent to get it looked at. The answer to that is you can. We have jumped it with no adverse affects having used a quick start charger for twenty seconds.

Battery under floor on passengers side (N.S)

Just recently we have had to jump start it again only I think it is time for a new battery. Which in its self means a bit of mucking about with a second battery if you have one just so you can remove the terminals without loosing the data from the vans memory. Who said progress was a good thing!.

 You can purchase data savers that attach to the battery leads or plug into the cigarette lighter. They are basic power packs which maintain a current to the digital systems in the van. What happens is the ECU looses the information stored in it. Which includes Idling, operating values and fault codes.

What are the most common causes of a flat battery technically known as discharged:

  • Alternator not charging at the correct output or faulty voltage regulator. In this case the alternator fails to meet the needs of the demands asked of battery. Causing a loss of charge over an extended period.
  • Short-circuit causing a continual demand on the battery over and above what is expected. At one time the most common cause of this was a badly fitted radio.
  • Alternator belt, ( Auxiliary drivebelt ) slipping due to stretching or damage ready to break. This is indicated by a squeal when you start the engine. At one time you could adjust the belt but these days it means replacement.
  • Battery connection/s loose and or corroded. This includes any earth straps. If it is a blue colour on the battery terminals it can be removed with boiling water and then a smear of petroleum jelly to stop it returning,( be careful not to short the battery when doing this).
  • Battery defective, This is when one of the cells becomes weak draining the charge from the remaining good cells. This shows it's self when there is a cold snap and is the most common cause of not being able to start you vehicle on a cold and frosty morning.

You should check all the above before making the decision to replace the battery. Sometimes it can be a combination of alternator and battery. It can also be the starter motor but the symptoms are slightly different. Do not confuse one with the other.

Changing the battery

What follows is for the 1.9 diesel engine model:

A simple way round this is if you have access to a spare car battery. You can make up a set of fly leads that you can attach to the battery terminals. If you have one of the older Vivaros you may find as we did that there are two redundant threaded posts on the cable termination attached to the battery. (The posts take a ten millimeter nut.) If that is the case you can use two yellow loop connections at one end of the fly leads and proper battery clamps on the other. If you use this method make sure that the connections are tight. If left loose they will make and break loosing the data. You also need to be careful not to touch the live to the earth or the body work. A way round this is to put the live connection in a thick plastic bag to stop this happening accidentally. 

Tools / Kit:

Spare battery, two 10 mm nuts plus washers. Fly leads to connect between batteries, 13 mm socket for battery clamp, 10 mm ring and C spanner for battery terminals, 12” socket extension, ratchet, T30 Torx for bolts holding floor plate covering battery.


  1. Open passenger door and remove the floor covering. Do not leave the keys in the ignition as the central locking may actuate locking you out.
  2. There will be a black plate with four T30 bolts. You only need to loosen them so the plate can slide sideways toward the off side (drivers side).
  3. With the battery exposed remove the battery clamp, it is held with a 13mm bolt to the front and base of the battery.
  4. Firmly attach fly leads one at a time. Starting with the spare posts on the vans battery. Then to the spare, do not do it the other way round as you may get a shock or make it spark by shorting it out.
  5. Now loosen the battery clamps and remove. Place the positive battery cable in the plastic bag.
  6. Push the cables out of the way and remove the old battery.
  7. Put new battery in place.
  8. Replace the battery cables and tighten.
  9. Remove the fly leads.
  10. Replace battery clamp.
  11. Check that it starts and runs as it should.
  12. Box it up.

Things do not always go this smoothly. If for some reason you didn't save the data. The memory can be reprogrammed. If it has lost this information you may experience surging, hesitation, erratic idle and inferior performance.

The following sequence will re-equip the ECU with the information it needs to run properly:

  • Start the engine and keep it as close to idle speed as possible until it reaches normal operating temperature.
  • Then run it for approximately two minutes at 1200 rpm.
  • Drive the vehicle in varying road conditions for five miles or for as long as it takes for the ECU to relearn.
A couple of notes:

If the alarm and immobilizer are on or off when you disconnected the battery they will return to that state when the battery is re-connected. If you have an OE radio the code will need resetting which you hope you have not lost!

The job is quite easy to do it is all the mucking about that makes it sound more difficult than it is. If you are doing this for the first time there is no rush. The only reason we site the Vauxhall version is because it is the make we work on.


Was it the right decision to change the battery? in this case it was. The main reason for us is the van is not used on a daily bases. A weak battery can go on for months before it shows there is a problem. The first sign is a cold snap. The second is you have to jump start it again the following day in which case change the battery. You can not keep jumping it as it will damage the digital systems and that is one big bill you do not need.  

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Plastic repair!

There are only so many jobs that you can do for yourself when it comes to working on your van. I, like the rest of you, have to use other service providers for certain jobs. The main one being tyres, it is far better to let them do the job - seeing as they have all the kit!

OK! with that in mind we had a couple of tyres that needed to be replaced because they had worn out. So, took the van in to get them replaced.

A couple of days later I noticed something was flapping about under the van, which was strange, so I decided to have a look, jacked the front up and discovered what looked like a mud flap/ deflector at the back of the wheel arch which was not broken before the new tyres were fitted. I do not like complaining or pointing the finger at other trade professionals because I have been on the end of “It was OK until you worked on it” situation. In this case however I'm going to complain. Why? Because they had also drilled the wheel nuts on so tightly I had to use a meter long handle on my breaker bar with socket to move it! They should know better! They don't know it but we now use another tyre fitter for all our work.

 The up side of this is that our good friends at Plasweld were able to weld the broken plastic back together. Which saved us having to track down an expensive replacement. They are wizards with anything plastic whether motor related or not.

To show our appreciation I'm going to point you in their direction of Plasweld - I know the web site shows a lot of motor bike work but do not let that put you off. The same materials are used by both car and bike etc.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Replacing track ends. the pit falls.

the track rod ends on these vehicles are handed
nearside and offside.
Track rod end or track control arm ball joints no matter what you call it, it's at the end of the steering rack arms. For such a small ball joint it takes a lot of abuse from us the driver hitting curbs, bumping up them to park and pot holes. It is surprising that they do not fail more often. It is all these little knocks and bump over time that lead to them failing before they should. In most cases they are not noticed until they fail the MOT or the worst case scenario give up the ghost while we are driving down the road. I have been witness to number of these over the years.

There are some tell tail signs to alert us to their wearing out. Most of them do not happen until they are quite loose in the ball joint knuckle. Adverse wear on a tyre is one indicator. This looks like a tracking problem; what sets it apart from tracking is that the tyre looks more worn one side than the other. Another is an occasional slight wobble on the steering when gently braking. Unless you are very tuned in with your vehicle you will not notice it.

Once the bad news is in that your transport failed the MOT it is not that difficult a job to do. But I know there are a couple of 'buts' to take into account, even so, they do not add that much drama to the job.

Once the wheel nuts are loosened jack the vehicle up and place an axle stand under to support it just in case the jack fails. It does happen. Take the wheel off and turn the steering so the steering arm is fully extended this will allow fuller access to the ball joint. The first thing to do is loosen the tack rod end locking nut on the steering arm. These can be difficult to loosen, it is a good idea to soak it in freeing oil. You will have to use a C spanner on this nut so be careful as these spanners have a nasty habit of slipping off. 

Shocking ball joint loose

Now-a-days most ball joints are held in place with a Ni-lock nut the thread above the nut is most likely badly rusted. This is where an impact wrench is handy as this bit of kit will have the nut undone in no time. Again soak in freeing oil. What happens is the nylon of the nut locks solid on the rusty thread which then brakes the taper hold allowing the hole thing to spin in place. Now the fun begins. If this happens you will need the jack to push the ball joint back into place. This will mean that you almost lift the van off the axle stand to recreate the hold it had. This is one of the only ways of doing it. Now you need a blow torch or nut heater so the nylon can be melted and the nut expanded. While it is red hot it is possible to put a socket on it to complete the nuts removal. You will need to work quickly as the heat dissipates from the nylon allowing it to reform locking the nut again. Alternatively you can if you have one use a nut splitter.

If the nut comes off as it should the ball joint now needs to be separated from the hub arm. There are a couple of ways of doing this, use a ball joint separation tool or jar it lose with a heavy hammer, this method is not for the faint heated.  It is my favoured  way but then I have had a lot of practice honing it down to a fine art. If you decide to go this route I suggest binding the handle where it meets the head of the hammer with plastic tape the type electricians use. You will need to wrap it around quite a few times. The reasoning behind this is if you miss, which you will, the hub arm will strike the hammers handle, the tape stops bits being taken out of the handle lessening the chances of the head being broken off. You will need to hit the arm with some force to get it to loosen and in most cases several hits will be required to get it to shift.
Please note: do not use the method described above unless you are confident to do so. Getting it wrong may damage the van and yourself. You have been warned.

wheel nut rotation of teightening
Once off, it is a good idea to count the number of turns it takes to remove the the track rod end from the steering rack.

With the new track rod end in hand thread it on to the arm the number of turns it took to take it off. By doing this it should return the tracking to what it was before you removed the old one. Lessening  the need to get the tracking adjusted straight away.

Put the ball joint thread through the hub arm and tighten the nut to(37). Re tighten the steering rack nut to the back of the ball joint, it is a good idea to put a bit of copper grease on the thread to make it easier to undo next time. Put the wheel on, thread the bolts on and nip tight, drop the jack and tighten the wheel nut up to (140) in a diagonal rotation. This makes sure that each bolt is evenly tightened.

Please note that the numbers in the brackets (00) are torque wrench settings in Newton meters.