Skip to main content

I've had an intermittent starting problem for a couple of months. You'd turn the key and it behaved like a flat battery. It only happened every 2-3 weeks and had me flummoxed. Later on it starts just fine.

I began data logging every time I drove until I finally caught it happening. The battery voltage had dropped to 8 volts while cranking despite being well over 12 before I hit the starter. I truly doubted that it was the battery and knew the alternator was charging.

I checked the tightness of all the connections and bought a spare starter switch to carry. It happened again on Friday after a 20 mile drive and I had a brainstorm. The previous failure had happened after a 45 minute drive.

It might be a failing connection that heated up while driving. The only other thing I had inline with the battery was a cutoff switch. Before we headed out yesterday for a staycation on the other side of the island, I bypassed the switch. No problems so far. I might have found the culprit!



Images (1)
  • IMG_20190903_191805
Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest


Probably not related, but this sticks in my head.

Many, many years ago, vacationing on your island, we had to call the rental car company the second morning there to come start our almost new Nissan Sentra.

They knew what it was as soon as we called and said it happens there 'all the time'.

Turned out to be condensation inside the distributor cap (I told you it was many, many years ago).

I'd grown up in east coast winters and in humid summers, but something about the combination of climate factors there seems to somehow make condensation in auto electrics more an issue than in most places.

I just chalked it up to part of the daily hell of living on Maui.




...We've got 3 huge green sea turtles working the reef in front of the condo...

Dammit, Michael, now that's what I'm talkin' about.

Who cares if the car breaks down someplace, anyway?

Wherever it happens - at the hardware store, laundromat, or gas station - just leave it for a few hours, put on some flip-flops (okay, okay - slippers, then) and it's 50 yards to the nearest beach.


Solution found on the starting problem. I've got a 90 amp alternator because of the external oil cooler fan and the fans on the air conditioning condenser and evaporator. I logged voltages on my trips around the island and found that when the engine was hot and I had the AC on, the battery voltage dropped well under 12 volts at 2200 RPM. So, long trips and the car wouldn't start the next time. 

I measured the DC amps on the alternator at full draw and it only hit 52 amps output. Checking the output for alternating current showed over 8 VAC. My thoughts were that a diode or two had failed.

I ordered a 90 amp Compufire alternator as a replacement. It was heavier and had extra vent fans compared to the EMPI one I bought a couple of years ago. They claim to use USA parts for the Compufires. Stuck it in and instantly charged over 13V at idle.

I'll take apart the EMPI and rebuild the diode pack and call it a spare. It was clearly 2nd class quality.

So, I'll reconnect the battery cutoff switch and see if it introduces any problems, but otherwise, I think the partial failure of the alternator was the culprit.

@Michael Pickett

I had an auto electric shop bench test my alternator. It seems the 55 amp Bosch will do that for a few minutes, but 30-35 amps constant load is all it can handle. I'm guessing the 90 amp can probably handle 50-60 amps continuously. Just something for people to keep in the back of their minds that output is rated at peak.

Great catch on the bad diodes! Good on you!

Last edited by DannyP
@barncobob posted:

EMPI( every manufactured part inferior)

No, no, no. EMPI: Every Mistake Passes Inspection

... but seriously, it's nearly impossible to build a car without EMPI parts, and a lot of them are really pretty good. A lot of them are really pretty bad as well. The difficulty is in knowing which is which.

FWIW, the same can be said of some of CB's catalog, as well as AA Performance.


A few weeks ago, I learned the working lifespan of an EMPI interior door handle.

It turns out to be eight years.

Shorter than I would have hoped, but longer than I should have expected.

In 56 years of driving, this was the first door handle ever to break in two in my hand. And I’ve used quite a few door handles in that time - sometimes in haste, sometimes in exasperation, and occasionally in anger. Before this, though, every other door handle has been up to the task every single time.

But not the EMPI.


It’s not like I wasn’t cutting the EMPI door handle some slack. I knew it was a cheap copy of a handle that had been designed by an engineer to withstand certain expected stresses. The EMPI was designed just to look like the original and manufactured at the lowest possible cost.

So, knowing that, I haven’t been using it like a real door handle. I’ve made allowances. I work it gently. Never in anger. I make sure I never use it to pull the door shut. I’ve treated it like a museum piece that should be preserved for future generations.

It still broke.

So, I manned up. I did what I should have done eight years ago. I went to the Stoddard catalog and laid out 70 bucks for a pair of handles that look almost exactly like the EMPI handles, but that cost three times as much.

Why didn’t I do that eight years ago?

Well, this probably won’t make any sense to you, but I was thinking short term. Why waste 75 bucks when I can get almost the same thing for 25? How much difference could there be? Now understand this is just me. I’m pretty sure most of EMPI’s customers would gladly pay three times as much for a properly engineered handle if EMPI stocked their warehouse with them, right?

It must be the nutball, cheapo fringe types like me that EMPI caters to.

There are only a few of us out here, so I don’t understand how EMPI makes any money at all serving this market.

And I’m sorry if I’ve ruined it for the rest of you and you can’t find a decently made door handle at EMPI any more.

It’s mainly my fault.



Images (1)
  • DoorHandle
Last edited by Sacto Mitch

You could always try JB-Welding the thing with some sort of support behind it

but your story reminds me of having a 1983 GTI living where GM has a cold weather testing center and coming out in the AM, at minus 42 and I try to turn the crank handle on the window.  The handle button peels off as if I am peeling an orange around the metal shaft.  Could not believe it neither did the dealer.


Images (1)
  • mceclip0

This sort of thing didn't originate with EMPI.  Both my brother and I had Ford Pintos for a while in college and the cheap pot metal window winders, door handles, and sun visor brackets in both of them broke regularly.  I think we replaced all of them in both cars at least once.  I sold mine after 18 months while he held onto his for years.  I think all of those parts were broken in his when he sold it.  The amount of cost cutting Ford did with those cars was criminal.

Post Content
Link copied to your clipboard.