Clearing a Path for the Electrons

July 1, 2018
Checking electrical connections and components while oil is draining can reveal problems or potential problems as hot summers put high demands on systems.

In today's advanced automotive DC electrical systems, electrons have to travel a complex path through wiring, circuit boards, ECMs, relays, motors of all types, gauges, comfort and convenience accessories and, of course, the many safety and security devices throughout the vehicle. Finally, when their task is completed, they have to make their way back through a ground circuit to the battery.

Demands on electrical systems are especially high during the summer driving season, with air conditioning running full blast, sound and entertainment systems operating to keep the kids quiet, power windows going up and down at toll booths, auxiliary cooling fans running and much, much more. These demands are exacerbated by the typical enemies of conductivity, including heat and high humidity; both of which contribute to high resistance that can affect the performance of electrical devices.

For all of these reasons, the well-prepared quick lube shop can take advantage of these circumstances to provide important services to their customers that are indeed quick, profitable and valuable.

The obvious place to start is with the vehicle's battery. We are all familiar with the green/white corrosion that develops around battery terminals. In the old days, you had to remove the terminals and scrub both the outside of the battery post and the inside of the terminal with a wire brush to remove this corrosion (don't forget — always disconnect the ground cable first and re-install it last).

Fortunately today, we have very effective battery terminal cleaning chemicals that can dissolve such corrosion with just a quick spray, followed by a shot of battery terminal protectant to prevent future buildup of such corrosion.

Note, too, that some cars and SUVs, as well as many/most RVs actually have two full-size batteries — one for typical re-starting of the engine, and the other to power accessories like lighting, refrigeration, and supplemental vehicle air conditioning. Be sure to inspect and service both batteries. Your customer will appreciate the service.

Many vehicles, especially older models, will have physical ground connections throughout the vehicle, often an eyelet secured to a metal grounding source, typically for lighting circuits. You may see some of these in the course of your lube and oil change service. If any appear to be badly corroded, you can quickly clean them to shiny metal and hit them with a shot of battery terminal protectant which will help prevent future rust and corrosion and keep electrical devices happy.

Next, of course, you'll want to be sure that all accessible electrical connections are clean and protected from the elements. A good electrical cleaner will remove corrosion and deposits and, happily, there are now innovative spray products that can encapsulate electrical connections with a thin, clear, weather-proof coating to keep electrons in and moisture and debris out. This is especially important with the electrical connectors used when towing a trailer, where such connectors are constantly exposed to the elements.

Hot summer weather also puts unusually high demands on starters and alternators, which often have to labor to keep up with demands throughout the vehicle. A well-placed squirt of aerosol electric motor cleaner can remove deposits that can impede the flow of electrons through brushes and armatures. Such electric motor cleaner can also be useful throughout the vehicle, to help sluggish power window motors, electric door and trunk lock actuators, even power seat motors that may have fallen victim to the occasional spilled soft drink that finds its way under the seat. We've all been there, right?

Finally, for older vehicles with conventional ignition systems with distributors, consider protecting the distributor cap and spark plug wires with a suitable protectant chemical. Plug wires and distributor caps tend to get coated with residual oil and grease and, coupled with road splash of rain water, can allow those pesky electrons to escape to a nearby ground rather than the desired path across the spark plug electrodes.

Checking electrical connections and components while oil is draining can reveal problems or potential problems. By assuring a clear and correct path for the electrons, you'll also be assuring a clear and safe path for your customers as they embark on summer travel.