Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Well, the Ford is finally back from the shop. I could have bought a very nice bike with what I paid for the repair, but since Number One Daughter is the regular driver, I'd rather spend it on the car.

The original problem was a coolant leak. I looked at the hoses and sensor, but couldn't locate it. The engine compartment is more than a bit cramped. There's little clearance anywhere, and when I couldn't spot the leak, the best course of action was to take it to the pros.

As it turned out, the radiator was the least of my problems. About 2 years ago, the battery cracked and leaked acid. I tried to clean it up as best I could by rinsing everything off with copious amounts of water from the garden hose, but it wasn't enough. Acid found its way into the wiring harness for the radiator fan and the main distribution box. When I looked at it in the garage, most of the insulation was gone. The distribution box is right next to the battery, and if I recall right, the main power into it is not fused. Under the box, there are 4 input wires roughly the diameter of my pinky. None of them had a shred of insulation, and they sit right next to the fender. They could have shorted out at any time, causing a fire or a battery explosion.

I've seen a battery explode just once when a car hit a curb. It wasn't even going fast. It just slid off an icy road into the curb. The battery mount failed, allowing the terminals to contact the fender. Within a few seconds, the battery overheated and exploded, lifting the hood up to the safety catch. Worse, the battery acid hit the partially opened hood and shot out in all directions with considerable force. Anyone near the car would have been sprayed. This stuff will eat through your clothes in a few seconds. Imagine what it can do to your eyes and skin.

Don, the technician who did the repair on the Ford, said that I should have used baking soda to neutralize the acid, sprinkling it everywhere around the battery, then washing it down with lots of plain water. It still could have gotten into the wiring due to capillary action, but the damage would have been much less. By the time I found it, the acid had already covered most of the wiring and eaten away at the concrete in my driveway. Strong stuff.

I mention all this because many bicycle lighting systems are run with sealed lead acid or nicad batteries. Either way, the electrolyte is powerful. Nicads use sodium hydroxide, if I remember right, and it's as caustic as the acid in a lead-acid battery.

Many of us overcharge nicads and they can explode as a result. In fact, a lot of house fires are attributed to battery charging systems. So far, I've blown up a cordless phone and a water-bottle battery. The cordless phone flew across the room when it went. The water-bottle battery burned up the charger. Fortunately, it was on a ground fault interrupter that opened when the charger shorted. Otherwise, we may have had a fire.

Please be extremely careful when handling leaky batteries! Be wary when a battery seems to be getting warmer than usual while it charges. Your eyes, your skin, and your family are worth far more than a battery or a charger.


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