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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is my first car, so I'm learning as I go (yay!). I'm having some symptoms that I think are the alternator, and I was hoping that someone could help me with figuring out what the next step in diagnosing would be and what other issues might cause the same symptoms. Here are the symptoms:
  • slow to start if it's colder than -3 Celsius
  • instrument cluster lights go dim for a second when turning the heat on or off
  • plugging the car in when it's colder than -3 Celsius seems to help with slow start
  • occasional higher pitched whining noise from front of car when slowing down
  • after slow start car feels "rougher" running in general (more vibration in steering wheel, etc.)
  • after slow start car feels sluggish even after reaching operating temp

I'm not sure if things like the car feeling sluggish are just in my head or not. I'm fairly certain that the car runs rougher though because I don't get a lot of vibration in my steering wheel generally. It feels kind of like a pulsing feeling if that makes sense. I've only felt it twice as I have been keeping my car plugged in since it got cold out over here.
 

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The positive battery cable on my 98 S70 caused battery and charging issues. It got to the point where the positive cable was getting warm. Your alternator is probably OK.
 

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Batteries have much shorter lifespans than Volvo alternators.
Bad cables and connections fall into the same category.

Any decent auto parts store will gladly come out to your car
in their parking lot and connect a charging system analyzer
to your vehicle and get you pointed in the right direction.
This service is generally provided free of charge.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I'll get the battery tested this weekend, but I'll be really dissapointed if this is a battery issue. I forgot to mention that the battery was new in Oct 2014.

If the battery passes testing, what is my next step in solving these issues?
 

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Agreeing with the posts above. The good news is that alternators don't generally get weak or die slowly, they usually just quit. It's possible for an intermittent failure but generally charging problems like you're describing are battery or cable related. And there are some very common cable related problems on this generation car. I would have a Volvo specialist inspect your battery cables. You can also do a voltage drop test on them with a simple multimeter if you want to learn something about auto electrical systems.

That said, nothing you described sounds out of character for standard cold weather issues. Most cars start slower and feel sluggish in the winter, and since winter is when you're running all your accessories like the seat heaters and defrost, and the fan on high, in addition to the headlights, you're much more likely to see normal dimming of dash lights with load changes. Plus it's dark out so your dash lights are on more in general.

Now, the degree of these problems can indicate an unhealthy charging system, good on you for paying attention to the car. Given that the battery is new, if I had to pick one possible cause I'd say positive or negative (or both) battery cables. Sometimes they just need a good cleaning, sometimes they need replacement.

Also as a side note go to your user profile and put the specifications of your car in a signature so we don't have to ask what year/make/model you have. They're not just for bragging! :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Well, I'm glad it's likely not my alternator. I was wondering what it is about these issues that specifically points to a charging problem. The electrical system in cars is still very foreign to me (I've got a Haynes manual in the mail right now though). My other guess was that the starter is dying since -3 (approx. 26 Fahrenheit) isn't really all that cold. Plugging in at that temp seems ridiculous to me.

What are the common cable related issues? I know about the gear selector cable in the automatics, but that's it so far.

I don't know how often I'm running accessories that I wasn't running in the summer, but I'll pay more attention to it and see if I notice a correlation (I didn't think I did, but I wasn't actually looking for it). I'm going to look up and clean the contact points and see what happens.

Also, I didn't even consider the fact that I haven't mentioned what vehicle I have... -.- I tried adding a signature, but it's not showing up. I have a 98 V70 T5.
 

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That car has at least a 100 amp alternator.
It should easily keep up with all of the accessories.
There are a number of large power cables connecting
the alternator, starter, battery and chassis grounds, etc.
If any of them have bad connections or internal corrosion,
your charging system will be affected.

Think of it as a system of garden hoses and what
can happen if they get kinked, stepped on or start
leaking at the connectors.

Driving in a salt heavy environment sure doesn't help!
 

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The issue with cables is simple age and corrosion leading to weak connections. Basically high resistance leading to increase in current and drop in voltage. Dimming lights is related to a voltage drop. It's easy to measure voltage drop across a cable, by touching a multimeter to each end of the cable.

The ground cable grounds to the body and transmission. Simple to check and replace. The power cable goes 2 places. From the battery to the starter, and from the battery to the main fuse box on the strut tower. It travels under the air filter box. Start by checking and cleaning both ends of those cables for corrosion and other decay.

One more thing. If these symptoms show up in cold weather, and are consistent, and then go away in warm weather, they are likely just normal seasonal variations. On the other hand, if symptoms get worse, like cranking gets slower or starting takes longer every week, then you are more likely to have an electrical problem.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
One more thing. If these symptoms show up in cold weather, and are consistent, and then go away in warm weather, they are likely just normal seasonal variations. On the other hand, if symptoms get worse, like cranking gets slower or starting takes longer every week, then you are more likely to have an electrical problem.
They are only present in cold weather, my concern is just the fact that it really isn't very cold and I've never heard of a car being affected at such a "high" temperature. My only other "old" cars have been an 89 Civic and a 93 Accord. Neither of them showed any issues at this temp.

Also good to note, I've realized that after the car has reached normal operating temperature, if I turn it off and back on again I lose any and all roughness in it running. I don't know why it continues to run rough once it's reached it's normal operating temperature, but I feel like this isn't normal. Especially since it's goes away when I've turned it off and on.

I'm going to chase these wires and clean/tighten them as soon as it's warmish again (likely Friday). We'll see what happens from there.
 

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Do you or anyone you know have a volt meter?

measure the voltage at the battery. Should be ~14.4.

If not, while the car is running, disconnect the ground lead and check the CABLEs again.
If the voltage goes up, the battery is a crap-ish and too much of a load. Bring it to a place to have it checked.
If the voltage does not go up, the alt is weak/bad (or there is a wiring issue: could check the +pos wire AT the alt).

Let us know.
 

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No, on a modern car you never, ever disconnect the battery while the car is running. That's the fastest way to send voltage spikes to your many sensitive electronics.

Back in the day that was a fine and normal test, but not anymore.
 

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No, on a modern car you never, ever disconnect the battery while the car is running. That's the fastest way to send voltage spikes to your many sensitive electronics.

Back in the day that was a fine and normal test, but not anymore.
+1 x 1000!

With the amount of electronics onboard a P80 Volvo or ANY modern car,
the charging system depends on the battery to provide stable voltage.
This check may be great for a '73 Impala, but leave those cables alone
while it's running on anything made in the last couple of decades.

A better suggestion might be to swing by your local
auto parts store and ask for a charging system check.
 

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The lead which attaches directly to the alternator also corrodes. This is usually my FIRST voltage check with the engine running with a meter and then if voltage DROPS at the battery by say 1V you have bad cables.

I recently went through this with a 1999 V70 and both the lighter cable from alternator to the starter and the heavy guage cable from the starter to the battery were replaced.

I regained 1V at the battery as it was dipping to 12.8V without load. Now is a steady 13.8V after cable replacement and there is no voltage drop at the battery.

When new the Bosch regulators on the alternator were good for 14.3-14.5 volts. A new regulator is something I've invested in for all my Volvos recently and have had no charging issues.

On later cars such as '99 plus cars I've been purchasing them from Alfastart in Ireland on eBay. So far no problems after 2 years and mutliple vehicles.

Sent from my SM-N910G using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks for all the help! What do I clean the connection points with, just rubbing alcohol?

Also, is a volt meter the same as a multimeter? I definitely know someone with one of those.
 

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More like a wire brush - Your goal is bare metal.
And yes, voltmeter is a function of a multi-meter.
 

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It will unlilely be the ring terminals where the issue is located. Corrosion takes hold of the cables internally beneath the red sheathing and is identified as a white powdery substance like icing sugar. You can only see it if you take a blade to.the cable and slice along its length.

Sent from my SM-N910G using Tapatalk
 

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No, on a modern car you never, ever disconnect the battery while the car is running. That's the fastest way to send voltage spikes to your many sensitive electronics.

Back in the day that was a fine and normal test, but not anymore.
Never had a problem doing this with any of my cars(most have many electronics). I do prefer to use my clamp around ammeter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Yesterday was warm enough to start poking around. The first thing I noticed was that there was corrosion on the positive battery terminal. There wasn't a whole lot. It came right off, but that hasn't seemed to have any impact.

It will unlilely be the ring terminals where the issue is located. Corrosion takes hold of the cables internally beneath the red sheathing and is identified as a white powdery substance like icing sugar. You can only see it if you take a blade to.the cable and slice along its length.
After I connected everything I had a brake light out... I gave it a whack and it came back on. Now I have an interior light that has similar issues so I'm guessing there will be a lot of wire chasing. Can the wire be corroded at any point? Am I supposed to open up the whole thing, or are there specific areas to check?

I've read that the wagons tend to have wiring issues in the wagon portion of the vehicle. I was hoping to add LED strip lighting to the tail lights. As this would require me to run new wire, would it be a good idea to go ahead and replace any old wires I have access to at the same time? I'm not keen on re-wiring the whole wagon, but I assume it wouldn't be a big deal to add a couple extra as I'm pulling through the new stuff.
 
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