Monday, July 15, 2024 Detailed Auto Topics
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Many people have never heard of a transient current flow. Transient current flow can cause thousands of dollars in damage to a vehicle. Unfortunately there may be very few outward signs until it is too late. Fortunately it can also be detected and prevented, with a few simple steps.

When electrical systems are used in our vehicle a load is created and current flows from the battery to the load. A positive electrical current leaves the battery and travels through wires to the accessory. The same amount of current must also return to negative side through a ground. The ground may be provided by a wire to the battery or sometimes the vehicle body. The body of the vehicle is electrically attached to the negative terminal of the battery.

The current flow leaving and returning to the battery has to be equal

With good connection amperage flows as designed

If the cables, grounds and terminals work as designed, current flow is not a problem. When cranking the vehicle, we turn the key and electricity flows from the battery to the starter motor, through a solenoid. We need the solenoid, because the key switch cannot conduct the high amperage needed to operate the starter. The solenoid acts like a heavy-duty relay. It allows the light-duty key switch to control the high-amperage starter motor.

After flowing through the starter, the current returns to the battery through the engine block or sometimes a ground cable. Manufactures often connect the engine to the electrical system with a heavy cable.  They attach this to the engine block and the negative battery terminal. This forms a complete circuit so current can flow. The starter may draw 275 amps to crank the engine and the same current returns to the battery. Current flow on both cables equals 275 amps. When properly working, the current returning to the battery equals that leaving it. 

Transient flow caused by inadequate cable

Problems occur when corrosion and loose connections cause high resistance in the ground circuit. A loose or corroded ground cable may only be able to flow 250 amps. If the starter requires 275 amps, twenty-five amps will find another path to the negative terminal. This is known as transient current flow; electricity taking a path other than that designed, to return to the battery.  Current flowing though parts not designed to carry it can result in considerable damage to seemingly unrelated components.

Current flow will find an expensive path to ground 


Because the engine attaches to the body using rubber mounts, it is only electrically connected through the ground cable(s).  If the cable does not conduct well enough, another path will be found. Instead, the additional current flows through the flywheel, transmission, drive axle, knuckles and back through the tie rods. Here it finds a body ground in the steering gear.

Transient current can be measured by placing an amp meter between the starter case and the battery ground

Corroded terminal and loose grounds can cause transient current flow

Transmission and suspension components are not designed to flow electricity. As the current flows through them, metal can be transferred from on part to another. This is similar to the electroplating process. In time the parts are destroyed and there may be a major failure. Keeping all battery terminals clean, tight and with proper connections can help prevent transient current flow.

Battery terminal corrosion is a symptom of another problem

Loose and corroded terminals can damage a transmission 

Simply cleaning the corrosion away will only give temporary results. Terminals corrode because acid and gasses leak around their base. This is a defect in a battery and may be covered under the battery warranty. Replacement of the battery and repair of the terminals is the proper solution.

Inspecting the battery and terminals regularly and replacing batteries that leak may save a transmission or suspension rebuild.

A few symptoms of transient current flow

Of course AGCO can diagnose and correct transient current problems or any electrical problems on your vehicle.  Call AGCO, it's the place to go.

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