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Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
Larry M   10/23/2012 10:30:44 AM
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Cars have used self-resetting thermal breakers instead of fuses on the headlights as early as the 1940s. There's a reason for this. On a pitch black country road on a cloudy moonless night, you don't want to be pitched into sudden darkness--and with no way to get home, just because wire insulation chafed through someplace.

You might be able to find and replace that fuse in blackness, but could your wife?

Better that you or she should drive home with blinking lights, cycling at a rate low enough to prevent fire or further wire damage but high enough for safety--to see and be seen.

Nancy Golden
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
Nancy Golden   10/23/2012 5:52:19 PM
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This has been a really interesting discussion - I didn't know that about self-resetting thermal breakers...a seemimg failure is actually a safety feature designed in on purpose...

I was also interested to learn about the solder issues. My first thought was not poor quality solder but poor soldering practices. Just goes to show that one should dig a bit deeper to get the complete picture sometimes. Fortunately the fix is the same as long as the author used "the good stuff" in his repairs.

Fix-it-or-not
User Rank
Iron
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
Fix-it-or-not   10/24/2012 4:48:01 AM
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Now that it is mentioned, it makes sense to use a thermal breaker, but why would it be imbedded in a panel mounted switch??  There are other breakers in the fuse blocks, so one more wouldn't hurt.  A replacement cost from the dealership of around $400 for the switch module, because of a $1 part that is intended to fail, seems to me to be a cash grab, especially when the breaker could have been located where it was accessable.  Please note that when this breaker failed, the lights were completely unsafe!  If the lights were turned on so that the clearance lights worked, there were no headlights.  If the light switch was off so that there were no clearance lights, then the Day-Time running lights functioned.  So, if the breaker failed on the road at night, who ever was driving this particular vehicle would have been stranded.  Day-Time running lights might let you see where you are going late at night (barely), but the chances of being rear-ended by someone else because your clearance lights are not on is greatly increased!

I agree with everyone about the current trend in the lead free solder.  It is very problematic.  As a side job, I do repairs on consumer equipment, more to keep me busy than anything else.  The number of pieces of equipment that fail because of this solder is unbelievable, and much of it is non-repairable.  Many people have tried reflowing circuit boards using hot air guns (PS3's and XBOX's) to try and get the solder bumps under the large IC's to re-connect.  This is hit and miss at best, and the results are short term if the process does work.  MY take is that the manufacturers love this solder as after 2 years, the customer chucks the device and buys a new one.  However, the idea of using lead free solder was to be ecologically friendly.  Using this solder has had the opposite effect.

The Day-Time running light modules in the Honda's did not have enough solder on the boards.  At best, there was a thin film used, suggesting that a few cents were saved by not using an appropriate amount of solder.  The relays used are similar to the Omron G8SE, which isn't a large relay, but has enough mass that vibration will eventually cause a thin coating of solder to crack.  Had there been more solder used, this most likely would not have happened.

My CRV has over 200K KM's on it, so I can't complain too much about the failure of the Day-Time running light module, it just seemed interesting that three different vehicles all had the same problem with the same module.  How many more are there out there with the same problem?

Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
Larry M   10/24/2012 9:36:32 AM
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Fix-it-or-not wrote "Now that it is mentioned, it makes sense to use a thermal breaker, but why would it be imbedded in a panel mounted switch??" 

Well, they've done that for 60 years or more, too. My '49 Chevy and '55 Ford were both constructed this way. Never a problem in the past. One of the things we haven't mentioned (yet) in regard to lead-free solder is the higher soldering temperatures involved. These shorten the life of electrolytic capacitors and plastic-based components like relays and pots (the latter through thermal stress). So maybe we can blame this on lead-free solder.

And Fix-it-or-not continued "Many people have tried reflowing circuit boards using hot air guns (PS3's and XBOX's) to try and get the solder bumps under the large IC's to re-connect.  This is hit and miss at best, and the results are short term if the process does work."

There's been some discussion regarding using your kitchen range oven as a reflow oven. Better control than a heat gun, but still longer duration than the ~5 seconds in a production reflow oven. Likely to shorten the life of other components. I haven't tried this.

And Fix-it-or-not continued "MY take is that the manufacturers love this solder as after 2 years, the customer chucks the device and buys a new one."

Not in the long term. Either you do really expensive product recalls or you get a bad rep for quality and go out of business. Did you know that the product recall of the original Microsoft X-box for the Red Ring of Death failure (a ball-grid array chip that ran too hot and fell off the circuit board) cost over a BILLION dollars?

And Fix-it-or-not continued "The relays used are similar to the Omron G8SE, which isn't a large relay, but has enough mass that vibration will eventually cause a thin coating of solder to crack.  Had there been more solder used, this most likely would not have happened."

Ahh. not easy to do, especially with lead-free solders. If you are doing everything with one pass, you need to pick process parameters (time, temperature) to just adequately heat the big, heat-sinking components without overheating the delicate surface-mount stuff and the capacitors. A combination of surface-mount and pin-through-hole components makes this even harder. IT was easier with the lower-melting-point and better wetting characteristics of Pb/Sn solder.

I really do think DesignNews could do us a service here by serving as a focal point on this problem.

Fix-it-or-not
User Rank
Iron
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
Fix-it-or-not   10/25/2012 3:33:21 AM
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The Honda modules were all exactly the same and were used from at least 1995 to 2003 as these are the years of the three cars involved.  They use through hole components, a single sided PCB and I would be surprised if the total cost of the parts involved amounted to more than $5.00, not that this matters.  They also were not coated with a conformal coating of any sort, although corrosion was not an issue with any of the three.  Again, the problem was exactly the same on all three modules, the relay pin connections had cracked.  None of them had enough solder on them.

The problem is the QUALITY of the manufacture of these devices.  I managed on my vehicle to get 200K Km's before the Day-Time driving lights became intermittant (2003 CRV).  There was no scorching of the solder connections.  The solder was THIN and had cracked.  The other vehicles were a 1995 and a 1998 Accord with less than 100K Km's.

I have been in the electronics industry for over 40 years and have seen some well made products, some well designed products, and many well designed, but poorly manufactured products.  This Honda module was/is poorly manufactured in my opinion.

The GMC manual (yes, we did have one) suggested to replace the headlight high beam, turn signal switch assembly, as did the shops around town, to repair the problem my neighbour had.  When this did not work, he asked me to help investigate the problem.  The problem was the thermal, resetable breaker in the dash mounted, headlight switch.

Someone mentioned that this was a "cost saving" move on GM's part.  You bet it was.  It saved them all of $2 if that.  However, the cost for the replacement turn signal/high beam switch mechanizm is over $600 in Canada from GM and the dash light switch is over $400.  I would rather have paid the extra $2 at the time of manufacture than to get hit with the tab for new switches.  There was a reason that my friend could not find either switch at the scrap yard, even after looking at 50 or so vehicles.  Many people had the same problem.

I appreciate that they used the thermal breaker for the reason that was mentioned by several people.  I take issue that the breaker was hidden within the dash mounted switch and NOT placed at the fuse block where it belongs.  If safety was really their concern, then it would have been acessable so that when it failed at night time, someone would be able to repair the problem and get to their destination.

Interestingly, I have been driving for 40 years, and have never seen my headlights coming on and off as a thermal breaker trips and resets?  Have any of you?  I have driven Mercedes, Honda, GMC, Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagon, Toyota, Datsun, Austin  Healey, Austin Mini's, Beaver Motor Homes, Empress Motor Homes, and a school bus, but haven't seen a thermal, resettable breaker hidden inside a switch in any of them other than this truck.  They all  had accessable over current protection devices.  Yes, even for the headlights.  I am sure there are other models and other manufacturers that incorporate similar methods into their devices but I haven't come across them.

bob from maine
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
bob from maine   10/25/2012 10:52:20 AM
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Regarding lead-free solder. It would appear that after several years the world has come up with an acceptable lead-free solder and developed processes that provide reliable (more or less) solder joints. I have every confidence the EU or someone will discover a new gremlin that will need to be outlawed. Perhaps tantalum or copper, or something like G10 epoxy or RIM plastic. When the politicians apply political solutions to engineering problems the outcome is predictable; the engineering world will complain loudly while quietly coming up with a solution. It's usually easier to deal with difficult physics and chemistry problems than misinformed politicians. Regarding resettable circuit breakers. These have been mounted on the headlight switches seemingly forever. When these breakers cycle, they pit; they are not designed for repeated cycles and if a trailer or running lights are incorrectly wired into a lighting circuit (as would happen on a pick-up for instance), the breaker may cycle with the turn-signals (I've seen this!). Ultimately the breaker will cease to function due to high contact resistance. The purpose of the breaker is to protect downstream wiring without disabling the remainder of the lighting functions (parking lights, dash lights, etc.).

ssco00
User Rank
Silver
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
ssco00   10/25/2012 4:01:35 PM
NO RATINGS
"Someone mentioned that this was a "cost saving" move on GM's part.  You bet it was.  It saved them all of $2 if that.  However, the cost for the replacement turn signal/high beam switch mechanizm is over $600 in Canada from GM and the dash light switch is over $400.  I would rather have paid the extra $2 at the time of manufacture than to get hit with the tab for new switches."

 

I worked for 10 years preparing electrical system information for GM service manuals.  I clearly remember the time some brillient person removed the rear door courtesy lights, the front footwell courtesy lights, and the glove box light.  The reduction in wires and connectors would save several dollars on each vehicle and they made nearly a half million of that vehicle class yearly.  That is several million dollars per year and I am sure he was honored with a bonus and something to hang on his cube wall. 

This was for the C/K utilities which included the Cadillac Escalade Platinum Edition which went for about $80,000.  And they wokdered why people looking for a vehicle in that cladd didn't even stop at a Cadillac dealer, but went stright to Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Range Rover, etc.  They even had a TV commercial ridiculing them.  Even my Volvo station wagon selling for half that price has a glove box light and front footwell courtesy lights.  And today, GM seems only a shadow of its old self. 

Also, they are in the business of selling service and replacement parts. 

 

rkinner
User Rank
Iron
Re: Not good to replace a thermal breaker with a fuse
rkinner   10/25/2012 4:13:34 PM
NO RATINGS
There was only one vehicle where the breaker did trip and automatically reset, on my 1968 Javelin (AMC).  I was driving from Toledo to St. Louis in the middle of the night and the headlamps suddenly shutoff, and they came back on about a minute later.  Fortunately it was a full moon and we could safely get to the side of I-70 to stop.  It happened twice and then never again. 

Most likely the thermo-breaker got a little hot due to the number of hours we had been driving continuously (no excuse, we should be able to drive 24 hours without this happening).  We never drove that long at a stretch again and the problem never reoccurred.

 

Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Bad solder
Larry M   10/23/2012 10:38:37 AM
NO RATINGS
You wrote ". The problem was immediately apparent: several cold solder joints on one of the relays. I re-soldered every joint on the board because there was so little solder used in manufacturing that future failures were inevitable. Sure enough, the problem was solved.

"We then pulled the module on his Accord and found exactly the same problem -- exactly the same pins, even! The same remedy with the same result, the problem was resolved."

Not at all surprising. The misguided European rulings changing the composition of solder has resulted in formulations that are brittle and become more brittle with age. Electrical appliances, cellphones, cameras, music players, and cars are all failing prematurely due to this terribly ill-considered decision. I received a set-top box sent from 200 miles away, and received it with a surface mount IC (BGA) rattling around in the bottom.

I am sure you made the repairs with 60/40 or 63/37 Pb/Sn solder which should have been used in the first place.

This is not to mention the "tin-whisker" problem, also caused by the new solder formulations and suspected of causing the runaway Toyota accelerations.

 

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Bad solder
tekochip   10/23/2012 11:03:08 AM
NO RATINGS
I agree, I've seen it over and over. Themes solder formulations make such ugly looking joints that it's nearly impossible to tell from a visual examination if the joint is good or not. The EU really has to examine this issue again. I think they made a bad call.

Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Bad solder
Larry M   10/23/2012 2:17:58 PM
NO RATINGS
You know, we really ought to enlist Design News on this crusade. Their motto is:

DesignNews Serving the 21st Century Design Engineer.

How about getting the editorial board involved, running articles written by experts, getting some testimony before Congress, etc.?

Journalism is supposed to be the watchdog of society. Let's see some teeth.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Bad solder
Rob Spiegel   10/24/2012 6:16:03 AM
NO RATINGS
Larry, Design News ran a mini site on the subject of RoHS and REACH for years. We engaged industry groups and who were challenging the EU on the technical aspects of RoHS and REACH. We also involved manufacturers and distributors in the site. Going further, we ran strories using whistle blowers as sources. We brought in the voices of all of the major experts we could find -- on both sides of the issue.

At a certain point, the industry moved on, though industry groups are still involved in the ongoing developments in RoHS and REACH.

Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Bad solder
Larry M   10/24/2012 9:39:09 AM
NO RATINGS
Rob, I do remember those. The writers were authoritative and convincing. I was wondering why the campaign dried up and withered away.

Now that real consumers are starting to see the effects, there could be a real revolt if we simply got the information in front of them.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Bad solder
Rob Spiegel   10/24/2012 10:54:39 AM
NO RATINGS
Good point, Larry. The site went away when the audience lost interest. Component manufacturers switched to lead-free production, the military and aerospace found their sources for leaded parts and the audience quit coming to the lead-free site.

RAH
User Rank
Iron
The oldtimers knew better
RAH   10/24/2012 1:39:41 PM
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Were the relays through-hole?  Was the board single sided with unplated holes?  In the 70s as a kid engineer, a senior engineer related some PC board wisdom that they don't teach in school.  The one I remember vividly was "Do not use single sided boards with unplated holes in any application that is subject to temperature cycling".  The solder will crystalize, crack and give you a cold solder joint.  And nothing temp cycles like the inside of a car.  This failure mode killed the intermittent wiper board in my '95 GMC pickup and every electronic module in my '83 Mercedes.  Mercedes went surface mount to eliminate this bug.  Lead free isn't the only mistake here.  PCB technology must be suitable for the application.

Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Re: The oldtimers knew better
Larry M   10/24/2012 4:35:40 PM
NO RATINGS
There was a recall on the wiper board on the 1995 GM and Chev trucks for exactly that reason. You could have gotten the board (and installation) free. Unfortunately the same board was installed in my 1995 Chev APV minivan and those were not eligible for the free replacement.

Critic
User Rank
Platinum
Japanese Cars are Better than American Cars... or are they?
Critic   10/24/2012 2:19:31 PM
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Clint,

I admire anyone who repairs his/her own vehicles.  Taking a vehicle to an auto repair shop can be an enormous waste of time and money.

I do NOT admire guesswork and trial parts replacement as techniques of automotive diagnosis.  These are techniques that are all-too-often used by auto repair shops to extract more money from the customer's wallet.  Replacing parts that aren't really bad is good for business, but not good for the customer.

This is a case of "diagnosis by monkeys."  The high-beam switch isn't even a good guess as a cause of the headlights not functioning at all.  Although the story says that the headlights did not function at night, I suspect that this may be a poor understanding of the symptoms, and that the lights probably didn't work during the day, either.  Verification of symptoms is a good first step.

A good second step would be to follow the manufacturer's recommended diagnostic procedure for the verified symptom.  This often means that you need to have a factory service manual (not a generic Haynes book) available.  Yes, I know these manuals can be expensive or hard to find, but in the long run, they pay for themselves many times over.  An Internet search using the symptoms, make, model and year of the vehicle is a good way to find information, but the information may not be 100% reliable.  

Following the manufacturer's procedures can also reduce the amount of struggling required to change a part.

As stated in a previous post, it is not unusual for automotive headlight circuits to not have fuses.  They often use an automatic-reset circuit breaker.  There is a good reason for this, which some auto manufacturers have apparently overlooked in recent years.  It is not uncommon for a failing headlamp to cause a current spike that would blow a fuse.  On a dark road at night, this could cause a dangerous condition:  a car with no lights that cannot be seen by other motorists.  It may be interesting to note, also, that headlights typically operate even with the ignition switch turned off.  Headlights (and taillights) are important safety equipment!

It is also not unusual for the headlight circuit breaker to be located in the headlight switch.  Why?  Economics:  it minimizes the amount of wire and the number of electrical connectors, and does not require a separate package for the breaker.  These headlight circuit breakers are designed (although sometimes by monkeys) to reset automatically.

Is bypassing a headlight circuit breaker with a fuse a clever idea?  Absolutely not!  It is unsafe.  Use an automatic-reset circuit breaker instead of a fuse, if you must avoid replacing the headlight switch.  General-purpose automotive circuit breakers are available.

As for the Honda running light modules:  process design by monkeys.  "...wiring and quality of the Hondas was much better than the GMC?"  You provided several examples of electrical problems with Hondas, so I am not convinced this is true.  Do you have statistics to back up this statement?

Larry M
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Japanese Cars are Better than American Cars... or are they?
Larry M   10/24/2012 5:12:01 PM
NO RATINGS
Critic wrote "As for the Honda running light modules:  process design by monkeys.  "...wiring and quality of the Hondas was much better than the GMC?"  You provided several examples of electrical problems with Hondas, so I am not convinced this is true.  Do you have statistics to back up this statement?"

It's got to be true. Even Yugos have better electrical design than General Motors. General Motors' favorite trick is to run more than rated current through their connectors. Example: the A/C-heater blower draws at least 10 amps. The current is switched by a relay with tiny pins which plugs into a Packard connector with tiny receptacles surely not rated for this much current. When it starts to fail, it overheats and melts the plastic base of the relay. This causes the support for the spring-loaded armature to draw away from the Normally-Open contact and the relay ceases to make contact. It's pretty easy to fix the relay--pry off the cap and bend the armature support, possibly while heating the base with a heat gun. After two or three events you notice that the socket contact is mostly burned away.

It fails so commonly that when you go to the parts counter and ask for the heater connector, the parts counterman has it in stock and gets it without looking it up. The GM factory shop manual devotes several pages finding and replacing each of the various connectors used on the car. And the parts counter has the individual contacts for each of the connector sockets, as well as new sockets with pigtail leads.

wbswenberg
User Rank
Gold
Not Bad Solder but repooled?
wbswenberg   10/24/2012 4:15:07 PM
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I kind of think that the contacts - solder joints over heated and you are seeing repooling.  I had a problem on my motorcycle with my headlight circuit.  While the fuse leads were crimped they corroded.  I brighten them up and resoldered with plenyt of resin.  Next thing I see is balls of solder.  The fuse solder is melting as well as my solder job.  Just too much heat I'm guessing from the poor holder contact resistance.  Yes, the fusable link was still good.

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Automotive headlight problems
William K.   10/28/2012 9:26:19 PM
NO RATINGS
The reason for using an automatic reset breaker in the headlight circuit is that the headlights are important! If they were fused and a random fuse failure occurred a person could be in a lot of trouble. Momentary short circuits and overloads do happen in cars, and the breaker is supposed to reset and restiore lighting. Unfortunately purchasing gets into the picture and quality is reduced until the price target is met. One of my cars did wind up with a military surplus breaker for the lights. It cost me $2, and while it did trip once or twice it was always able to be easily reset. 

My impression is that many soldered parts in cars are quite poorly soldered, and that the lead free solder is even worse. So perhaps the liability should be placed on those idiots in europe who came up with such a stupid idea. 

Cadman-LT
User Rank
Platinum
Terrible
Cadman-LT   11/5/2012 2:55:42 PM
NO RATINGS
I wish I had you around here! We can't seem to fix my car and we've tried everything. 

cookiejar
User Rank
Gold
Re: Terrible
cookiejar   11/6/2012 7:57:33 AM
NO RATINGS
"I am still trying to figure out why GM would install a thermal breaker inside the dashboard switch when there are spare fuse positions in both of the fuse panels in this truck."


One guess is that GM considers headlights very important.  A circuit breaker will reset itself to keep you going.  Circuit breakers take more room than fuses.  Perhaps there wasn't the room for a breaker. Yea right.

Then of course there's the cynical reason of "New Improved" which usually translates to mean, "New Improved Profits".   Replacing a switch makes the dealer and GM more money than simply replacing a fuse or circuit breaker.

If the switch is usally the problem, then it's an OK design as it is often costly and frustrating to trace why a fuse has blown or a breaker opened.

Another posibility is that the thermal breaker is right in the switch in case the switch overheats and would otherwise risk starting a fire. 

Your guess is as good as mine.

Cadman-LT
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Terrible
Cadman-LT   11/14/2012 11:59:28 AM
NO RATINGS
We think it's the control module.....even though I took it to the shop and tested the crap out of it and was fine we still think it's bad..I just have to buy one and find out. Just sucks once you install it you own it.



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