® A Plea to Would-Be Charging System Troubleshooters

I deal a lot with folks by email, trying to help them with vintage charging system troubleshooting. I enjoy doing it. For most of my 41+ years in the powersports industry I have been involved in vocational education. I am a teacher at heart.

However, one thing I have found is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people are not ready for my methodology -- or any methodology. They're not willing to follow the suggestions and help they ask me for, choosing instead to mix and match a smorgasbord of opinions and techniques. It doesn't work that way. Not because I have a lock on the methodology market; for me to believe that would be nonsense, not to mention arrogant. Rather it's that troubleshooting methodology is by definition a whole, a quantity, a complete unit. Unlike the individual steps listed in factory manuals, which lead to no conclusion and are not based on a method, my technique (and any practical technique) is rooted in and framed by method, one you could call seasoned logic. Therefore, it is a closed system, not a collection of unrelated tests, but a system whose each step depends on the one before it to work properly, and thus is not workable when tweaked or added to or redefined.

For example, when in my method I say that the rectifier is bad if the stator tests good, there is a reason for this. It can't be taken at face value apart from what happened earlier in the process. It is not serendipity, it is based on logic. The scenario, for the curious, is amps charge is low, and after testing the input side parts such as the rotor, finding them good you tested the stator and found it good. The rectifier is bad. Why? Because if after the rectifier there is no output but before it there is, the rectifier is bad. Simple logic. If your troubleshooting system is not based on logic, then it is not a system and you might as well troubleshoot your bike with a pair of dice. Seriously.

Beware also that most of the advice found on Internet forums is at best unprofessional and at worst, well, ill-advised. Naturally, I think my troubleshooting methodology is best. I think also the Electrosport (and its many copies online) method is fair, because it at least is based on logic. But I fault the Electrosport method for relying too heavily on volts and ohms tests, something no professional would do. Tracy Martin's method is pretty good also, not the least because he and I apparently think a lot alike in the area of electrical troubleshooting. We're both on-the-job trained, you might say, having as a result real-world perspectives. I very much like his book. But what I think is best about my method is 1) it is a method, something that cannot be said of ninety percent of the traditional written material, including the official manual's; 2) it is strongly logic-based, meaning it progresses in its steps, relying on what went before; and 3) it completely avoids volts and resistance tests as diagnostic technique, preferring instead dynamic tests. When you use my method, this is what you get: methodology, logic, and dynamic technique.

I often tell folks to not use volts when checking for charge. My reason is explained in this article but in short it is because using volts, though it is the technique most often found in manuals and can and does work, can be misleading, and is thus not as easy to do reliably. The fact is, volts is not charge but the result of charge. Amps is charge. The logic is outlined in the article.

My plea, my appeal, to you is this. Powersports electrical troubleshooting, because of the way these vehicles are designed, is difficult enough. Don't make things unnecessarily more difficult. Read my troubleshooting articles. Here is the SOHC one. I have new ones for the DOHC fours and the CBX, one for ignition and the other charging. Read them over again if need be, until they make sense. Email me with questions. But please, although I would never tell someone I don't want to get their emails, you're wasting both of our time if you don't intend to follow a method. Mine, preferably, but somebody's! Don't just scatter-gun the thing! Maybe you have to screw around and find this out for yourself, I don't know. Maybe you're not ready to do this the professional way, preferring instead to go the shooting blind route the manual and most Internet forums promote. But whatever you think of my method, know this -- unlike much of what is on the 'net, I didn't come up with my method while sitting in front of my computer late at night in my undershorts.

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© 1996-2015 Mike Nixon