Getting in on a ground floor




The June issue of The Self-Starter had feedback on tech tips from Virgil Parker of Mount Vernon, Wash. It is really flattering so many Club members have commented or responded to my article on “Hot Damn—Hot Start!”


For years, I have repeatedly proclaimed that 90 percent of electrical problems in our beloved old cars can be traced to a missing or poor ground. The advice by Mr. Parker on grounding the starter was excellent and should be read again by all of you that are restoring or maintaining your cars. After all, he has a LaSalle, so he must be intelligent.


Many times, when restoring a lovely old car, each part and piece is generally thoroughly cleaned, detailed and painted, even more so on a frame-off restoration. It doesn’t do a lot of good to put ground straps on well-painted surfaces. The starter connecting surfaces mentioned by Mr. Parker are very critical but not the only points that need special attention to grounding.


A good example is the gas tank. It has been cleaned, lined and painted and it looks like brand new. Now, lo and behold, the gas gauge on the dash is either erratic or just plain not working. Don’t tear apart the dash unit just yet until you have grounded the sending unit in the tank. Clean off one of the machine screws holding the sending unit in the tank and using 12-gauge wire and terminals, fasten a jumper wire onto that screw. With a self-tapping screw, attach it to an out-of-sight spot on the frame.


While you are at it, also put a special ground wire out of sight under the dash from the instrument cluster to the body in the same manner. You would be surprised how much better your instruments and dash lights work. Of course, a couple of these hidden ground wires out of 12-gauge wire between the frame and the body will add to your pleasure and lessen your electrical problems.


Also, you probably had the fenders, headlight and taillight housings off and well-painted, causing loss or reduction of grounding. Special ground wires to these assemblies are easily hidden. Without these “extra” grounds, you can have some real weird happenings with your lighting systems, as 6-volt DC electricity will try to find a ground by some other route.


Don’t forget to make sure that your generator gets the same good grounding that you did for your starter. It is also a good idea to install a special ground made from 12-gauge wire from one of the mounting screws of the voltage regulator along the wiring loom to the ground screw on the generator itself. This can prevent premature failure of the regulator and/or the generator. While you are at it, anytime you have the generator and/or the regulator off of the car or disconnected, be sure you repolarize them exactly as the service manual and/or the instructions that come with a new regulator. Otherwise you can go back and forth replacing or rebuilding the generator and the regulator.


Maybe you have noticed a sharp little brass springy thing on the firewall that presses against the hood when you close it. It is also a ground that provides a means to ground static electricity from the hood that builds up when you are driving. The factory usually installed these on cars that were equipped with radios in order to improve reception and reduce noise.


I have found that a Dremel tool or die grinder is great for cleaning the spot where your grounds are mounted. If you don’t have either, you can use sandpaper. After the ground is tightened down good, you can use a small touchup brush in case you took off too much paint. Then take a light amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and apply around the connection. This will retard rusting and corrosion from gradually reducing the efficiency of your “special” grounds.


While you are at it, don’t forget your battery terminals (cables should be at least 00 gauge for 6-volt systems). Clean them and cable ends with steel wool or sandpaper, or a regular battery terminal brush that is available at most tool or parts stores at a very low cost. After cleaning and tightening these terminals, a small amount of petroleum jelly applied will retard that ugly corrosion that does no good for your car’s electrical system and can greatly reduce the power from your battery. Don’t forget that some of the older cars had a positive ground system.


It boils down to making a good investment in your old LaSalle or Caddy by getting in on the ground floor for a good deal by making good grounds.


See ya next month,