Motorhome engine and generator not starting nothing, no headlights either

I suddenly have a no starting seeming dead battery situation. The engine, 454 and the generator have no starting power. The battery is fully charged. I also have no headlights or other exterior lights. As if the battery is disconnected. Here is what I noticed two days ago. I have a wire under the dash that has been tapped into. When I bumped against this wire, I could here something in the inverter panel click. As if a solenoid was clicking. I pulled the electrical tape off the wire and saw an ugly loose spice and the wire appears to come straight off the ignition. Last night I opened the inverter panel to inspect the panel and measure some voltages and check all fuses. What I believe is the red battery wire coming in has zero volts. What I believe is the coach battery red coming in has 12.8 VDC. I also checked all the fuses in the inverter and the fuses on the inside of the firewall. I do not know if there is a fuseable  link on or along the battery cable somewhere. My guess is that loose connection under the dash continued to make and break the connection after I let it go two days ag, This lead to maybe a fuse link or maybe the relay between the coach battery and engine battery burning up. Its a 1977 Airstream 454 P30 chassis. Any thoughts ? ideas. 

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Comment by david craft on July 7, 2015 at 2:48pm

glad you got it figured.  like to see the engine just ground to the battery and then something smaller to the frame.  that starter is the big draw...but..she'll work the other way too...

Comment by Rich Thomas on July 7, 2015 at 12:36pm

Hooray for you Jeff, dig those night pics as well. 

Comment by jeff york on July 7, 2015 at 12:08am

Tonight I figured out the final piece of the problem. I previously made certain assumptions. That the when I installed the electric fuel pump, I inadvertently did something that caused the issues by either adding to much load (only 2 amps) or that I bumped a wire under the dash or at the starter to cause the problems. So spent way to much time running down that path. I had a starter that was far to weak to turn over a 454 but worse for trying to start my 454 / 496 that has about twice the torque as normal and has it from idle.  Again, I assumed it was causing a load issue. So, I replaced it with a super duty cycle starter. But, no of this was my real problem. Although fixing those items will help with reliability. What I found tonight was a battery ground wire that had been modified and sliced to a short section of very low quality wire. My ground was a # 2 gauge spliced into about a 10 gauge wire and then tucked away. The # 2 gauge ground wire was turning to dust inside. I could see this once I took off the electrical tape at the splice. you can not see real well in the pic I am adding but its worse then it looks in the pic. I have it running but tomorrow I will run a completely new ground wire from the battery to where I think its suppose to ground at the frame. But, for now its running and running great. Thanks to those who insisted that I go back to the ground wire. 

Comment by Rich Thomas on July 6, 2015 at 7:38pm

In the picture the top post is the battery pos. and the fusible link that blew goes to the fuse block the other small gauge  wire is the starter solenoid from the ignition. I don't have any additional wiring on the battery positive at the battery terminal. 

Comment by Rich Thomas on July 6, 2015 at 7:32pm

Here is a picture of my starter and related wiring.

Comment by Casey Chinook on July 6, 2015 at 4:17pm

Hey Jeff,

I had to re-read your post. When you connected the two wires, the engine cranked over?  if yes, you may have a start relay wired in the line. The relay is receiving the 12 volts power on one side, and when you turn the ignition key it switches and powers the starter and probably the lead into the mail fuse block for the lights and accs.  If the relay is bad, you have the 12 volts coming in, and maybe 4 or 5 volts out that would not be enough to crank or power anything.

I don't know if you have that relay, some vehicles do. if the cables and battery don't correct the problem, look for a relay. hope this helps.

Comment by Casey Chinook on July 6, 2015 at 2:23pm

Hey Jeff,

I would just continue with the battery and the new cables. The two wires coming off the battery were connected when the RV use to start. They were connected when it stopped starting. I would connect the two wires back up and see if the new cables and battery corrects the problem. If you can get the headlights to come on and the engine started, you can then trace the two wires that are connected to your battery to their final connection point and may get an idea of what they are powering for your own curiosity.

You are not getting power to the fuse block terminal to power your headlights, or enough current to your starter to crank the engine currently.

The chassis ground that Rich and Dave mentioned you will need to check. I know on some Chinook's there is two or more chassis grounds. One ground became corroded and the Chinook owner lost all of his taillights. That ground was located towards the back of the chassis. So that is important to check also. I will research to see if any loss the starting and headlights due to a ground connection and let you know. Good Luck

Comment by jeff york on July 6, 2015 at 1:55pm

This problem has become so convoluted I am not sure where to continue on to explain it. Over the weekend I spent probably 23-25 hours on this. I ended up buying a new starter even though it turned out mine was ok, it was far to small to turn over my 454 / 496 engine well. I traced and tracts wires and came to the conclusion that there has been some poor wiring done on my RV in the past. I worked to rectify that. I pulled both batteries and had them tested, one came out pretty marginal. So I bought a new one. Not sure if it was the coach battery or the engine battery that was bad. I replaced the ignition but determined my old one was fine. suspected the alternator because when I pulled the alternator field wires my battery voltage at the starter came back up from 9 VDC to 13 VDC. But, it still would not start. as you can see, this got very confusing. Then, late Saturday night, I discovered that I had removed two small 18 gauge wires from the engine battery. I thought they were just something like the CB radio add on. I decided to put them back on and then ,,, The starter and the generator starter would attempt to turn over but, acted like they had a very weak battery. In other words they started to turn and then clicked. So, thats when I pulled both batteries and Sunday took them to be tested. I bought one new battery and two 78 inch battery cables. I hope 78 inches is long enough. I get to this point that I think I have it narrowed down and then I get confused. What in the world would two 18 gauge wires on the engine battery have to do with starting the engine ? I ran a jumper wire of very small gauge on both of them to test it. I smoked the positive test wire instantly. I think my test wires was 22 gauge. So, tonight I am going to trace those wires back . I do not see them in the factory wiring diagram. Put in the new battery and hopefully two new engine battery cables. Then see where I am .

Comment by Russell E Johnson on July 4, 2015 at 3:17pm

On my Southwind P30 chassis from 87, there is the ignition switch and a relay of the ignition switch (under the hood on my MH) that were both bad.  I chased my tail around on this and then under sheer frustration replaced both the ignition switch and the relay.   Then the MH fired right up.  Now I am fighting what I think is a bad ground on the rear lights.  Turn on the headlights and the cruise control quits working and the left turn signal will not work.  BOY, ya just gotta love RVing to put up with what seems to be a constant battle of problems, LOL

Comment by Casey Chinook on July 4, 2015 at 2:03pm

Hey David,

I used a Gravely walk behind with the surrey you could also attach and sit on. Had a big old cast Iron Kohler engine on it. What a monster, would bush hog about anything. I think my RV has a couple chassis grounds on it. I need to check mine also



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