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Discussion Starter #1
Me and SWMBO have a good friend who is single and lives alone, and has no one around the house to do "manly" tasks. Our friend and SWMBO jokingly refer to her as "Wife #2", because I end up doing the unenviable things that husbands do -- fixing things, moving things, and so on. Just the unenviable parts, mind you.

I went over to her house today to do some remedial car maintenence on her Jeep Wrangler. The CD changer cartridge was jammed, a bulb was burned out in the instrument cluster, a side marker light was burned out, and oh yeah, it's leaking a lot of oil. SWMBO and Wife #2 then went out to do girl stuff while I did my manly tasks.

After lying on my back staring at the oil pan for a while and determining that I really didn't feel like pulling it and resealing it today, I moved on to the burnt out bulb in the instrument cluster. I pulled out the panel that covered the cluster, swapped the burnt out bulb for one that went to an unused dummy gauge (stupid Chrysler) and started reassembling it. Much to my horror, though, a pair of wires that went to the flashing light of an aftermarket alarm system caught on something (still not sure what) and proceeded to smoke. And I mean really smoke.

$#%@!

I pulled it away from anything metal, and it was quite hot and burning through the insulation. $#%@! At this point, the Jeep and the garage started filling up with smoke, and I started panicking in a hurry. I looked under the dash near the fuse panel, where all the smoke was coming from, and saw a set of red-hot glowing wires going through a sloppy harness of a bunch of other wires.

$#%@! $#%@! $#%@!

I reached in and grabbed it, knowing full well that it would burn my hand. It did, but I couldn't get it broken free, as it was intertwined with a bunch of other wires. In retrospect, it didn't matter, as all the insulation was obviously burned off by now, and the two wires were already very much welded together. I remember thinking at the time that a fuse should have blown by now, and anyway, why the hell was there current running through the stupid blinking alarm light? The car was off, the alarm was not armed, and the light wasn't blinking!

$#%@!

I knew at that point that the only thing to do was to disconnect the battery. Fortunately, the hood was open. Unfortunately, I had no tools handy to loosen the battery terminal clamp. My tools were in the trunk of my Mustang outside and I wasn't even sure where my keys were. I started frantically tearing through her tool chest -- she had almost no tools to speak of, in a really nice professional red metal tool chest. Finally, I found an oversize set of vice grips and managed to loosen the nut holding the clamp on and pulled it off pronto.

I called SWMBO to tell her what happened while I let things cool down for a minute. After I got off the phone, I was really close to just collapsing. Really, crying was not out of the question at this point. I thought for sure I had destroyed our friend's Jeep. Looking back on it, if the Jeep had caught fire (which was certainly possible had I not disconnected the battery) then the garage would have caught fire. Seeing as how her house is built right on top of the garage (Sunset-style house, for those in the bay area) the house would have burned to the ground. Her neighbor's houses would have burned to the ground. It's entirely possible that the whole block would have gone up in smoke.

I regained my composure long enough to start inspecting the damage. As I feared, a good many wires were now melted as a result of being in contact with the two LED wires. Melted and mangled, as they had all been bunched up together. My mind was still racing at this point -- how the hell was I going to fix this? Upon closer inspection, though, I realized that all of the damaged wires didn't appear to be OEM. I traced a few down, poked and prodded, and finally figured out that the whole bundle that had melted all belonged to the alarm system, at least as far as I could tell.

So I took the dash apart some more so I could get a good look at things. I found the alarm box tucked way up inside the dashboard, above the fuse panel. I started snipping at the zip ties that held everything in place, pulled out the alarm box, pulled out the shock sensor, and found the remaining five or six wires that were attached to various OEM wires. All of the OEM stuff looked to be in reasonable shape, albeit badly spliced by the alarm installer. One wire to the underdash light, one wire to the parking lights, two wires for the ignition kill, and two more presumably for power. I snipped them out and heaped the whole mangled alarm system in the corner. Mmmm. Viper. (Thank you mister Darryl Isa, you cowardly twit who stirred the s__t in California and then ran away).

Some electrical tape on the splices to cover any bare wires and a reattachment of the bypassed ignition and I was back in business. What I thought was going to be a total catastrophe (and would have been had our friend not had a pair of vice grips in her otherwise useless tool chest) turned in to a mild fiasco.

Okay, as mentioned in various places above, here's what I want to know. These are rhetorical questions, mind you, but if you'd like to comment on possible explanations I'd be happy to listen.

1) Why was there current flowing through the two wires that led to the blinky LED if the alarm was off? The only thing I can think of is that the Viper unit keeps one side hot and then grounds the other side when they want it to turn on. Seems like a bad design to me, but I've seen other stuff like that.
2) Why didn't any fuses blow? I inspected both fuses on the alarm after removing it -- a 2 amp and a 5 amp, I think. Both were intact and not blown. The LED wires were red-hot and glowing, with all the insulation burned off. Surely the fuses would have blown had the circuit actually been fused, right?

This incident has really reinforced my already strong belief that everything, and I mean everything, should be fused, and as close to the power source as possible. It's also helped me make up my mind about how to do the battery-to-the-trunk swap in my own car -- I will most certainly be moving the starter solenoid back there as well. I can't even imagine what a 1-gauge cable would do if it were to come in contact with ground.

I'm still thanking my lucky stars that it wasn't worse, and that it's only going to cost me a new alarm system. If that -- apparantly, Wife #2 said she doesn't even use the alarm. ::
 

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I guess that is why service manuals tell you to remove the ground from the battery before doing any work. Do I remove ground, NO! :: I can see myself in your shoes all to well though. :: I have somehow gotten sucked into doing those manly things for the SWMBO's mom (SWMBATH). If I try to burn down her house I to will apply for a doofus award. You never did say if you burnt your fingers, sounds like a doofus nomination to me. :: fd
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I guess that is why service manuals tell you to remove the ground from the battery before doing any work.
Yep. And the only reason I hadn't disconnected the battery is that I needed power to figure out the instrument cluster problem. In retrospect, I should have disconnected, reconnected once everything was disassembled, and then disconnected for the reassembly. Even then, I could have easily triggered the short circuit.

Yes, I did burn my fingers. ::
 

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A fire extinguisher in the garage is as necessary as your socket set. Sorry to hear of your trouble but thank goodness the garage and house are still there.
Dave
 

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Thank goodness you are OK!! I see the alarm installation idiot struck again. And super kudos to you for helping out your friend, even though the tasks are unenviable.
 
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As you stated things could have been a lot worse, but I'm confused about the Isa comment. How was that relevant?
Just curious.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Darryl Isa is the guy behind the Viper alarm systems. The alarm business is where he made his fortune. I'm told that the voice on the high-end Viper alarms ("Please move away from the vehicle") is his voice.

He then financed the signature-gathering effort to recall our less-than-stellar governor (although I have no beef with Gray personally) and then bowed out of the running when Ahhnold joined the fray, rather than lose resoundingly.

Sorry, slightly out of context.
 
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