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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Alright, here goes. I've had this 56 Bel Air four door for 3 years now and due to me doing body work/being in the service I've only been driving it on the road twice last summer and for the past two weeks this month.

It was partially restored in 1989-1990. 80% original with the exceptions of a rebuilt (then) 1964 283. Interior was redone, engine bay painted, wiring updated as necessary for alternator. It isn't the most beautiful wiring system if you will.

This is a project car. Stock radio doesn't work, doesn't bother me at the moment. Heater doesn't work, doesn't bother me at the moment. It's got antique plates so legally I can't drive it as a daily driver and don't really intend to.

A lot of the wiring is original, I imagine, and some of it was replaced in 1990. I was only driving it during the day the first week of Febuary, with no problems really. Second week, started driving it at night. My alternator isn't charging the battery. One night over the weekend I needed 4 jumpstarts in about 45 minutes.

A couple weeks ago I replaced the starter solenoid (car wouldn't turn over). The battery is only a year old and takes a charge fine. Replaced battery to block ground strap and positive battery cable. Starts up just fine. In 2008 I put in new MSD plug wires, distributor cap, points, blaster coil. No issues really. But when I start using headlights, blinkers, etc., at night, dies.

The alternator test while the car was running (connected to battery) read 11.4 volts, no amps or 1 at most. Mechanic says everything is running off of the battery. I drove the car (daytime) to O'Reilly's, took the alternator off and they did their diagnostic, the alternator passed all the tests. There is nothing connected to the ground post on alternator but mechanic tells me it's grounded to the block so it should be fine. He recommends replacing voltage regulator. I did that, no change.

I replaced all fuses (one had a metal rod in it in place of a fuse, one was blown). The 3A fuse at the ignition was fine. All taillights, blinkers, reverse, dome light, dash and clock lights work. The "generator" bulb/wire was taken out, probably when they put the alternator on I guess.

My dad and I are at these points right now (he has not looked at the car yet and will be here next week when I tow it to the east coast):

Whenever the motor was put it, a ground strap is not connecting the motor to the frame, nor from the motor to the body from what I can see. Would a ground stop the alternator from charging the battery?

I know a short "somewhere" could probably stop the alternator from charging the battery too? The problem is honestly the short could be ANYWHERE. Most wiring under the dash is corroded at least somewhat. My dad keeps mentioning that he believes there is a "fusable link" somewhere that may be the issue. He had a 56 Bel Air hot rod back in the day, but hasn't been under my hood yet.

The mechanic finally suggested that the simplest (temporary) solution would be to just put a 1-wire alternator on it to bypass any sort of short/wiring issue before (this summer/fall/winter) I just go through and install a new wiring harness next winter (and maybe a 350).

Sorry for such a long post, but I wanted to throw everything out there. My dad'll be here in 8 days to tinker on it, but it's my only set of wheels and I love driving it. I'd much rather say I fixed it and cruise around with him while he's here versus him tinkering on it before we take off to GA.

Thanks a lot in advance, and I can provide any picture necessary by tomorrow night.
 

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Trifive Automotive Electrical Wiring Expert
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A couple weeks ago I replaced the starter solenoid (car wouldn't turn over). The battery is only a year old and takes a charge fine. Replaced battery to block ground strap and positive battery cable. The alternator test while the car was running (connected to battery) read 11.4 volts, no amps or 1 at most. Mechanic says everything is running off of the battery
Whenever the motor was put it, a ground strap is not connecting the motor to the frame, nor from the motor to the body from what I can see. Would a ground stop the alternator from charging the battery?

I know a short "somewhere" could probably stop the alternator from charging the battery too? The problem is honestly the short could be ANYWHERE.
My dad keeps mentioning that he believes there is a "fusable link" somewhere that may be the issue.
It sounds like your output of the alternator is not connected to the battery. You should have at least battery voltage (12.6 volts) at the alternator if they are connected together. It could be a bad connection at several places. On a 56, the 12 gauge red wire from the voltage regulator goes to the horn relay and from there to the firewall plug under the drivers fender. Since the car starts and the lights work, the bad connection is probably at the regulator, horn relay, or firewall plug. Does the horn work?
There is no fuseable link on a tri-5.
A short won't cause the problem, an open circuit will.
You don't need a ground cable to the frame, there is nothing electrical grounded to the frame. Originally a 56 had a ground strap from the starter motor mount to the body. ....http://www.trifive.com/garage/56%20Chevy%20Assembly%20Manual/221-12.gif
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I saw the firewall plug yesterday while up under the dash at the fuse panel. I can follow the red wire from my regulator to what I believe is the horn relay (says delco remy with some wires going to/from it). Then a red wire also goes to a small (1/2 inch by 2 inch) box with another going out. These are all old enough that they could use replacing without a doubt. Or do you recommend just running these new 12gauge wires until it's solved?

I have about 20-50ft of 10-14 gauge wire of different colors.

The horn didn't work when I bought it. When I replaced the shift collar (you guys saved me there!) I also replaced the turn signal pieces/wires. I didn't put the steering wheel cover/chrome back on yet so I could replace the horn components (which I have new) to put back in. Just haven't gotten around to it yet.

And one more thing...my wipers are stuck on (took the blades off) but I'm sure this wouldn't/hasn't caused the alternator to not charge my battery.
 

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Trifive Automotive Electrical Wiring Expert
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He recommends replacing voltage regulator. I did that, no change.
Does the regulator match the alternator? What # regulator did you put in?
To determine which alternator you have, there is some numbers or letter on the alternator case next to the 2 wire plug on the alternator. What are the #'s or letters?

I wouldn't start changeing wires until this is resolved, that can complicate things. From what you say, it may have never charged the battery since you got it, so the regulator/alternator could be wired wrong.

Measure the voltage at the alternator output post with the engine off. It should be over 12 volts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
When the motor was running, the mechanic placed a jumper cable looking handle around the red wire to the alternator. It didn't touch the wire, just went around it if you know what I mean. I had never seen that done before and assumed it would have to be connected to the wire itself.

I believe the reading went from 0 amps to 3 or 4 at the most.

The regulator I was given from O'Reilly's was after I told them the motor was from 1964, so we went with the product their computer gave for a 64-69 impala I believe. I can check the alternator numbers after work and will post pictures so everyone has a better idea of what I'm working with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Update:

I replaced the horn relay yesterday. No change.

My next step is to check condition of wires which connect to starter solenoid and replace if necessary. Otherwise I think I'll just go to a 1-wire alternator. Would I need one that is internally regulated (and bypass the voltage regulator) or should I get one that is externally regulated?

Thanks.
 

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One wire alternators are internally regulated. BUT......

I personally wouldn't change the alternator to a 1-wire. That will cause all sorts of other wiring issues that you'll be sorting out for a while. You will have to remove or bypass the external regulator.

If your current alternator is good, I would find out why it's not connected to the battery, as Don said. When running, the alternator should put out around 14 volts. Does it?

If the voltage at the alternator terminal doesn't match the battery voltage, the battery and alternator aren't connected. They need to be. Don't worry about amps....look at voltages.
 

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Trifive Automotive Electrical Wiring Expert
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Did you ever check the voltage at the alternator with the engine off, and did you determine what kind of alternator you have (numbers or letters on the case under the 2 wire plug)?
I would get a 3 wire internally regulated alternator. It will not need the regulator and is a simple wiring change. BUT...if you have a wiring problem, the new alternator still won't work.
 
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