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The Honda Element is a compact crossover based on a modified CR-V platform, and offered in front-wheel and all-wheel drive formats from model years 2003 through 2011.

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Erratic voltmeter readings that vary from 12.1v to 13.7v

Mounted a known good VDO voltmeter tapping into the ACC fuse slot in the underdash fuse box. When driving the readings were 13.7v most of the time, BUT once every 2-3 hours, the voltage would drop to 12.1v for five-ten minutes before rising back up to 13.7. None of the warning lights come on at any time. My interpetation is that when it was reading 12.1, that was merely the battery voltage.

The Honda charging circuit is simple: the B+ thick red wire goes directly to one lug of a 100A fuse (#19 under the hood), the other lug goes directly to the battery. A four wire cable goes to the ECM.

Mechanics have installed another good alternator, serpentine belt, 100A fuse and B+ thick red wire with no change in reading behavior.

The vehicle runs normally, the battery is good and holds a charge, and in all other respects the car acts as it should. Am speculating that there might be an ECM component intermittent, but am loath to do a blind replacement without a specific cause.

What could be happening?

Welcome your analysis and thoughts

Thanks

W. Li

2006 Honda Element with 102,000 trouble-free miles

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With the engine running and no electrical load besides ignition, tye alternator shoiuld ge putting out approx 14.1 VDC at the battery terminals. (The 0.4V drop to the underdash box is from resistive wire loss or bad ground circuit)

A cycling heavy electrical load could be causing battery voltage to drop faster than the charging system can respond. The key is knowing what electrical loads are in use when this is happening. .

If for example your alternator had a 65A capacity, you drive at night with the headlamps on and AC is on, each time the AC clutch engages the load could rise above 65A, the battery voltage would drop until the AC clutch disengaged, tje suddenly rebound to the alterntor output.

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Let me theorize: the 13.7 is when it's getting a charged, and when it dropped to 12.1 the battery was full. After the five to ten minute period it started to fill again. I'm not sure, but I believe that there isn't really a problem.

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George:

You are spot on! That is exactly what was happening as the Electric Load Detector switched the alternator between high and low output modes! This is apparently normal behavior that I was unaware of before today.

Thanks again

W. Li

Glad I could help.

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wli98122, When testing the voltages for battery/alternator test directly on clean battery terminals when possible. 13.7 V is OK when engine running and alternator putting out charge. You say the battery is good and charged, if you measure voltage at the battery(cold) it should be 12.4-12.6+ to be good(maybe have load tested). A battery that is on it's way out(faulty cell) or bad connection could cause the fluctuations you see. I have also seen new alternators out of the box not up to snuff. Faulty ELD(Electronic Load Detector) may display this symptom also and there may actually be a TSB on it for your vehicle as there was for a lot of Honda's. If able check all the connections to ECM as well, unplug check for corrosion reseat plugs/wires/grounds. Below are some interesting links that trouble shoot in depth charging systems in depth, with possible causes/repairs. Some of the auto parts suppliers offer free battery/ alternator/starter testing and also code reading like Pepboys, Nappa, Advanced auto parts,etc and some of the guys are very knowledgeable and may have seen the issue often and put you on the right track. Some time it takes better equipment(scanner) as found in dealership to retrieve all codes, which the places above will normally let you know if the case with your vehicle. Good luck. I hope this helped you out, if so let me know by pressing the helpful button.

http://www.underhoodservice.com/alternat...

http://www.elementownersclub.com/forums/...

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L Pfaff

I followed your suggestions, and am happy to report the voltage drops across the various wires and connectors were all under 0.05 v using my DVM. My experience is that the dealerships vary widely in advice and knowledge, and often their first move is to replace something (!). As my Element is always garaged, atmospheric induced corrosion is at a minimum even after 11 years!

Thanks for your thoughts

W. Li

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wli98122 this sounds like an ECM issue. For now I would not change or repair anything. I would hook up a scanner and see if there are any OBD codes popping up. Not all codes trigger a warning light. Drive it and see if the interval where the voltage drops shortens or anything else starts to come up. Consider hooking the voltmeter to a different circuit and see if you get the same drop. It may be possible that the drop is in the ACC circuit. Otherwise just enjoy your Honda as a reliable vehicle with a quirk:-)

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My OBD II scanner showed no DTC codes. I did move the voltmeter to another fuse slot (radio) and saw the same phenomenon. Seems what I observed was normal ELD behavior... something I was unaware of until I read that article on dual-mode charging. Live and learn as they say..........

W. Li

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I have owned Elements since 2004, and have seen one design issue that can cause hard to diagnose electrical issues, including hard starting, undercharging, and erratic engine performace. These are more prevalent in costal ocean areas and the "rust belt".

I can't say whether this is the casue of your iussue but it's worth checking out anyway as a preventive mainbtenace item.

The battery has two ground connections, one to the left inner fender, one down to the transmission. The one to the transmission has a section of exposed copper conductors several inches long just before it enters the terminal to the transmission. Over time exposure to water with salt and heat cycles that expiosed section corrodes internally, gradually increasing its resistance.

The way I discovered this was when recharging the battery of my 2008 thuis summer after not driving for several weeks. Per the recommended procedure I made the ground connection made to the engine block. It worked but was taking much longer than I expected. Moving the negative connection directly to the battery quickly brought it up to full charge.. Since the ground lead to the block is less than 2 feet and of very heavy cable, it should have had less than one ohm resistance. When I looked at the cable and lower terminal with a mirror and light they looked OK. When disconnected that terminal to clean it, the cable crackled and started to crumble as I flexed it.

I installed an OEM replacement cable (cost less than $30) and sprayed the bare copper section with Fluid Film to deter corrosion. Since then my engine runs smoother than it has for years, the headlights are brighter and starting is easier. The voltmeter I have connected to the DC aux jack now shows that the resting voltage is higher than it had been, by 0.2v

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Similar thing was happening to another car: a Volvo 240. In this case, Volvo mounted all its positive cables leads except one (the one to the starter motor) on a plate that is bolted onto its proprietary positive battery pole clamp. In my case, there was crud under the plate from old age that presented a small electrical resistance. Wire-brushing the plate contact surfaces cured the problem of intermittent low dash voltmeter readings.

W.Li

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