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I'm always getting asked ďDo I need new cables?Ē. Iím always puzzled by the question since I canít really lift the hood and inspect the old ones by email. However there are a few things to look for that are dead giveaways that itís time for new cablesÖ
This is most often caused by the cables being attacked by the sulfuric acid in the battery. Batteries can leak acidic fumes where the battery posts come thru the plastic housing. It gets worse when some idiot at the local discount store beats the battery terminal on with a hammer. (I've seen 'em do it. I've seen 'em do it even after I told them it would damage the battery.) This causing cracks and damage to the fragile post-to-case seal. Using the battery washers helps create another barrier to the fumes. Sometimes the corrosion is hidden under the insulation. Look for wires that are swelled up near the ends or near cracks in the insulation. The green fuzz that forms on the wires is copper sulfate and is poisonous to both plants and animals. Wear safety glasses, gloves and other protective gear and always wash your hands.
Cracks in the insulation are points where acid can enter and attack the wire. If they haven't started corroding yet, you can pretty much bet that they will eventually.
Cables can burn from contact with headers or other exhaust components. If the cables are undersized they can quickly get very hot especially during extended or excessive cranking. Sometimes they get so hot that the insulation actually melts or burns. Also look for insulation that is misshapen or deformed from melting and then cooling into its new shape.
If you look closely you will see that this factory lead terminal is cracked. This could be due to many reasons but often it's from over tightening especially if connecting additional wires under the battery bolt. If you need to connect extra wires, buy cables with terminals with extra wire capability or get extra wire nuts/bolts. I tighten them until I can no longer twist the terminal on the post then I go an extra 1/4 or 1/2 turn. To get a good electrical connection, you need a good mechanical connection. It needs to be clean and tight but over tightening doesnít make it work any better.
Coming soon: How to measure the voltage drop of a battery cable.