Don't Let a Broken Wire Short Out Your Trip

By Kent

Crimped wireSomething as simple as a broken wire can ruin a great ride. The nature of repairs you can do when you discover a broken or damaged wire will depend upon the resources available to you at the time. A roadside repair could be as simple as wrapping a band aide from your first aid kid around a bit of chaffed insulation. That, of course, is not the recommended fix, but sometimes you have to make due with what you have.

Cut out the bad partIf you're on the roadside, a better choice is to carry a simple repair kit. These easily fit into the corner of a saddlebag, and they consist of a pair of wire strippers, different sized wire connectors and some wire terminals. You'll find these kits at auto parts shops and sometimes at places like K-Mart, Wal-Mart, or Target. It's also a good idea to carry an extra bit of wire in case you have to replace a section that's been damaged beyond repair. Oh, and don't forget to include a roll of electricians tape. It's great for temporarily holding wire bundles together, and you can use it to wrap your repair if you have nothing better at the time. A knife can be used instead of a wire stripper, but it's very easy to cut yourself trying to cleanly remove insulation.

Trim the endsTo repair a broken wire with your kit, begin by disconnecting your battery so you don't fry yourself or your tools if the wire is hot. Once you know you don't have a live wire, then clip the wire at the point of damage if it's not already broken in two. Trim both ends to the point that you have clean wire, then use your wire stripping tool to remove the last ¼ to ½ inch of the insulation. If using a wire connector, place both wires side by side, twist the ends together just a bit to hold them in place, then screw on your wire connector until it seats. No bare wire should show below the connector.

Connectors and terminalsA better alternative to using a wire connector, and something a bit more permanent, is to use a crimp type connector (these are sometimes included in a repair kit). A connector has the advantage of requiring less space than a wire connector, but once attached you cannot remove it and reuse it if you've made a mistake. To use a connector, prepare the end of your wire in the same manner as above, then insert it into the splice. Use your crimping tool to firmly clamp the splice onto the wire. When you're done, give it a tug to make sure it's secure. As with a wire connector, no bare wire should be exposed.

Crimping toolWhen you find a broken wire at home, or if you've made it home with a roadside repair and wish to fix it properly, the best repair is to solder your wires back together. Before using a soldering iron, however, keep in mind that some electronic components can be damaged by the current of the iron. Make sure the wire you repair is electrically isolated from such components.

If you've ever tried to solder something, you know it's not as easy as it looks. It is, however, something almost anyone can learn to do, and you can be successful on your first project. The first secret to success is simply cleanliness, and there's an easy helper to make it happen. That helper is called "flux". Soldering flux looks like firm grease and works as a cleaner. Without it you're nearly dead in the water before you start. You'll also need three other tools: The first is a soldering gun or iron (the kind that looks like a little wood burning kit works just fine for wiring repairs), the second - some small gauge rosin solder, and the last; a wet towel or sponge.

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Cleaning soldering iron in fluxTo solder wires together, begin by turning on your iron. Once it's hot, dip the tip in flux. It will sizzle a bit, and it may pop, so make sure your work area is clear of flammables and that you are wearing eye protection. Wipe the tip of the iron on a wet sponge, then dip it in the flux again. Apply just a bit of solder to the tip, and if it spreads evenly around the tip you know your iron is clean and ready to go. If it doesn't, repeat the process until it does. If the tip of your iron already has solder on it, clean it as described anyway. It really does make a difference.

Heating the jointThe process to prepare your wires is basically the same as for joining with a wire connector, but you may need a bit more of the wire exposed. Place the wires end to end with the exposed area overlapping. If you can give them a little twist to hold them together long enough for soldering they should be just about right.

Dab a bit of flux onto the exposed ends of your wire, then heat them briefly with your soldering iron. If you've started with clean wire, this should assure any minor contaminants from handing are neutralized. Once satisfied that everything is clean and in position, heat the joint with your iron. The idea here is to get the joint hot enough to melt the solder, but not so hot as to melt the nearby insulation. Now here's the second secret to success - don't heat the solder, at least not with your iron. Heat the joint, touch the solder to the joint near the iron, and let the heat of the joint melt the solder and draw it into the joint. If you use your iron to melt the solder and let it drip down on the wires your joint will most likely fail. As soon as the solder has flowed into the joint and covered the exposed wire remove the iron and let the joint cool. You're done, and the joint you've created is nearly as strong as the wire. Don't add more solder - it's just a waste and will make putting on the heat shrink insulation more difficult.

Completed jointWhat's heat shrink insulation? It's the stuff that will cover the nice new soldered joint you just made. It comes in different sizes and looks sort of like a little plastic hose. Before joining your wires, slip a bit onto one of the wires and push it back out of the way (Cut the heat shrink so you'll have about a half inch overlap on each end of your joint.). Once your joint is complete, slide it up over the joint then give it a bit of heat from a match or your soldering iron. The heat will shrink the diameter of the tube and collapse it down on your joint. Great stuff - get it at Radio Shack or other electronics repair shop.

The band aide may get you down the road, and it will surely give you a story to tell, but with minimal supplies and a little effort you can create a permanent repair that won't leave you in the lurch.

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