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Q&A with Kit Foster: June 5, 2014

Q. Referring to the question about special washers used on electrical connectors (April 24), I believe these limit the rotation of round crimp-on connectors (or loose wires, twisted around the terminal screw) with the left-pictured washer, and spade type (“Y” appearance) crimp-on connectors with the right-pictured washer. The left washer is used with rectangular terminals, and the raised ridges (along with the connector sides) are held from rotating against the sides of the terminal. The right washer is usually used in conjunction with plastic dividers and/or a tab-shaped opening on a terminal strip, which hold the sides and/or tab of the washer from rotating, and the tab then holds the connector in place.

Cleaning the existing washers, possibly with a soft brass wire brush, would be the most economical approach and would keep the car more original, which is well worth the time required to do the cleaning. I have also used fine (220 grit) sandpaper to clean this type of washer, and the device’s connectors, but the brush gets in between the tiny, lock-washer-effect serrations in the square washer, and the screw hole threads in the connector. Clean the terminals and washers with a plastic brush afterwards to remove any metal particles, using electrical contact cleaner, if necessary. As long as there is a clean electrical connection between the wire harness connector and the device (voltage regulator, etc.) terminal, it is not necessary for the washers to be squeaky clean, unless they have corrosion which could spread to the clean connection area. The washers provide a strictly mechanical function, and fit over the wire harness connector, not between the connector and the device’s terminal.

Absolutely do not try to install the wire harness connectors without these proper washers in place. As the screw is (gently) tightened the connectors may spin around and contact each other, which could be really bad in a lot of ways. As you reassemble the wiring system, you should use a good quality digital multimeter (with the car’s battery disconnected from the electrical system) and check that there are no direct shorts to ground, unless they are supposed to be there. Some public libraries have or can order manuals that give complete wiring diagrams for cars, even vintage ones, and copies can be made at a copy place. Take your time and be patient, and be sure all fuses are in place and the right size (someone may have substituted a higher current rating fuse over the years, or even by-passed them).

— Fred Watson, Flat Rock, Mich.

A. Thanks for that wisdom. As we saw in the May 29 issue, there are some sources for these washers, but the procedure you advocate will not only save the original washers but will ensure that the electrical system operates as designed. If everyone did this on their old cars, they would get full voltage to their lights and accessories and wouldn’t have to resort to “brute force” 12-volt conversions.



Q. I was wondering if you could identify this light. I hope so.

— Herb Stuesse, Sheboygan Falls, Wis.

A. Well it’s obviously a directional signal, the type that would be mounted on the rear of a car. The red arrows tell us that. Buick introduced such a device on 1939 models, on the trunk lid and controlled by a switch on the shift lever. This isn’t one of those, however. Buick’s signal lamp had a large pointed red lens on each side, one marked BUICK and the other EIGHT. In the middle was an upright Buick crest. I suspect what you have is an aftermarket accessory, but readers may be able to identify it more specifically.


Q. Regarding “four (and more) on the tree” shifting (Dec. 26, 2013; Jan. 30 and May 8, 2014) I can offer “eight on the tree.” In the 1960s I drove for Mayflower Van Lines. I had a 1957 Diamond T COE with a 175JT Cummins diesel. It had an eight-speed Road Ranger transmission shifted from the steering column. You ran through four gears, then pulled the lever and ran the same four gears. It’s the only one I’ve ever heard of and I’ve been in trucks since 1945. Reverse was always hard to get into because your knuckles would hit the dash or the engine cover.

— Ralph E. Larson, Rhinelander, Wis.

A. Well done! I think you’ve probably got the prize for “most on the tree” shifters.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail or mail to: Q&A, c/o Angelo Van Bogart, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001.

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