Do you know what smells worse than anything in the world?

Talk about whatever

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I'm going to come out and say an electrical fire/electronics spontaneously combusting inside a closed vehicle takes the award. It happened about a week ago and I still smell the "magic smoke" in my wardriving rig.

Here we have a cheapo 350W Vector Inverter. It's about 3 years old. Maybe coming up on 4.

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One night, it started acting funny, like it had a bad ground or something. I took it out of my car and found that the ground wire was indeed frayed and loose. So I re-soldered it. When I took it back out to the car, it was acting the same way, so I shut it off again and forgot about it for a few days. I was at RadioShack and came out to my car and it looks like there's smoke inside. Prepared for the worst, I open the door, and it doesn't smell like fire. It smells like failed electronics. The laptop is off and not even plugged in. The GPS is still alive. my PDA isn't hooked up to anything and couldn't have filled my car with smoke. The inverter was off but still plugged in. I unplug it and pick it up, it's a hot potato!

Anyhow yesterday I replaced it with a nice new digital read-out 400W inverter that seems to be doing nicely. Tonight I decide to take apart the old one to see what happened to make all that smoke. It's been a week and my car still smells like burned electronics when you get in.

Here's what I found. Sorry for the crappy photos:

At first glance, I see an obvious fried power resistor.
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Looking further though, I see that the main HOT AC wire had been rubbing on a heat sink and had worn through the insulator. Keep in mind that the power was OFF on this inverter at the time it happened. It didn't burn up a single fuse (smallest of which is a 10A on the double outlet I installed) when it fried, so I'm not sure what actually happened. You can see the red wire is blackened to a crisp, and you can see a visible "weld" mark on the heatsink where it finally made contact.

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Anyhow, here's a pic of the new inverter in the back seat of my REALLY messy car. I just got home from delivering pizza (and wardriving at the same time)

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Postby NinjaPablo » Tue Jan 18, 2005 4:10 pm

I'd be a bit terrified if I saw smoke gathering in my car. Glad it didn't fry any of your stuff though. As for the smell, have you tried Febreze? :)

Postby ax0n » Tue Jan 18, 2005 5:23 pm

Fortunately nothing was plugged into it since it was recently acting funny.

I actually detailed my car yesterday since it warmed up a bit. I used Ozium for the stench, which is about the best thing in the world. It's an aerosol air neutralizer that uses a glycol mist to trap stinky stuff from the air. Spray it and wait about an hour, your car will smell like NOTHING. Literally. They offer scents that last a short while, but the end result is an interior that has no smell. I use it in my mom's car, she smokes.

Maybe I'll get some updated pics today, since it's clean and everything.

Postby bobzilla » Wed Jan 19, 2005 3:30 am

I once melted some speaker voice coils while driving on a highway, entire car filled with smoke, had to pull over right quick. Pretty scary going 80 and suddenly becoming blind :)

Postby izzy4505 » Fri Jan 21, 2005 4:30 am

I love the smell of burning electronics. Not sure why. I used to have a problem with the wiring in my steering wheel, where a couple times, smoke came rolling out of the column. It was neat. Nothing however smells worse than "The Jar". A jar of fish eggs and guts that have been sealed and sitting in a hot garage for over 15 years. Only opened 2 or 3 times. Lol, we opened it up for 3 or 4 seconds, put the lid back on.... about 30 seconds later everybody in the room will start gagging, it smells sooooooo horrible. If you're ever in Central IL, stop by, it's practically a tourist attraction.
Brad Isbell
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Postby ax0n » Fri Jan 21, 2005 6:23 pm

Let's see... I think I'll pass on that offer. :lol:

Postby KH » Sat Oct 08, 2005 1:52 pm

Anyhow, here's a pic of the new inverter in the back seat of my REALLY messy car. I just got home from delivering pizza (and wardriving at the same time)
Are there more wardrivers combining this with a job that will take them on all the roads in a city? Delivery work in urban areas sounds like one of the best ways to visit all the little roads and have someone else pay the gas!

The best wardriving hack I read about (ages ago) was a garbage truck with a wardriving setup mounted on the roof, as part of the cities' cooperation with the local city wifi project. A garbage truck will (eventually) drive all streets of the city.

Postby rage » Sun Oct 09, 2005 6:15 am

I wardrive all the time on pizza delivery. However, we're not in such a densely populated area, so, i've only found 1000 ap's or so thusfar. sooner or later, however, I will cover the city....
Drivers - Are you being paid fairly? [url=http://www.xdelivery.org]Find out here![/url]

Postby IrishFBall » Sat Jun 17, 2006 12:27 am

I had a cheap-ish vector 100w inverter very similar to that that went up in smoke one day... I was getting out of my truck and walked around to the other side to help my rather smallish friend out of the truck when she noticed that the inverter had began smoking, and it was quite hot to the touch when unplugged it... The only load on it at the time was the AC adapter to my Creative Nomad MP3 player... probably only about 25w or so...

I ended up calling vector and complaining and they very quickly and without much argument at all replaced it with a newer model (this one is branded as Black & Decker, and features SST which is apparently some sort of IC that stabilizes the power before presenting it to the plug).

Postby themacuser » Sat Jul 22, 2006 10:27 am

Heh. My inverter failed too. 8 hours of usage. No bad smoke smell. Just blew three fuses. Upon replacement of those three fuses, and replugging in of the inverter, it beeped continuously.

I was going to buy another one about a year ago, but put the cash down instead for a GPS (USGlobalSat BU-353). I'll get an inverter sooner or later. Probably just before I go on another long road trip. (bought that one for a 11-hour drive).

Postby ax0n » Sat Jul 29, 2006 2:53 pm

The new verctor I bought (which is working OKAY not great, more on that later) has SST, and the digital volt/watt meter.

When they smoke, it's not because of the load. It's because something inside failed. in my case it was one of the 120V wires shorting to the heatsink.

I've also had a few inverters just "bite the dust". My first one ever, back in the mid 90's (an 80 watt from radio shack that cost me an arm and a leg at the time) just stopped working, period. No fuses blown and I couldn't see any visible components inside that were damaged. I was in high school and didn't have any of the diagnostic tools I have now, just a soldering iron and cheapo multi-meter that I didn't know how to use to it's full potential yet. I wrote it off without testing any of the components and saved up for a new one.

Similar situation with my Vector (go figure) Pocket Generator. A SLA battery AND 40W inverter in a carry pouch. And the 80 Watt mini-inverter that plugs directly into the lighter outlet. On both, An SCR bit the dust. It smelled wierd but no real visible billowing smoke.

On my new one, it sometimes freaks out and thinks there's a short or capacitance only load when I hook various things up to it. This includes my Compaq laptop, an old corded drill, or almost any desktop CPU. All of which draw way less than 700 watts that it's rated for. If I do get another vector inverter it will not have any of the fancy SST or digital meters on it.

I've come to the conclusion that I hate Vector inverters, BTW.

Postby i_do_dew » Mon Jul 31, 2006 2:23 am

On my new one, it sometimes freaks out and thinks there's a short or capacitance only load when I hook various things up to it. This includes my Compaq laptop, an old corded drill, or almost any desktop CPU. All of which draw way less than 700 watts that it's rated for. If I do get another vector inverter it will not have any of the fancy SST or digital meters on it.
I think you mean inductive and resistive loads, and yeah the new one I picked up from Sears sometimes has that issue too. For a low but resistive load to help balance it out, I use a nightlight.

Recently my little 300w of 3-4 year vintage popped an SCR and a Resistor. For me it was on the input side and it didnt blow the fuse either.

Also just so you know all inverters when connected to a 12v source -- even if the switch is off -- still draw slight power. The switch, as you found out, switches the AC outlet not the DC input which is on standby until an increased load flips a gate.

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