PLEASE Check your battery trays

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Jul 5, 2013
San Diego
Today I experienced a very scary and unfortunate event that could have ended much worse. I was on a routine trip through a local desert in socal, called Borrego Springs, in my 77 series, with my 4 year old son. We were offroading on a fairly mild trail cruising along picking through a bumpy stretch when I began to smell plastic burning, in a panic I started to frantically try to pin point where it was coming from, seconds later I see huge amounts of black smoke coming from under the hood, truck was running normal. I quickly stop, turn the truck off, run out, get my son out of the back seat, then run and pull the hood latch, open the hood, and a huge flame busts out of the back corner over the battery. I run back to the driver seat where I had a 2.5lb fire extinguisher between the seat and cansole. Luckily it was not tied down and I got it out immediately. I've had that fire extinguisher for over 8 years, as I am running with it over to the front of the car I am praying it still works. Pull the pin, hit the trigger and it WORKS!. Instantly it is empty and I can still see fire @!##$#. I run back to my rear swingout where I have a rotopax can with water. I hit the latch, swing it over, get the can,luckily it came loose quickly as well. It had about 3 gallons, douse the rest of the fire and it goes out. As I am trying to process what just happened, smoke and white powder every where, I look over at my 4 year old son at the side of the trail, he smiles and gives me a thumbs up. At that point i feel some relief that no one was hurt.

I immediately see the rear battery tilted towards the firewall with the positive terminal jammed snugly under the pinch weld. Battery is half melted and wires charred all around. It was obvious what happened, the battery shorted out and sparked the fire. When I got it home, it became clear the fiberglass battery tray failed on the back and allowed the battery to tilt. The tray was original and appeared normal about 2 months ago when I got a new battery. But I guess what do you expect of a nearly 30 year old plastic part that has been made brittle by age and constant abuse over the years, it finally gave way and caused this unfortunate incident. I was lucky myself and my son are safe and damaged contained, the whole truck could have easily been torched because of this.

I am sharing this experience with you all to bring awareness to this weakness I discovered the hard way to make sure you will not have the same misfortune. Please check your trays, and make sure your terminals are adequately protected.

Here are some photos of the incident, including the remains of the tray. You can see where the mount is still bolted on the side to the ripped portion of the tray.




So glad it turned out well. You could have lost the whole vehicle in the middle of no where. I have an isolation switch but it would be better if it wasnt between my 2 batteries.
Ive seen some old bush dwellers wrap their batteries in conveyor belt rubber.
I nearly lost my 73 series years ago due to the POs dodgy wiring wearing through its plastic sheathing and arcing against the body, I know how it feels.
Impressive !
But I don't have clear the initial cause of the shortage of the battery .
Failure of the tray ,
The positive cable was loose ,
An internal problem of the battery .

You were prompt to react and quite lucky .
Lucky for you! One thing I noticed is positive terminal was closer to firewall. I’ve got dual
batteries in my 60 & 74, terrifies me the dead short fire idea. I just edited what I’d written,
I didn’t see the tray is same layout as my 74. My trays are in good shape, but a thin sheet of
painted metal might get inserted under the battery to help maintain structural integrity should
the tray fracture in the future
For those unfamiliar with the 24v setups, the rear battery is only a few inches from the firewall with the positive terminal on the far side. That far back the fender begins to curve down, so only about half the tray is resting on the fender the rest is cantilevered, thats where mine broke allowing the battery to tilt towards the firewall with the battery post itself making direct contact.

Upon closer inspection it looks like the damaged was isolated to above and below the battery, flames did not make it over to the engine. Although a good portion of the main harness did get charred, it looks like the wires are still somewhat intact enough to help trace where they go to make the re-wire a little easier. The paint on the hood did get damaged and windshield wiper motor completely burned.
I have removed that exact same tray before (I have same tray layout as you) when I was trying to figure out my hood strut install. The tray is kinda flimsy in my opinion. I need to go make sure I have it bolted down properly again! Scary....

And buy a fire extinguisher.....

Thank you for sharing @Loober
Bolting it down is not really the issue, its the tray itself, as you can see from one of my pics where the brace is melted to the side of the battery, that one connection point is all that supports that half of the tray, once that breaks there is nothing supporting the tray. I am going to replace it with a metal one. So at bear minimum make sure you have a good barrier of rubber or plastic between the firewall and that side of the battery just in case.

The bad part about those ABC fire extinguishers is the corrosive nature of the powder, I did as thorough job as possible getting it off as soon as I got it home, but its already starting to corrode some exposed metals. I guess thats not as bad as having you're whole truck burn down.

Hopefully reading this thread reminds folks of how real these type of things can be and encourages going out and double checking your setup. I am naturally very obsessive about my trucks and make sure I do all work to the upmost quality especially electrical, and check things thoroughly before and after each trip. I would have never thought to check for something like this, now I know.

Hopefully I'll have some better pictures to share once its rebuilt and back on the trail
Happy to report the repair is complete after 1.5 months of on/off work. Do not have too man in process pictures as it was mostly wiring. I was not successful in finding a replacement factory harness, so I was left to rebuilding mine. Luckily the damage was done in between two connectors and the wires were all still connected so I was able to follow them back and re-build it that way. I used these connectors to replace the OEM ones, The place for all your motorcycle electric needs., the quality was as good as OEM, highly recommend these.

Went over board on the battery trays, decided to build them completely out of metal. Used group 34 batteries instead of 27, which are slightly smaller, allowing more clearance from the firewall. The CCA are the same at 800, RC is slightly less then 27 group, shouldn't make much of a difference. Built a tray to mount to the fender, and pre-fabbed battery mounts from Ruffstuff, super stout. Took extra care making sure all wires are protected with wire loom, shrink seal and redundant fusing everywhere.

Ran into some frustrations along the way, but took my time and worked through it. Was never a fan of wiring, but gained more confidence with it through this whole process. Definitely don't want to go through this ever again. Here are some highlight photos and the end product:





Thanks for the extensive post and glad to hear you're back on the road. Your misfortune may save the rest of us a lot of grief.
Appologies for the hijack Loober but do you have a dedicated thread showing some pics of your 70 ser PDI installation ? I cannot see your AC dreyer for example ? Did you also fit the 76mm MK3 ?
Thanks in advance.
Thanks guys, after the experience I went through, I had to make something that was way overkill, mainly for own piece of mind. I am hobby mechanic and fabber, don’t really have the means to replicate this very efficiently.

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