Electrics and water do not mix

water-damage-pcbThe summer has drawn out now, autumn/winter is starting to set in and the weather is getting darker, duller and damper, which causes all kinds of issues for drivers and car owners.

This is usually the time when you find out that your windscreen wipers need to be replaced because of cracked wiper blades that you are unable to clean your windscreen from the spray off the road fully, headlight bulbs need replacing after seldom use and they then suddenly blow due to higher usage and cars failing to start as the temperature gets lower, this means the batteries are zapped of their energy which will then result in the car failing to start.

Despite the pretty colours of the leaves on the trees and the nice sunsets, autumn is actually a time to make sure your car is in the best road-worthy condition it can be, winter checks are best to be done at this time to avoid any potential huge bills you may incur with your car, if a few simple checks are not done.

Being an electronics remanufacturing company we see our fair share of electronic units throughout the year that have been water damaged and it is usually around this time of the year we see an increase in units that have been affected.
As we all know and are taught at a young age is that, water and electronics do not mix and this is the same with electronic automotive components, even if they seem to be encased in a sealed metal box, much like an ECU.
Manufacturers do try to make these as water tight as possible, but if units are in contact with water for long enough, the water will find a way of getting inside, especially as units heat and cool when driving.

Water damage ECUA very common unit to suffer with water damage is the ECU on the Vauxhall Corsa D, which is simply because of the location of where the ECU is.
For some unknown reason, Vauxhall decided to put the ECU near to the scuttle panel where water from the car is sent.

But what usually happens with poor vehicle maintenance is that the drain plugs get blocked with debris from driving, such as leaves and dirt from the road where the scuttle panel then becomes full of water and you then get a submerged ECU.

Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCBYou can see by the images, side-by-side one which has been submerged into water and one that hasn’t, which will give you a good indicator if there is potential water damage. Although not all ECU’s that have had contact with water or have been submerged, suffer with water ingress issues inside; but 99% of the time water will have found its way into the ECU or into the connecting plug, which we will often see corrosion or pins broken off.

We will say that a water damaged unit may only have one or two faults with the unit and may not be totally inoperative, but even the tiniest of water damage onto the PCB could cause the unit to be beyond repair, a good example of this is the image you can see below.

Once water does go inside the unit and onto the PCB, the board basically acts like a piece of paper and absorbs the water, which will result in corrosion in places that we will be unable to reach to remanufacture.

We would not be happy in claiming to remanufacture a unit that we know may have potential water damage issues in places that we could not reach, even if we have been able to fix the issues that have been reported. We do this because we want our customers to have faith in the remanufacture work we do and we want to keep the vehicle on the road as long as possible, keeping your customers happy.

Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCB

The issue with water damaged units, whether it is slightly or majorly water damaged, more often than not the chances of being able to remanufacture are slim to none. As you can see from the photos below, water damaged units can come in all forms, with some being more obvious than others. The one below you can quite clearly see has suffered a huge amount water damage, which has caused nearly every aspect of the ECU to become damaged.

Tell-tale signs that your unit may have suffered from water damage can vary, the outside may not look “furry” or water corroded, which is the usual signs of water damage, but damage in the connector plug is usually a good sign, because water gets into the connector and plug and with the water having no-where to go will mostly leave corrosion or rusty residue to suggest it has been damaged. You can see below a few forms of water damage that we see in the connector plugs and with the pins. But it is not just ECU’s that suffer with water damage, almost all units that we receive can suffer. Another common unit to suffer however is the ABS unit on the vehicle. Depending on where the unit is situated, these can certainly become damaged and if they are, it’s not necessarily just the ECU that is beyond economical remanufacture.Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCB

Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCB

We are often seeing ABS units that have suffered large amounts of water corrosion where we are unable to separate the ECU and pump from the block simply because of water seizing them together which then means we are unable to fully test or remanufacture. When this happens, the ABS will look very similar to these.

Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCB

Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCB

Sometimes it is pretty clear-cut when we get a unit, especially when we go to open it and water literally comes out of the unit as you can see. Unfortunately placing these units in a bowl of rice does not help, once the unit becomes water damaged, there is very little you can do with the unit as 99% of the time the important components on the PCB, such as processors and the EEPROM get damaged beyond repair and would result in needing a new replacement unit. Unfortunately preventing the units from water damage themselves is difficult for the average DIY mechanic, however as car owners we can all take steps to help keep the cars in the best condition as possible to avoid these issues.

Instrumentcluster Ford Focus PCB

ECU PCB Damage

What we do suggest when conducting the usual checks on your own vehicles, such as tyres, water & coolant levels and general home maitanence is to just make sure that there are no leaves, dirt or debris from the road, which could cause blockages where water and that your car is in a road worthy condition.