Modified van misfires |
Local Stories

Modified van misfires

Question: I have a 2007 Toyota Sienna that has been modified to include a dropped floor, fold-down access ramp, hand controls and driver and passenger transfer seats. I have multiple sclerosis and use a scooter full-time.

My van has a baffling electrical issue that two different van conversion teams have been unable to isolate or fix. Both have confirmed the battery is strong and does not need to be replaced. The problem is inconsistent and intermittent, and of two weeks duration, so far. The battery has been dead and required a jump twice. On other occasions the ramp, transfer seats and ignition have been slow, suggesting a decrease in electrical power, but the van could be started. Today, I was able to start the van, but I could not get the ramp to retract. At the same time, none of the electrical features of the van would operate. Not the door locks, windows, door opener or closers, regardless of whether I tried the interior car switches or either of two key fobs. All this happened while the car was running. I tried all of these features again after the car was running for half an hour and none worked. A “car-smart” friend helped me, and he was also baffled. We gave up and turned the car off. Twenty minutes later the ramp operated like nothing was ever wrong. The window and door locks operate normally. I think my van needs an exorcist. Please help.

Answer: Problems like these are really tough to resolve as the commingling of the two manufacturers’ electrical circuits and systems leaves many uncertainties for the technicians performing the diagnosis. Can full documentation of the specific mobility modifications (wiring diagrams, component locations, installation instructions) be obtained? I’d start by checking how the Sienna’s door locks, door controls and windows may be involved with the added mobility equipment.

One hunch is a part of the mobility equipment, perhaps the ramp, may have a loose or corroded electrical connection in its circuitry, intermittently affecting operation. Perhaps the ramp attempts to extend or retract, but can’t reach the limit switch destination, and a trickle of power remains continually applied to the actuator, draining the Sienna battery. It sounds like you were close to a no-start. Careful observation as you depart the van during future trips may provide clues, such a protruding ramp or odd noises. Checking for symptoms such as illuminated courtesy lights or other unnoticed oddities, as well as what does work correctly, may assist diagnosis.

As a GM tech, I had headaches with van conversions, motor homes, ambulances and police cars that mixed manufacturer systems. Your Sienna is far more complex making this a hair puller.

As difficult as this may be, the Mobility Works folks will need to keep the van for as long as it takes, repeatedly operating all functions under similar circumstances to yours until the fault rears its head. A voltage drop test of the mobility circuits power and grounds, when they’re working satisfactorily may provide a clue where to look.

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.