Technicians should tailor electrical terminal cleaning methods to the specific condition and application at hand. Experience has shown, after all, that there's no single, standard method suitable to every condition and application.
In my column that appeared in the Feb. 18 edition ("Taking a look at practical uses of silicone paste"), I discussed the advantages of protecting electrical terminals with silicone paste or grease.
Since then, readers have responded with interesting questions regarding wire terminal service. I'll address those inquiries to the best of my ability in this column.
First of all, I am not aware of any silicone paste/grease product that is a combination terminal cleaner and terminal protector.
Instead, you must clean dirty or corroded terminals as thoroughly as practically possible first. Then, patiently apply a film of the silicone material to all metal terminal surfaces within an electrical connector.
Remember that the goal of the treatment is to fill tiny air gaps and crevices between two mating terminals — or sets of terminals — with a material that's impervious to underhood heat, battery fumes, snow, salt and road splash. Of course, exposure to the elements is the prime cause of terminal corrosion.
Second, any trustworthy, reliable electrical connection must be clean and tight.
To me, there's no point in applying any silicone paste to dirty, corroded and/or poor-fitting terminals. Instead, clean and repair terminals before treating them with silicone material.
Next, the time required to restore a terminal to serviceable condition varies according to factors such as the terminal's location, size and shape.
Understandably, this task demands more time, patience and persistence whenever the terminal is difficult to reach. What's more, simply replacing a corroded or loose terminal isn't always as easy as some bosses assume it will be.
Ultimately, restoring an OEM terminal may be neater, simpler and cheaper than cutting it out and replacing it.
Correcting the fit and/or grip of a loose terminal may require a specialized tool intended for that make and model of wire terminal.
In other cases, a technician may restore the terminal via patient manipulation with a fine seal pick and/or fine needle-nose pliers. This process is difficult to predict until the tech gets a close look at the particular wire terminal and the damage to it.
Coping with terminal corrosion is another variable in this restoration process.
If you're lucky, shooting the terminal with an effective, commercial-grade terminal cleaner will dissolve the corrosion.
There's a wide variety of aerosol electrical terminal cleaners on the market. Read the product reviews; ask trusted, more-experienced colleagues for recommendations.
Then do what I've always done: Experiment with the products and judge the results for yourself.
Last but not least, don't overlook the potential of abrasive blasting corroded terminals.
For example, you can use a hand-held, pneumatic blasting tool equipped with a quart-size reservoir of some abrasive "shot." (This abrasive material may be sand, glass beads, etc.) Clear vulnerable material from the work area or mask off that space.
Then carefully blast the corroded terminal(s) and rinse away any abrasive residue with aerosol electrical cleaner.
One electrical specialist I have worked with prefers a very compact shot-blasting nozzle gun that relies on a portable but stand-alone reservoir of abrasive material.
A hose connects the reservoir to the nozzle. At first glance, this format may appear to be more cumbersome than a nozzle with an attached reservoir.
But my buddy has stressed that the comparatively small size of the separate nozzle enables him to maneuver it into tighter quarters in and under a vehicle when cleaning corroded connections.
By all means, pass along your favorite terminal cleaning products and methods. I'm always open to learning about new brands and new approaches.
Good luck out there; I hope you never need a method as intensive as shot-blasting.