Le Tonkinois Varnish
B & D Murkin
UK main importers for
Le Tonkinois varnish
Airtronic D2 ECU on left.
There is no simple answer as to why ECUs occasionally fail but we can make guesses for some of them.
The vast majority of Eberspacher heaters work for many years without faults, just needing servicing to keep them running. If ECUs were cheap to replace they would be considered simply as a part that very occasionally needs replacing. ECUs are painfully expensive so when one does fail most users want to know why. A few ECUs fail because a component inside does not last as long as it normally should. All equipment suffers from failures of this type, such failures are inevitable and are one of the reasons for a manufacturers guarantee.
However Eberspacher say they are getting a higher ECU failure rate with heaters fitted on boats than on vehicles. Factors external to the heater must be the cause otherwise vehicle heaters would suffer the same failures. Two general causes of ECU failure are voltage spikes and overvoltage (longer duration than spikes) on the battery supply. Voltage spikes can be caused when connecting and disconnecting the battery and by electric welding. Overvoltage can be caused by switching on an older type charger when the battery is fully charged, the voltage rises for a very short period before it drops to normal. Modern boat electronics are said to be better so this should not occur. Eberspacher are investigating a problem if modern battery charges are connected with too thin cables, it can cause a ripple on the battery voltage which damages the capacitors. I have no further information on this problem at this time so cannot provide more advice.
From our own knowledge and contacts with users we can guess some other likely reasons for failures.
We do know that some definitely fail due to overheating conditions in the heater. Items placed where they completely block the heating outlet cause many failures. The heating and combustion air drawn into the heater help to cool components inside the heater including the ECU. Obstructions or installation errors to either of these air paths can be serious. Air ducts on boats are generally longer with more bends, increasing the back pressure which reduces air flow. It is not widely known that Eberspacher have specific limits on combinations of duct lengths and bends for each heater and these can easily be inadvertently exceeded. See the ducting pages for more details. Heating ducts can be obstructed by items placed in front of outlets or by crushing / melting. Heaters are often installed in lockers with poor or no ventilation or in hot engine compartments raising the temperature of the case. There are a number of other reasons for overheating listed on the faults page. Truck heaters are usually professionally installed and maintained so generally not affected in this way. Users often wonder why the overheat sensor fails to prevent failures. This is my best guess as to why it happens.
If the heating airflow is partially blocked there will still be some transfer of heat to the airflow, temperatures inside the heat exchanger will build up relatively slowly and the overheat sensor will shut off the heater with fault code 12, the fan will then continue running allowing some cooling after fuel is stopped. However if the heating airflow is almost completely blocked there will be very little heat transferred by the airflow. It takes time for the heat to transfer through the casing of the heat exchanger and the base of the overheat sensor so there will be a delay in detecting the overheating. Once the sensor does reach the normal overheat temperature limit the ECU shuts down the heater. During that delay the heater continues burning fuel and much more heat is transferred to the heat exchanger inner surfaces. That heat then flows through the heat exchanger to the outside of the casing and with no cooling airflow the temperature rises rapidly until the overheat sensor is too hot for the system to measure. At that point the ECU is locked as a safety precaution to prevent the heater being restarted . A diagnostic readout would then give fault codes, 12 Overheat, followed by 17 or 15 Excessive overheating. If the heat level rises further permanent damage to the ECU can occur.
2) Battery problems
Leisure batteries do not have to supply the very heavy engine starting currents so deterioration is often not noticed. Since we pointed this out on the website we discovered far more users had poor batteries than we expected. One user of our website had an ECU with a code 96 internal sensor fault and the external sensor input had become very insensitive so would not shut down the heat at normal temperatures. The ECU also showed fault code 99, too many resets -
3) Unlike road vehicles nearly all boats have a battery isolation switch. Power can be disconnected before the heater has gone into or completed the 4 minute cool down sequence. This can cause the ECU to become very hot severely stressing the components. I guess this might happen fairly often especially if users are in a hurry to leave the boat.
4) DIY own goal failures.
Some ECUs are damaged by DIY repairs and poor quality installations.
DIYers have varying skills ranging from highly competent down to those who really should have used a dealer. Mistakes like shorting live wires or testing the fuel pump by connecting it direct to the battery without disconnecting the feed from the ECU are typical events. In one case someone disconnected the pump then applied the battery to the wiring back to the ECU instead of to the pump. And these are just some of ones who are brave enough to admit to us they caused the ECU failure. DIYers tend to wait if the heater has a problem that does not completely disable it. If it works again after switching it off and restarting they will usually continue to do so. They will also try things many times in the hope the fault will miraculously solve itself. Eventually the ECU dies which is when they start looking on the web for solutions and find our advice pages. Too late! One seller said he was repairing blown parts and users were fitting them without fixing the original fault, so blowing it a second time. He also has had second hand heaters he refurbished and sold returned as non working which he could tell were damaged by connecting the battery leads the wrong way round. He is finding several people damaged ECUs by mistaking the grey/red wire for either grey or red as the wire is striped along its length so looks a single colour if viewed from the wrong angle. He quoted fitting an 801 controller as a typical time it occurs. Truckers use trained mechanics so there is a better chance wiring and installation is done properly.
5) Obvious but boats and water go together. Damp and corrosion may cause intermittent problems. Total immersion is definitely not good!
This is the 24v version. 12v version probably only has minor physical differences but the ECU may hold different values for components checks.
This ECU was not thought to be repairable so no particular care was taken to prevent further damage during disassembly. It was dismantled just to find methods for taking apart and to see what components were used to get clues as to how the ECUs work.
The neat arrangement of wires makes this look like a connector but it is a moulding to retain the wiring. The wires go direct to the pcb with no slack inside.
The moulding material was stuck to the wires, case both outer and inner as well as the pcb. Different from the black stuff under the metal cap and much more difficult to release anything. I dug out a lot of the material trying to free the wires. If the case is cut to help free the wires be very careful as the top of the CD4051BCM ic must be extremely close.
Having seen the freed connector pins on the Hella ECU I tried freeing them by levering on the pcb and used far more force than I would dare to use if this was a real repair but nothing shifted. Finally these two pins pulled through the solder joint. Next time I would try heating the plastic before levering to see if that works. Alternatively you may be able to unsolder the pins, my desolder wick was corroded and after I replaced my solder sucker I realised just how much the spring on the old one had weakened over decades.
After trying to free the pins by desoldering and not knowing what else was holding the pcb I sawed off two sides of the case, not something I would want to do for a proper repair.
Black material under the pcb starting to be separated from the case on this side.
The 3 pins of the hall effect fan speed sensor (mounted in slot front to the left of centre) show the sensor had been pulled upwards and it looked like it would pull out ok. I then found it has been mounted from outside the case through 3 holes so will not come out any further. This needs to be unsoldered early before levering the pcb. Its position may be critical so note its position before starting.
Eventually I cut the case, leaving the connector pins section on the pcb and with a bit more levering the pcb came free.
Removing the black stuff was more difficult than that under the metal cover.
The bottom layer of the pcb revealed.
I welcome donations of faulty ECUs for all heater models, they allow further investigations into fault finding.
IMPORTANT REQUEST Does anyone have access to chemicals used for removing this potting compound or know where I can buy some in UK?
(One user recommends AMTEX CCR but I do not know where to buy in the UK.)
ECUs are complex devices and this section is aimed at technicians / electronics engineers. It is NOT intended for DIY repairers. If repairing an Airtronic ECU was reasonably straightforward someone would be offering a repair service, no-
Why then do I include a page showing how it comes apart?
I guess every electronics technician / enthusiast has at sometime been presented with a faulty bit of equipment by a friend with the comment "You know about electrics, can you have a look at this for me?". You then waste a couple of hours working out how it comes apart before finding it is not feasible to repair. The page shows what I found during my first disassembly attempt and what to expect once it comes apart. The ECU was not expected to be repairable so I was not worried about its destruction during disassembly. I would expect this page to be of help to technicians like TV servicing engineers who are used to working at component level. You will probably have far more servicing experience than I have. I am used to older generation equipment that can be taken apart with a screwdriver and with components that are big enough to see without a magnifying glass! It should help to make a quick decision on whether it is worth even opening up the ECU and to work out the best way of disassembling it. Please feed back any hints, especially on freeing the pcb from the case.
Click on images for a larger photo.
Airtronic ECUs are made by two manufacturers, both come in 12 and 24v versions.
This circuit board layout is different to previous photo.
Remove the tape and bend back the case indentations, the ECU will then slide out of the case.
I found this on a forum with the poster having the same problem and asking unsuccessfully for the component value so this may possibly be a common problem. In this case the capacitor is also damaged.
The blue wiring is for the temperature sensor.
Newer Hella Airtronic ECU. Details of how it came apart are not available.
After disassembly I found the pcb is held in the case by: 8 pins for fan, glow pin, flame & overheat sensors, (Yellow)
12 wires in main connecting cable, (Green)
3 pins hall effect fan speed sensor, (Cyan)
Black material between the pcb and case.
Resistor in front of pink capacitor has burnt and broken. This resistor is clearly shown in the previous photo.
Resistor colour code Green Blue Gold Silver
5.6 ohm 10%, often written as 5R6
Value is the same for both 12 and 24v versions.