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charging system trouble during road trip
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rtroy
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 1:00 pm    Post subject: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

On another adventure in my trusty Adventure Wagon, a 1971 camper that was VoA's cheaper alternative to the Westy, traveling from Oakland, CA to New Orleans for a memorial service, the charging system failed in Tucson. Since the generator was relatively young, about 2.5 years, I was surprised. I've long learned that the dual battery setup can, under heavy demands, eat brushes, so I figured that was it...

When the brush cover came off, no brushes! There wasn't ANYTHING left of them! Just a dangling copper braid. Inspection showed the commutator had failed. So, I sourced another gen. I got a used one from "Uncle Bob", I think, in Tucson - it was way over priced, but he said it would work. I installed it, polarized it, and it did NOT work! I replaced the brushes with some new I brought with me, polarized it, still didn't work. I was a bit annoyed, but found a rebuilt unit and installed that one. I tested the whole system as per the workshop manual (section 6.2), and it was fine, so I headed out across the desert.

Cruising along sometime after a great Cajun dinner in Lake Charles, LA, around 9 PM, the red light came on and damn I was disappointed. Before I could react, the light went out. It stayed out a long time, but then flashed again. After about a minute it started flickering, on, off, dim, on, dim, on, off, etc, until, at mile marker 70, the light stayed on. I didn't bother stopping to check the belt - the flickering told me the belt was OK.

Turned the headlights off, pulled in behind a large truck doing about 85 to 90 mph indicated and I trailed him to Baton Rouge. (The engine is a 125 hp 912, but has a completely stock '71 VW charging system.) Taking route 12, I stopped for fuel around Covington, left it running, then on to my sister's house in Picayune, MS, LONG way from "civilization". Now I have to figure out how to get home on a budget. The deal in Tucson had cost about $350, and had eaten up a large chunk of my emergency budget.

I'm lucky that I had installed a LARGE yellow-top Optima, "deep-cycle / starting" battery, it's still recovering right now, but looks like it will survive the ordeal.

I'm guessing that the flickering "is an unmistakable sign" that the regulator is bad. Comments? The first check I did was of the brushes; they look new - they WERE new in Tucson!

I will do the no-load test shortly. But in re-reading the manual (even with literally 40 years of experience and even running a Karmann Ghia and Porsche 356 business, I'm never so foolish to think I should skip reading the manual AGAIN whenever there's any question!) ... I think I found an error in the manual. This is the Official Service Manual for "Station Wagon / Bus" for Bay window Type IIs. The section is 6.2, "In-car Testing of Generator And Regulator", on page 16 of the Electrical System section. In the third paragraph of the second column it directs use of diagram 6-3 for wiring to test the REGULATOR, and I think it means GENERATOR... Comments?

Anyone in New Orleans have a regulator handy? ... I'd rather NOT have to wait for shipping one in!

I was already planning to install an alternator that I already have (including the very rare and special 912 alternator stand!), so I'm not thrilled with spending yet more money on the generator system! The only reason the alternator isn't installed is because I was looking for a convenient time when it would be part of a larger service effort, but the engine is otherwise very durable. ...

Thanks for any comments / replies.

RT
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 1:20 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

rtroy wrote:
The section is 6.2, "In-car Testing of Generator And Regulator", on page 16 of the Electrical System section. In the third paragraph of the second column it directs use of diagram 6-3 for wiring to test the REGULATOR, and I think it means GENERATOR... Comments?

Correct, it should read "if there is no voltage the generator is faulty and must be replaced before testing"
Make sure you pay close attention to the time and RPM limits outlined in that test, too much or too fast and the solder in the commutator melts and spins out killing the generator.

With regard to the flickering light I assume you have already confirmed it's not a weak brush retainer spring or loose/broken wire between the gen and reg?

Tell us what model # the generator you have installed is and what amperage the regulator has stamped into one of the base feet.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 2:26 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

busdaddy wrote:

Correct, it should read "if there is no voltage the generator is faulty and must be replaced before testing"

Thank you, that's what I figured!

busdaddy wrote:

Make sure you pay close attention to the time and RPM limits outlined in that test, too much or too fast and the solder in the commutator melts and spins out killing the generator.

Thanks again. I haven't got the ammeter and rheostat to do the full series of load testing, but have always been mindful to keep such tests short! Good reminder!
busdaddy wrote:

With regard to the flickering light I assume you have already confirmed it's not a weak brush retainer spring or loose/broken wire between the gen and reg?


I haven't any good idea how I can tell if it's a weak spring, but when I did the ole trick of pushing on the brushes with a pencil, the lamp stayed on.

busdaddy wrote:

Tell us what model # the generator you have installed is and what amperage the regulator has stamped into one of the base feet.


The current Gen is a rebuilt unit that they painted in black making it hard to read the numbers, but when I put it in I'm pretty sure it's a 211 903 031A, but it COULD be a 113 903 031 G, although I'm NOT certain. What I AM certain of is that the generator is a 30A unit and the regulator is the standard old-school 30A unit - I installed it as a new one (NOS maybe?) about 2.5 years ago when the (previous) Gen was new as well.

I wasn't aware that there was much issue with the gen / regulator within this series, so long as the regulator is rated at the same A as the generator, or less; what's not OK is a regulator that's rated higher than the gen! However, I'm certainly open to learning new things about this!

Thanks for your reply(ies)!

RT
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 2:29 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

[quote="busdaddy"

With regard to the flickering light I assume you have already confirmed it's not a weak brush retainer spring or loose/broken wire between the gen and reg?

[/quote]

I think busdaddy is on point here.

I bought a "new" Bosch generator (made in Mexico) 8-10 years ago when I was in a hurry. When I installed it, everything was fine EXCEPT the dang dash light would come off/on. I'd push the brushes against the armature and the light went off. This went on for a week. Finally, I got fed up and pulled the brushes and springs from this brand new generator. I had a few core, original generators from the 70's laying around. I was shocked at how crappy and flimsy the "new" brush springs were vs. the used original brush springs from the 70's generator. The brush holders were flimsy compared to original as well. I ended up installing used brushes that had 80% remaining and the original, used springs from the 70's generator. I've not had a problem since.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 3:01 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

wcfvw69 wrote:

I think busdaddy is on point here.

I bought a "new" Bosch generator (made in Mexico) 8-10 years ago when I was in a hurry. When I installed it, everything was fine EXCEPT the dang dash light would come off/on. I'd push the brushes against the armature and the light went off. This went on for a week. Finally, I got fed up and pulled the brushes and springs from this brand new generator. I had a few core, original generators from the 70's laying around. I was shocked at how crappy and flimsy the "new" brush springs were vs. the used original brush springs from the 70's generator. The brush holders were flimsy compared to original as well. I ended up installing used brushes that had 80% remaining and the original, used springs from the 70's generator. I've not had a problem since.


Interesting.

I initially suspected the brushes on this occasion... I would have thought that pushing directly on the brushes with the eraser end of a pencil would illuminate a brush pressure issue, if there is one. However, with two people, one at the dash one in at the engine bay, pushing in on the brushes had no apparent effect.

My thinking was that on a rebuilt unit there was perhaps an old brush holder assembly that had some burr or other problem with a brush moving gradually in and that as the brush wore in, it was actually wearing out as it wasn't moving inward properly... Hmmm...

I don't have my workshop handy, so any ideas appreciated.

RT
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 3:24 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Is the NOS 30 amp regulator a Bosch one or generic? If pushing on the brushes didn't turn the light off then you'd have to do the check busdaddy suggested on the voltage regulator.

Let's hope it's that vs. a bad rebuild of the generator. I'd get a new solid state Bosch voltage regulator as well if you find your old style to be faulty.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 4:55 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

My question on the regulator was mainly about a big regulator driving a small generator to meltdown, seems they are matched so there goes that theory. There's still the possibility of a sketchy connection or wire broken internally, or even a component not grounded well, all could trigger a light and some could cause a commutator meltdown as well, if the regulator says "charge" and can't read the response from the generator it'll keep whipping it until smoke comes out.

Bad brush holders is another possibility, the internal connections where the wires meet each other and end up on the inside connection of the terminal studs could also be suspect.

My next step would be reading glasses and a strong light to look for spun out fresh solder around the commutator, if that's present there's little you can do.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 6:15 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

wcfvw69 wrote:
Is the NOS 30 amp regulator a Bosch one or generic?


I could have been more clear, sorry; Bosch. I only use the genuine product unless ABSOLUTELY forced. I still have several New In Box Bosch regulators of this type, just none with me! :-(

wcfvw69 wrote:
If pushing on the brushes didn't turn the light off then you'd have to do the check busdaddy suggested on the voltage regulator.


... Hmmm ... I just went back and re-read busdaddy's comments and didn't catch another suggestion about testing the regulator other than following the manual's directions, being mindful to keep the tests short. Did I miss something?

wcfvw69 wrote:

Let's hope it's that vs. a bad rebuild of the generator. I'd get a new solid state Bosch voltage regulator as well if you find your old style to be faulty.


I'm not a fan of the solid-state regulator though it may well be just fine. However we're in violent agreement about hoping it's just the regulator, I suppose, though finding a regulator out here doesn't appear to be very easy! Monday I'll search in New Orleans, but I'm not hopeful as I've looked for "old VW parts" here before without much success from vendors. ALL my successes were from enthusiasts I somehow found by luck.

I think that in the future, I'm adding "voltagre regulator" to my travel supplies! ... I already have a spare 912 fuel pump and complete distributor stashed onboard, a regulator really isn't much to add!

Thanks for your thoughts,
RT
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 6:40 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

busdaddy wrote:
My question on the regulator was mainly about a big regulator driving a small generator to meltdown, seems they are matched so there goes that theory. There's still the possibility of a sketchy connection or wire broken internally, or even a component not grounded well, all could trigger a light and some could cause a commutator meltdown as well, if the regulator says "charge" and can't read the response from the generator it'll keep whipping it until smoke comes out.

Yes, while I've never had a gen "throw the solder", I've had old-timers warn me about it! I do run a few small diameter 12v gens, and some require a 25A regulator, VHTF! One secret to let you run them on a 30A regulator is to fuse BOTH the DF and D+ leads, and start with a FULLY charged battery. Run a 25A fuse on D+, and an 8A on DF. I use standard engine-bay "cigar fuse holders" we're all familliar with in the '71-ish era, and so far, I've had good luck with it.

As for bad connections... ... a bad ground I CAN fix, but the other issues you cite, well, there's not a lot I can do about it here. I DO have a VOM, but it's pretty basic / fundamental.

busdaddy wrote:

Bad brush holders is another possibility, the internal connections where the wires meet each other and end up on the inside connection of the terminal studs could also be suspect.


Good call on the improperly installed brushes! I'll check in the AM - it's dark now. However, while I wasn't looking for it specifically, when I checked out the brushes earlier, nothing seemed amiss.

busaddy wrote:

My next step would be reading glasses and a strong light to look for spun out fresh solder around the commutator, if that's present there's little you can do.


Yes... ...At the moment I'm thinking more along the lines of having a buddy ship me my alternator and alternator stand AND a voltage regulator, so I can try a regulator and if it works, YAY, save the work of installing the alternator for the moment, but if not, just install the alternator and be done with it... Ugh, hate roadtrip breakdowns, but am VERY grateful for all the help.

RT
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 7:05 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

In a hick town without a replacement regulator I'd consider a rheostat or resistor to replace the regulator and drive the field constantly at a low rate, it'll be very manual and require disconnecting at each long stop, but if you can get it to charge at a low rate it's better than a dead battery, careful load management would also be required. Spare light bulbs make excellent resistors in a pinch BTW, think like Maguyver. Wink

Could be a safe test to rule out the regulator if nothing else, food for thought.
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 10:00 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Richard, Hi. F*%k that alternator idea. That's not the choice to perform in a field environment, in my opinion. And, do you think these new alternators are bullet-proof?
If you are confident the existing 30amp gen is reliable I would get the solid state regulator and a set of gen brushes. Any decent parts store should be able to access these bosch parts. Your wiring between the gen and reg is "good to go"?
Hope this helps, Bill.
PS: I have a friend who is working in Louisiana somewhere and has a good mechanic, I'm told. If you cant get stuff quick let me know and I will contact her, though there are a few samba folks there.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 9:20 am    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

busdaddy wrote:
In a hick town without a replacement regulator I'd consider a rheostat or resistor to replace the regulator and drive the field constantly at a low rate, it'll be very manual and require disconnecting at each long stop, but if you can get it to charge at a low rate it's better than a dead battery, careful load management would also be required. Spare light bulbs make excellent resistors in a pinch BTW, think like Maguyver. :wink:

Could be a safe test to rule out the regulator if nothing else, food for thought.


This sounds like a GREAT thing to know how to do / how works, even if one doesn't actually implement it! Can you pleaes help us non-sparkey folks understand how we'd wire this?

My wild assed guess is that you'd hook D+ to load, and then moderate the field, DF, to ground via some form of resistance?

If you can provide enough current from the gen to roughly match the needs of the ignition coil, you're likely to make it, and daylight lamps can likely be ignored. While lamp loading for nighttime driving can easily be calculated, ingition load may be a bit harder unless you have an ammeter to run in series - which I haven't got with me... From first hand experience, you've got some 200 to 250 miles from a healthy, fully charged battery, though compression / coil and so forth surely impact the required current, and climbing a steep hill will take more than level ground, etc. ... So, I'd think that if you had the unfortunate experience of running your battery flat on the ignition and had the presence of mind to track how far you can get, then divide your battery's AH capacity to get a good estimate. . .

But even when you know all that, guestimating the value for the DF resistance is, to my mind, a pretty tricky thing! Perhaps one could use voltage as a substitute. Here's my guess: Since we know what a fully-charged battery should have as a voltage, and since we know that charge rate depends on raising the voltage above this value, while hooked up and running, alter the resistance between the DF post on the gen and ground such that the voltage is exactly at or a tiny bit above the fully-charged value. Similarly, doing this with the lamps all turned on as well as off gives you both "night" and "day" values you can use... If your car has a cigar-shaped fuse holder already in the engine bay, you could use it to make an easy disconnect for the DF field for longer stops!

Thoughts, comments?

BTW, I'm hesitant to do this kind of thing because I'm headed around 2400 miles or so to get home and much of that is across desert, and I'm not happy to drive that far trusting the fan belt won't fail! The one-lamp-serves-both-purposes design is efficient but doesn't foster a McGuyver solution for long-distance, cross country driving!

Thanks,
RT
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 9:45 am    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

rockerarm wrote:
Richard, Hi. F*%k that alternator idea. That's not the choice to perform in a field environment, in my opinion. And, do you think these new alternators are bullet-proof?


Hi Bill,
Over the weekend I asked my friend, Jerry Young, co-founder of Buggy House Motor Sports, to go to my workshop in Oakland and fetch the alternator (already with fan, mounting plate and strap) and alternator stand and ship it to me today - and throw in a voltage regulator into the box, just in case I can't find one locally in a timely manner.

And hell no, I don't think they're bullet proof! However, the alternator is VERY young in terms of miles - looks new - and was in service (without fault) when I took it out of a Porsche 912 (automobile) and installed a new (original type for the car) Bosch generator and regulator. I took in the alternator and stand as partial payment for a substantial body of work. ... I like the idea of the alternator because this camper is dual-battery equipped and the charging system has always been a weak point in the two decades I've been running this vehicle.

As for "field environment", that's a very real concern and a good point, which is why I asked Jerry to also throw in the box two wires, one 8 gauge for power to the splitter, and the other for the "idiot light." I told him what ends I need... My only real risk right now is the pulley hub; it's unique to the 356 and 912 engine series, and getting it off MIGHT be difficult because it was a tight fit onto the rebuilt generator. ... And that's why I asked him to include a regulator!

rockerarm wrote:

If you are confident the existing 30amp gen is reliable I would get the solid state regulator and a set of gen brushes. Any decent parts store should be able to access these bosch parts. Your wiring between the gen and reg is "good to go"?


I really don't know that it's reliable, but it looks good. And I now carry two sets of brushes among my spares! As for "decent parts store", the issue is that this area hasn't seen these vehicles in many decades in regular service and storms like Katrina among many others has wiped out any old-stock. These places are only stocking what they think they can sell promptly, anything else being an order in and I dont' want to sit here for days waiting!

rockerarm wrote:

Hope this helps, Bill.

Yes, I apprecaite your time, Bill! :-)

rockerarm wrote:

PS: I have a friend who is working in Louisiana somewhere and has a good mechanic, I'm told. If you cant get stuff quick let me know and I will contact her, though there are a few samba folks there.


Given what I just said above about parts stores around here, yes, please! At the very least, can't hurt to know another air-cooled enthusiast in these parts! :-) Meanwhile, I'm spending my day hunting for a local voltage regulator. If I find one, I'm installing it ASAP, then see where I'm at! But, having done this kind of thing before, I'm not too hopeful for finding something promptly. ... I'm at 510-717-6942, but I don't get cell service out here, so my sister's number 228-671-1335 - if they ask for me, sis will hand the phone over! :-)

Gotta tell you, having a group like this is a comforting thing, so thanks to all.

RT
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 2:52 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Having now had a full business day to find parts, etc, here in this area, and get some idea about the shipping...

... My BEST advice for would-be coast-to-coast travelers in the modern era is to add bringing a new / known good gen and regulator with you.

My choices have been, other than going all McGuyver as well and interestingly proposed - and giving up a warning lamp for the belt failing - is to buy either an "after market" regulator, which is totally NOT my style, or wait and get a Bosch regulator, and potentially several days to get the alternator... (I don't yet have the tracking numbers on how long until the alternator is expected.)

All of this sucks.

We - this community - need to have good plans so we can drive our cars wherever we want without the risk of temporal and financial disaster! I thought I was "good" with a relatively young generator and regulator, and I have been proven to have provided insufficiently. -ugh-

Given my experience, it isn't at all clear anyone is OK with "new" equipment as we were in the past - and I have considered less than 5 year old equipment "new." I've been across the USA, Round Trip(!!) some, oh, 30 to 40 times, roughly coast-to-coast, in my air-cooled VWs, and never before have I felt I had to be so concerned about a generator and regulator / generator solution. This is an issue we all - all of us who actually DRIVE our VWs! - need to be paying attention to!

Thanks to all,
Richard
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 4:04 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

I might have a spare used voltage regulator in Ocean Springs. I can check when I get home from work tonight.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 6:38 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Holy Puck, what a cluster Puck!

Jerry shipped via UPS and somehow sent it UPS ground, and it was going to be $50 and more spent for no damned purpose because I cannot possibly hang around for a friggen WEEK for delivery! I tried to call UPS and say I'll pay to upgrade and they REFUSED THE MONEY!

Damn.

So, now I'm back to making this failed charging system work again. I'm hoping that tomorrow I can at least get a new Bosch regulator - won't run a Borg Warner or ... whatever the other vendor's names are - unless there's no other option!

I found USPS' attitude remarkable; we won't let you - anyone - upgrade the delivery period. If it was set at a week, it's a week! WTF?! Here I am "desperate" for the parts and they won't even take money to "upgrade" the delivery date! WOW!

-heavy-sigh-

So, I missed out on the alternator, and associated parts, being sent. So, now I'm back to ONLY solving the generator problem. . . . This only reinforces my perception about us all now having to bring with us a backup charging system - whereas before, all we needed were a spare set of brushes, now we need to bring more!

Comments about that welcome.

RT
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 6:46 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Unless you ship a lot of stuff with a carrier, indeed changing a shipment after the fact is tough.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 7:11 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Yeah, once it's in thier system and moving there's little they can do, hopefully it gets there sooner than predicted, hear any banjo music in the distance yet?

The light bulb resistor trick on the field will induce a charge (if the gen is still good), but there will be no voltage regulation so any electronics like radios or points replacement modules may not like it. A regulator for a 60/70's Dodge can be used as a voltage controller, it's just a simple cutout, but you'll still need a resistor to prevent overworking the windings and melting the solder.

Or hit the local Harbor freight or Tractor supply for a small gas driven portable generator and a battery charger to strap onto the bumper. Surprised
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rockerarm
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 7:15 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

Hi Richard. I've made e-mail contact my friend who is in the New Orleans area. I posted this link with your two phone numbers.
I hope they can assist you. Bill.
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kevin77westy
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 13, 2017 8:15 pm    Post subject: Re: charging system trouble during road trip Reply with quote

No luck in my stash. Doug at JusBugs has Bosch posted about 30 miles from you for $50:
http://www.thesamba.com/vw/classifieds/detail.php?id=2002516
If you are really desperate I can pull a used Bosch from a parked bus I have. I am going to be over your way tomorrow afternoon. Let me know.
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