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I have an older solid state radio transceiver I want to power up but I understand that electrolytic capacitors loose their function after a long time of non-use. There are articles about reforming electrolytics, but not much is said about how long electrolytics can be unpowered before precautions need to be take on powering up again.

The equipment is non-critical, no tubes, linear power supply. It is a TenTec Argosy II amateur radio transceiver. I can replace the caps if I need to. (And, yes, I am licensed to use the radio. KD4TTC)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Electrolytics can also dry out...reforming can't do anything about that. \$\endgroup\$ – Toor Apr 19 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ You should probably seek input from other users of that model on an Amateur Radio forum. The question is not really on topic here, because it is about the usage/repair of a product for which you are not providing any design information. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Apr 19 at 20:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton hm, maybe the question of "would the proposed procedure actually help, and does it potentially have any downsides for devices from the mid-80ies" would be more on-topic? \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Apr 19 at 21:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarcusMüller - this kind of gear is designed to actually be maintained and has a technically aware user community. Consulting that expertise is much better than taking guesses from first principles. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Apr 19 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's just say that the whole idea of a post apocalyptic scavenger finding and getting modern electronics or vehicles operational is highly unlikely, unless they can produce new capacitors from scratch. Those are really the biggest failure point. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Apr 20 at 4:32
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How long can equipment go unused before powering up runs the risk of damage?

Risk of damage is low, risk of poor operation from cap seal failure is high after 20 yrs, depending on many factors. ( See end)


This was an excellent transceiver. But it is so old that the service manual used MF for uF=μF and yet UH for uH=μH.
MF is these days means millifarads, not microfarads as in this unit service manual.

  1. The 100W Tx will have need of good low ESR e-caps on supply for low ripple if they need replacing.

  2. Do not operate Tx without a dummy load or antenna.

  3. Get the service manual below. or email to them for service related questions.
  4. Get a DMM to measure Vdc and Vac ripple on large caps where the ripple voltage must be << 1% of Vdc to be considered good. ( Dissipation Factor, DF at 120Hz in datasheets.)

    http://www.tentec.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Argosy_II_Model_525_Manualf933.pdf

  5. Unfortunately the service manual omitted the power supply board which is the main concern for worn out e-caps after 10 to 20 yrs with low C and high ESR values.

    • so you **want to wing it* by looking for signs of slight end-bulge and measurements or hum on Rx or Tx.
    • If everything looks OK, power it up. The only potential damage can be from pressing Tx without a load.
    • a portable RLC meter is often a good investment to verify caps out of the circuit.

    • anecdotal: When my Sanyo receiver was 15 yrs old and had spurious noise, I found one bad electrolytic or e-cap then replaced all of the similar size or bigger and discover a few more were also bad. so I ordered/replaced about a dozen of them. The cost of parts are cheap from Digikey and often less than the courier cost.

Cap conditioning.

At one-time Computer grade, 100k uF capacitors had high leakage currents which could be conditioned by a high series R to clear up the leakage currents. This, unfortunately, does nothing from failed caps that suffer from high Effective Series Resistance (ESR) and low Capacitance. As others have said. it won't help.

Like Batteries, also have wet electrolyte the age or MTBF is very much reputation of the brand used and it's high-temperature rating and the ratio of ripple current and voltage to the rated maximum.
E-caps are rated by hours of life at 85'C or 105'C or others since the accelerated life of 1500 hrs is all that caps can endure due to Arhennius Law. So not only is possible to generalize lifetime but suffice it to say, room temp seal quality, brand name and high temp rating, historical operating stress makes it impossible to predict. All I can say is even the best caps made in Japan will fail at some point, whether it is 5 yrs, 10 yrs or 50 yrs it is impossible to guess.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The trolls are back ( non-contributors = -2) and shall remain nameless. \$\endgroup\$ – Sunnyskyguy EE75 Apr 19 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow, even a manual link! I have the power supply manual, I think. If anyone is interested I can scan it and upload it somewhere. I have a scope and check ripple, which might vary with load. Inspection makes a lot of sense. Changing the caps would be easy enough on equipment of this vintage, and probably cheaper than buying a variac. \$\endgroup\$ – kd4ttc Apr 20 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks everyone. The answers and comments all have been very helpful! \$\endgroup\$ – kd4ttc Apr 20 at 4:32
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If you're worried about it then get a capacitor ESR tester, desolder a few from the board and test the values of the caps and make sure they match the markings on the package. Also test the ESR. If you can find a datasheet for the caps, then you might find nominal ESR values there or find an equivalent capacitor in that range. If the ESR values seem high then replace the caps.

If that can't be done then find the voltage of the circuit and unsolder a few and test them with a supply, if they are leaking a lot of current, then don't use them.

It's probably better to replace them anyway if there is a question, especially any caps that could have large currents flow through them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree........+1 \$\endgroup\$ – Sunnyskyguy EE75 Apr 19 at 22:16

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