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I have a LEGO MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System 2.0 (3804) that I acquired back in 2003 (17 years ago), and the wires have become grey and brittle.

RCX wires that have become grey and brittle

The wires used to be black and smooth, and stayed that way for a solid 10 years until I stopped playing with this set in the fall of 2013. Last summer (July 2019), I got it out again for the first time in 6 years, only to find that the wires had become grey and brittle. I tested them, and they seem to be working, but I don't know how much longer that will be the case. At one point, I yanked on one of the wires a bit when detaching it from a motor, and it broke very easily. Clearly, even though the wires still work, they're not as versatile as they used to be.

Any ideas what caused this? Was it the long-term storage in the box? Was it that there hasn't been any current running through these wires in years? Or is it just inevitable that this will happen as the set ages? They've been in the box, sitting in a room at room temperature for several years.

Has anyone else with an old RCX-era MINDSTORMS set experienced this problem? Any suggestions on what can be done to stop or slow the deterioration of these wires, or perhaps even reverse the effects? It would make me sad if I couldn't use this set anymore. I had a satisfying fill of fun with this set from age 6 to 16, but I'd also love for my future posterity to get to enjoy it.

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    Nice to see you back on the forum, Hayden! – MindS1 Aug 24 at 6:43
  • I think I've seen a set review about a really old set (not mindstorms but uses technology) on Rebrickable, though I do not have time to look for it right now. It describes the same problem you have and a solution the reviewer used, yet I do not remember it. Look through their set-review folder for that article, if you're interested. – mindstormsboi Aug 25 at 3:59
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This is a common issue with the older Lego 9V cables. Lots of sources, including myself, have experienced the same thing - this particular chemistry of insulation ages poorly, no matter how well it's stored. Cables made later, circa 2004-2006 don't seem to have this issue - the insulation is less rubbery and more plasticy, and is still shiny like new to this day.

As far as repairing them goes, it's fairly simple and cheap, albeit a bit tedious. See this reddit thread and this YouTube video. The procedure which worked for me is as follows:

  1. Use a thin flathead screwdriver or knife blade to pry off the back of the connector. There's a little tab that holds it in place.

  2. The inside of the backplate has two ridges for guiding the wire out the back of the connector. Sand/cut these off - you'll need as much space to work with inside the connector as possible. I used a dremel.

  3. The old wires are not soldered to the connectors so they are easy to remove. They are held in place by two tiny forks which are pushed through the insulation to connect the metal inside.

  4. There is a little post in the center of the connector which the wire folded around. Twist it off with some needle-nose pliers.

  5. Cut some 24-gauge speaker cable to size. Does not need to be speaker cable, but most speaker cable I've seen has two leads side by side, like the original RCX cables. You can even use two separate insulated wires if you can't find double wire.

  6. Attach the new wires to the metal contact pads inside the connector. This is the hardest part, because the amount of space inside the connector is very small; remember you have to put the backplate back on when you're done. I could not achieve the sharp fold of the original wires, so don't bother trying. I also could not achieve the solderless connection with the little metal forks - so I soldered the new wires to the pads.

    TIPS FOR SOLDERING:

    • Use high heat and as little time as possible to melt the solder to the wire and contact pad. Applying heat for more than 1-2 seconds will deform the plastic on the top of the connector. No pressure; if you need to add more heat/solder, just make sure the contact pad is cool to the touch before you try again.
    • I like to ball up the bare wire at the end of the speaker cable and stuff it into the back of one of the metal studs, then melt solder over top.
    • Don't bridge the gap between the two contact pads!
  7. Once both wires are attached, add a small bead of plastic glue or epoxy on top of the two contact pads and the cable. The glue transfers force from the cable to the connector body instead of to your crappy solder joints.

  8. Reattach the backplate. It should snap into place with a little force, use the screwdriver again if you need to. Mop up any of the glue that squishes out around the backplate - especially make sure the metal contacts on the underside of the connector are clean! Test to make sure it works.

As I said, it's tedious, but this procedure is effective and creates a strong connection between the cable and the connector body. I'm currently repairing about 40-50 wires using this method to get a little more life out of a Mindstorms classroom set.

The RCX light sensors from this era suffer a similar problem because their cables are attached to the sensor body. They can be successfully repaired in a similar way (refer to that YouTube channel I linked).

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  • Thanks, this answer is fantastic! I'm relieved to see that this is a known issue, and that there wasn't much I could have done to stop this from happening. I might try to find some time to do this eventually. Although if you or someone else were to set up a small business that offered this kind of repair service to save me the trouble, I'd strongly consider paying someone else to do this for me. – HaydenStudios Aug 27 at 1:11
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At a guess the plasticizer used to make the cable sleeving flexible seems to be evaporating. Perhaps this is common with natural rubber (latex) and vinyl based wires.

You could try the plastic restoration products but I am doubtful that you will achieve long term stability.

The LEGO connectors at the ends can be disassembled and the cabling replaced.

I have done this for some of my Mindstorms cables with mixed results as I have been unable to find twin lead ultra flexible wires that match the dimensions of the LEGO original wires.

Should we expect that everything that the LEGO Group offers for sale to last for 60 years?

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While the answer by MindS1 is the standard solution that comes up with internet searches, I've found it is possible to use the wires usually used for Arduino jumper wires. These are slightly smaller than the original wires, which means they can be used without having to break off the ridges or forks.

I found it is possible to make a connection without soldering, however, after lots of experimentation, I found the I needed to strip the insulation off the end of the wire - offset slightly to match up with the forks - twist the wire, and fold it back on itself a couple of times, then with a fine tweezers and a bit of fiddling, they can be pushed onto the forks.

I also found that by using these, I could get the wire into the indent, and reconnect the backplate.

For the light sensor, I was able to remove the old cable - this does require desoldering - and solder on 90 degree male jumper pins which female dupont jumper cables can plug into. Although this does require cutting out an indent for the plug to fit in.

As said, it is tedious, and you will have to experiment quite a bit with the first one, but once you work out a method that works for you, then once it's done, it's done.

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