Troubleshoot Your Car’s Electrical Problems

Written by: AUTO CAR

6 Effective Ways To Troubleshoot Your Car’s Electrical Problems

Electrical problems in cars can be tough to locate and fix. They can include things like dim or non-functioning lights, hard starting, surging acceleration, malfunctioning gauges, and check engine lights. 

If the problem is intermittent, even dealer shops with specialized equipment can require the car for days to track the source, and not always be successful.

If you’re looking for quick and effective ways to solve your car’s electrical issues, we’ve got you covered. Have a look at the below tips. 

Battery Checks & Diagnosis

Check the battery charge and charging system using a simple voltage meter. A fully charged battery should read close to 12.6 volts for a 12-volt battery. Anything under 12 volts indicates too low a charge. Even if the voltage is 12.6 volts, there still may be a problem inside the battery. 

The way to test for internal battery problems is a load test. Tools to perform a load test can typically be purchased for under $70.00. These meters often can test the charging system as well. A cheaper alternative is to take the vehicle to a battery retailer as most battery shops will perform the load test for free. 

These shops will also often perform a charging system check for free to ensure the alternator and voltage regulator is functioning correctly. If they are not willing, go to another shop that will. It is in the retailer’s best interest to perform the test as they often get a battery sale or repair job out of it.

6 Effective Ways To Troubleshoot Your Car's Electrical Problems

Battery Cleaning

Clean the battery terminals regularly, including the two battery posts and the battery cables. Coat them with a proper protectant. Vaseline was used for years, but there are specialized products available.

Test The Fuses with a Meter

Fuses need to be pulled and tested with a meter. There should be no resistance. Just visual inspection may easily not be enough. Replace blown fuses only with fuses of the correct rating, not a higher-rated fuse, as this could create a fire hazard.

Check if the Connectors are Corroded

Check the connectors under the hood. Corrosion is more likely there as the connectors are more exposed to the elements. Sometimes just separating them and reseating them will reestablish a good connection but also look for corrosion. It often shows as a green coating or dull-colored metal contacts.

Door Light Switches

If the car often has a dead battery in the morning or after sitting for a while, check the door light switches. They can become sticky with dirt and age and may cause interior lights to stay on. Vanity mirror lights are also often culprits. Make sure all these lights turn off consistently.

Check the Ground Straps

This is the last, and the number ONE overlooked spot. If all the above steps have not cured the problem, this may be the case of ground straps, especially if the car is five years old or older. 

It is the ground strap where it attaches from the battery to the car engine block and then to the vehicle’s chassis. There may easily be more than one or even two ground straps. Many times they are easy to spot because they are bare copper metal but may be insulated. 

To find the end of the ground straps, here is what you need to do:

  • Start at the battery’s negative terminal and follow it/them until it/they attach to the engine or chassis. 
  • Put a wrench on the bolt and loosen it. 
  • If possible, clean the connection area with a wire brush. 
  • If it is hard to reach, you may be able to reestablish a good connection just by loosening and tightening the bolt. 
  • Do this with all the ground straps from the battery.

Final Word

Fixing your car is often easier than you think. The knowledge gained by attempting to diagnose and trying to fix it can also save you money when a shop suggests unnecessary repairs. Make sure you shop for discount auto parts store online, should you need to buy any part for your car. You will get good quality parts with great discounts. 

Hope this helps!

Last modified: February 19, 2021