Common electrical problems in cars are varied. While everyone always thinks of the battery first – and it’s true that the battery is most often the culprit – your electrical system is much bigger than that. In fact, in newer cars, the electrical system is larger and more complex. This introduces more ways for something to go wrong.
Causes of Electrical Problems in Cars
The reasons for car electrical problems can be many. Your vehicle might have a loose electrical connection. A blown fuse will cause problems. Sometimes, it’s that one part of the system is constantly drawing power, even when the engine is shut off, and it slowly drains the battery.
Perhaps the most common cause of car electrical problems is that the battery is failing. Most car batteries only last about five years. Cold weather can also shorten the life of your battery.
Checking for Electrical System Problems
Many things can indicate you have an electrical problem with your car. Some of the following signs could be caused by other factors, but if you find multiple symptoms it’s usually a pretty solid indication your car has electrical issues.
- Blown fuses: When you constantly must replace blown fuses, this indicates something in the electrical system is sending too much current through those fuses.
- Dim headlights/taillights/dome lights: If you notice any of the lights on your car are dim as you’re driving, this can indicate a problem with the electrical system, usually that the alternator is failing. Ignoring it could leave you stranded somewhere.
- Engine struggles to crank: To start, your engine needs electricity flowing to the spark plugs. Without a strong flow, the engine will struggle to get going, or it might not start at all.
- Smell of melting plastic: Never ignore this sign, because it can indicate you have wiring that’s heating up so much, it’s melting the insulation around it. If not taken care of, this could result in a car fire, maybe even as you’re driving down the road.
- Sputtering engine: If the spark plugs aren’t getting enough electrical charge, the fuel won’t combust fully in the cylinders. Sometimes, the issue might be with only one or two spark plugs, causing the engine to run rough or sputter.
- Lights/horn/radio won’t work: These problems can be caused by something as simple as a blown fuse, which is easy to fix. If you have multiple electrical systems failing, however, it might indicate the alternator or another component needs to be replaced.
Many of these common electrical problems in cars are fairly easy to fix. Your local auto supply store will have replacement fuses and spark plugs. For trickier electrical issues, you may need to visit a mechanic to get the problem repaired correctly.
Diagnosing Common Electrical Problems in Cars
If you can’t turn on anything electrical in your car when it’s sitting with the engine off, that means the battery is dead. Your battery may be low if you turn on the headlights with the engine shut down, and they’re dim. Before you jump to the conclusion that the battery is bad, have it tested by a shop. It could be that the battery is fine, but the alternator is going out. It’s also possible that something is constantly drawing power as the car is sitting, draining the battery.
Troubleshooting common electrical problems in cars:
- Pop the hood and inspect the battery. If the terminals have any white gunk or other debris on them, clean them thoroughly with a wire brush. Corrosion can bring your car’s electrical system to its knees. If that isn’t the cause, wiggle the battery cables to see if they’re loose.
- While you have the hood up, inspect the alternator belt. If it’s loose, or you see signs of cracking or fraying, have it replaced immediately. A bad belt can make even the best of alternators run poorly.
- Another easy potential cause to diagnose is the spark plugs and wires. Check that the wires are seated firmly at both ends. Using an extension on your socket wrench, ensure the spark plugs are also tightened all the way.
- When you experience electrical problems while driving, like your headlights dimming, that’s usually a sign the alternator is going out.
Ultimately, diagnosing a vehicle’s electrical problems can be pretty complex. There comes a point when you need specialized equipment and training to be accurate in your diagnosis, which is where a quality repair shop such as T3 Atlanta comes in handy. We can pinpoint where a loose connection, unusual power draw or other issues are causing trouble, and fix the problem for you.