There are a lot of things that can go wrong with your car’s electrical system. Electrical problems come in many shapes and sizes, from loose wires to short circuits to faulty alternators.
You may not be able to figure out what the problem is without testing it first, but there are some general problems that most people can identify.
Here are 6 of the top common electrical problems in car problems you should know about.
What causes electrical problems in a car?
Your car has a lot of electrical components. Plus, it’s constantly being used and exposed to the elements. That means there are a lot of things that can go wrong with your car’s electrical system.
Electrical problems come in many shapes and sizes, from loose wires to short circuits to faulty alternators. These vehicle electric problems can get expensive. In fact, RepairPal.com says it’s between $88 and $111 just to get the electrical system diagnosed.
You may not be able to figure out what the problem is without testing it first, but there are some general problems that most people can identify.
The top 6 common electrical problems in a car are car batteries, headlights, blown fuses, engine starter and bad alternator.
1. Car batteries
Even though your car battery has only one, very simple function, it is without a doubt the most essential component of your vehicle.
The car battery is usually the culprit when your car won’t start, but it may also be the cause of other problems. Knowing what causes batteries to die can help you avoid this vexing problem.
What can lead to a dead car battery?
Typically, a car’s battery life could extend up to six years. However, factors like Leaving headlights on, Faulty wiring, bad alternator, extreme weather, corrosion, short trips can contribute to a battery failure:
- Leaving headlights on – Once your car battery is fully charged, it only takes a few hours for the charge to dissipate when your headlights are left on.
- Faulty wiring – Even a loose wire can cause electrical problems, so make sure your wires are properly connected.
- Bad alternator – Your car’s battery is recharged through an alternator when you’re driving down the road. If the alternator goes out, it can lead to a dead battery.
- Extreme weather – Hot, humid weather is tough on batteries. Low temperatures also affect your battery’s strength.
- Corrosion – When you don’t drive your car for a long time, the corrosion around your terminal clamps can bring it down. You should always remove the corrosion before starting your car.
- Short trips – If you take short trips, you won’t give the engine time to recharge the battery. Try to drive your car every day and start it up a few times if possible.
Symptoms of car battery problems
A mechanic will be able to load-test your battery and electrical problems in a car. If you see any of the indications like dimmer headlights, slower crank, car backfires, clicking sound when you start the car, then your battery may be faulty.
- Dimmer headlights – If your headlights are dim, you have a battery problem.
- Slower crank – If your car takes longer to start, your battery is probably too low to power the starter.
- A car backfires – If your car starts making a popping sound when you start it up, your battery may be low.
- Clicking sound – When you try to start your car and hear a clicking or ticking sound instead of normal engine noise, some accessories aren’t getting enough power from the battery.
- Car won’t start – If your car won’t start at all, it may be a battery issue or may not.
How to Revive a Dead Car Battery
If you have a dead car battery, there are several things that you can try to get yourself back on the road, or at least to the auto shop.
1) Get a jump: If you have another car or a good samaritan, it’s pretty easy to get your battery back on the road if it’s only dead and not completely fried. Jumpstarting a car is one of the basic car repair and maintenance skills that everyone should learn. Be sure to follow all safety precautions when hooking up jumper cables. The incorrect procedure may lead to melted jumper cables or may hurt you.
2) Distilled Water: If the electrolyte level is low, distilled water can be added to fully submerge the plates and enable a bit more reaction area
3) Epsom Salt: Adding a stronger acid to the electrolyte solution, such as Epsom salt, might be enough to shift the chemical equilibrium and give sufficient charge to start the car.
Sometimes, replacing the battery may be a more practical solution than trying to revive a dead car battery.
If you still have problems with your car or other common electrical problems in a car, contact your mechanic and he’ll be able to help.
2. Engine starter troubles
Another one of the common car electrical problems is a faulty starter. There are multiple reasons why your car won’t start, and a damaged or faulty starter motor is among the most common.
A starter motor is an electrical motor that is responsible for turning the crankshaft during engine start-up. If it fails, your car wouldn’t start at all. Car starters are usually located behind the engine, under the intake manifold.
Symptoms of starter motor trouble include grinding when you turn the ignition, clicking noises, or nothing at all when you turn the key.
What causes a starter to go bad?
The most common causes of a bad starter are faulty electrical connections, faulty solenoid switch, damaged electric motor, or damaged single-pinion gear. It is important that you are familiar with the starter motor parts and functions to diagnose the problem properly.
- Faulty electrical connections – A bad electrical connection is the most common reason why a starter fails to work.
- Faulty solenoid switch – The starter gets its power from a solenoid switch. The switch is often closed when the key is turned in the ignition, which sends power to start the engine. If the switch is faulty, it won’t supply the starter with the required power.
- Damaged electric motor – The electric motor gets its power directly from the battery. A damaged electric motor is also a common reason why a car won’t turn on.
- Damaged single-pinion gear – A damaged single-pinion gear is also a common reason why the car won’t turn on.
Most common faulty starter symptoms
- Grinding – If you hear grinding noise when you turn the ignition, it might be a loose starter.
- Clicking – If you hear clicking instead of normal engine noises, your solenoid switch is faulty and needs replacement.
- Nothing at all – if there’s nothing at all when you turn the key to start your car, then
Several things can be done if you have already tested your starter and determined that it’s bad. Replacing a faulty starter is easier and more cost-effective than it used to be.
Can you start a car with a bad starter?
Here are some tips to start a car with a bad starter:
1. Check the connections – Before you replace a starter, it’s best to check all the electrical connections thoroughly.
2. Check the battery – A faulty battery can also prevent your car from starting. It’s best to test the voltage of the battery to ensure that it has enough power to start your car.
3. Check the engine grounds – A loose ground connection can also cause your car won’t turn on.
4. Check the starter solenoid’s wire connections – A faulty starter solenoid is another common problem that prevents your car from turning on.
5. Check the fuses – A blown fuse can also cause your car not to turn on. It is also one of the most common electrical problems in a car and will be discussed later on.
6. Tapping the starter with a hammer – A faulty starter can often be revved up by tapping the starter with a hammer.
7. Push start the car – If there is no electricity in the car battery, you may be able to start the car by push starting it.
8. Jumpstart the car – In some cases, the electrical system in your car may be faulty. However, you can often jumpstart a car with a bad starter by
3. Failing headlight bulbs
Poorly lit streets can be a safety hazard for drivers. A common electrical problem in a car that can cause this is the failure of one or more headlight bulbs. There are several reasons why they may need to be replaced, including age and driving conditions.
What causes a failing headlight bulb?
Some of the common reasons why lighting components might go bad are:
- Age of part – Headlights last longer nowadays than they used to, but the bulbs still need replacing after several years on the road.
- Driver error – Loading up your headlights with high beams or parking lights can significantly reduce their life expectancy
- Driving condition – If you often drive at night in areas without street lights, it’s going to take a toll on your vehicle’s lighting systems
What does a bad headlight bulb look like?
A faulty headlight will look dimmer than usual. Older, worn-out bulbs may not put out enough light to properly illuminate the street in front of you. This is especially dangerous if driving at night or on roads without sufficient lighting.
How to Fix a Bad Headlight Bulb
If your headlights are not as bright as they used to be, it’s probably time to install new bulbs:
1) Turn your lights on and off several times to see if the problem corrects itself. If you still have no light output, proceed with replacing the bulb(s).
2) Once you know that something is wrong and need replacement parts, get matching bulbs for your car or truck model. This means you’ll need to find out the bulb type, style, and size to get the correct replacement.
3) Installing new bulbs is simple. Most headlights have a bolt that holds them in place; remove it with a wrench or screwdriver and then gently pull the headlight assembly out of its placement.
4) Replacing a burnt-out bulb is as easy as pushing in the new one, reassembling all pieces together, and testing to ensure they work properly before driving off again.
5) Some cars might have more specific procedures for replacing light components, such as separating individual lights from other components like the dashboard or grille cover. If this is the case, check your owner’s manual for precise instructions.
4. Blown fuses
One of the most DIY-friendly electrical problems in a car is blown fuses. This frustrating problem occurs when something causes a high current to pass through your fuse box. Each fuse is designed to handle an ampere of electricity, and if it breaks because of too much power, you’ll need the circuit checked by a professional.
What causes blown fuses in cars?
Faulty wiring or defective wiper motors can cause excessive current flow, which damages the fuses. Usually, something common like a short circuit or loose connection in your car’s electrical wiring system causes a blown fuse by creating too much power and damaging the component that runs it, such as your windshield wipers or radio.
How do you tell if you have a blown fuse in your car?
Visually inspect the fuse box for blown fuses. Your car’s owner’s manual should tell you where to find it and what each fuse controls. If there are no visual signs of a problem, check your dashboard for any warning lights that come on when you turn on your ignition.
A blown fuse can also cause components such as the AC to stop working properly.
What can you do if you have a blown fuse in your car?
If you know which individual fuse has blown out, try to determine if there’s a loose wire causing the problem. If not, take your vehicle to a professional who can check all of the wiring components and replace any that are damaged.
How to replace a blown fuse in your car:
1) Make sure the ignition is off and all accessories are turned off.
2) Locate your car’s fuse box under the steering wheel, near either end of the dash or in the engine compartment.
3) Find out which fuses control what components by checking if they match the colored fuses in your owner’s manual. Remove the fuse carefully using needle-nose pliers or a fuse puller tool to avoid damaging it.
4) With the right replacement fuse inserted, turn on the ignition and then test all components to make sure they work properly before driving away again.
5) If you replace the fuse and it immediately blows out again, something more is wrong. Turn off your car, take it to a service center for a professional diagnosis of the electrical system, and have the wiring checked by a trained technician.
5. Failed spark plugs
The spark plugs are used to ignite the gas mixture in your engine and will eventually wear out. When you turn on your ignition, high voltage and current are sent across electrodes at each plug. A bad connection can cause electrical problems in a car such as, a failed spark plug that stops the car from starting or causes the engine to run rough.
Symptoms of bad spark plugs
If your car misses when you turn on the ignition, it could be a problem with your spark plugs. Slow starting or the engine dying when it starts are also signs of a bad plug.
How do you know if your spark plugs need to be replaced?
A failed spark plug might cause several symptoms like rough idle, trouble starting, misfiring engine, poor fuel economy, and lack of power.
- The engine has a rough idle – the engine idles more to compensate for the lack of power.
- Trouble starting – the engine has trouble turning over or dies when you first turn on your ignition.
- Engine misfiring – the car starts but the engine runs rough, sputters, or hesitates.
- Poor fuel economy – the car doesn’t have as much power, so burns more fuel to do the same amount of work.
- No power – the car does not accelerate as quickly as it should or sputters.
What causes a failed spark plug-in car?
Spark plugs wear out over time and eventually can become faulty or fail. Usually, when this happens, a high current across electrodes will break down the plug’s metal shell, causing internal damage.
How do you change the spark plugs in a car?
You can replace your spark plugs with the right tools. If you don’t feel confident doing the job yourself, seek help from a certified technician at an auto repair shop who can replace your plugs for you.
6. Faulty alternator
A faulty or dying alternator may only work in fits and starts. As a result, the battery won’t charge properly and may feel like it’s not getting any power to start the car.
Symptoms of a faulty alternator
When your car is turned on, but the engine doesn’t seem to be running because you can’t hear it, this could mean that it isn’t getting enough power from either the battery or the alternator.
Unless it has been diagnosed properly, most symptoms of the faulty alternator are similar to that of a faulty battery. This includes:
- Dim or Overly Bright Lights
- Dead Battery
- Slow or Malfunctioning Accessories
- Trouble Starting or Frequent Stalling
- Growling or Whining Noises
- The smell of Burning Rubber or Wires
- Battery Warning Light on Dash
Causes of an alternator going bad
The modern car is very complicated, which means that there are loads of components all working together to ensure smooth running.
In addition to the battery and ignition system, the alternator plays a major role in powering up these parts and ensures your vehicle operates at its best. Electrical problems in a car are usually caused by a dead alternator, computer problem, wiring problems, bad fuse, broken pulley, or broken drive belt.
- Dead Alternator – at times, the battery may be getting enough power to light up the car and run the starter motor, but not much else.
- Computer Problem – an electrical component of your computer could have gone bad or a sensor is malfunctioning.
- Wiring Problems – any problem with the wiring in the car can cause a faulty alternator that stops charging the battery.
- Bad Fuse – a fuse that is blown can stop electricity from reaching the alternator and the result will be the same as having a dead alternator.
- Broken Pully – if your belt is broken you won’t get any power to your car’s engine, causing other components like the Alternator to fail.
What To Do If Your Alternator Goes Out
A car can only run for a short time with a failed alternator. You can just pop over to your nearest auto-parts store or visit an auto repair shop, get a replacement and be on your way.
The battery, even if it is completely charged, will not keep the engine running for more than a couple of miles. Also, running a typical car battery down to the point that the engine quits running is extremely hard on the battery.
The best thing to do is to tow your car to a repair shop, especially if you don’t already have a replacement alternator.
However, if the problem is not too severe and nothing has been damaged (e.g., battery cables or wires), you may be able to get away with simply purchasing an Alternator and installing it yourself.
Once in your life, you will encounter these common electrical problems in a car. In conclusion, you should have a basic knowledge of car electrical systems. If you have any questions, please leave a comment under this article or share with us your story.
Electrical problems in a car are not to be ignored. Seek repairs immediately. Hope this article helped you to identify common car electrical problems and how to repair them on your own or go to a shop for help.