How to determine electrical car faults
Electrical problems can be very frustrating and dangerous. A lot of things begin to go wrong; the lights may not come on or appear dim, the stereo doesn’t work, or power windows fail to operate. In some cases, the car itself may have difficulty starting or won’t start at all.
Some electrical problems are more subtle than others, but keep an eye out for the warning signs to enable you get ahead of them. Vehicles have intricate electrical systems, and this is especially true for modern cars and trucks. Just a handful of the features powered by the electrical system in a vehicle includes, but not limited to:
- Brake lights
- Cabin lights
- The stereo
- Power windows
- Sensors (e.g., for tire pressure)
- The car starter
Below are a few signs you should look out for when electrical faults begin to develop:
- Burning Smell
A burning smell is one of the warning signs of an electrical problem in your vehicle, particularly if the smell is that of molten plastic or rubber. A burning smell is usually caused by a short circuit in a wire or electrical component of your vehicle. This forces the wire to draw more current than it should, which warms it up and begins to melt the surrounding plastic insulation.
If you smell something along these lines or worse or if you see smoke, you should definitely have your vehicle repaired immediately. The problem may be minor – and in many cases it is – but anything that burns in your vehicle can quickly become a potentially dangerous problem
- Faint Light
Dimming lights anywhere on your vehicle may indicate battery or electrical system problems. If it is the only light that gives you trouble, it’s probably just a light bulb, but if after replacing the light bulb with a new one, the problem persists, the wiring and its components could be faulty.
Dim headlights or brake lights can be an indication of charging malfunction, resistance in the electrical system, loose wires or a severely discharged battery. It is recommended to check your vehicle’s alternator belt. Dim lights also indicate low system voltage. Once voltage drops below a certain level, safety systems such as traction control may disable and eventually the vehicle will stop running altogether. A loose or cracked belt can prevent your alternator from working efficiently and maintaining battery voltage. A bad alternator is frequently the cause of dim lights when problems such as loose wire, a slipping belt or corrosion are not found.
- Stereo system or other electronic components failing
Stereo system or a number of other electronic components found in newer vehicles such as GPS or even small TVs are great achievements but attract more power and thus increase the demands of your vehicle’s electrical system. If one or more of these components are not functioning properly or do not work at all, there is a good chance that the electrical wiring is faulty, although in many cases the problem may be as simple as a blown fuse.
- Corrosion of battery cables or terminals
The battery is the heart of your vehicle’s electrical system, storing electrical energy for when it is needed. An average battery lasts only about 5 years – .much less in hot climates, so it is recommended that you replace your battery every four years as preventative maintenance to avoid being stranded. A bad battery cell or alternator that is charging improperly could prevent your car battery from staying fully charged, shortening battery life. This is one very important reason to have the complete electrical system checked as a whole as opposed to just the battery.
Check your battery’s cables for corrosion and for tight fit at the terminal ends. The corrosion could be on the battery terminals or when cables look like a white or bluish buildup. If the cables are corroded, carefully remove the cables and use a chemical terminal cleaner and brush to clean them. Corrosion builds resistance that can prevent power from flowing through your electrical system.
- The engine is not working
A failing is the most problematic of all electrical problems. Don’t automatically assume your car isn’t starting because of a bad battery, starter or engine issues. There could be an unrelated defective component in the electrical system, draining your battery and preventing the starter from cranking the engine.
If you hear a clicking noise when turning the key, it usually means that the starter can’t get enough current flow to engage. This is usually caused by a bad or discharged battery, meaning your starter may be the issue. A grinding noise during cranking is usually caused by a bad starter or flywheel ring gear. The older the car and higher the mileage, the larger the possibility that your vehicle’s rotating electrical parts might be going bad. Problems with fuel injection delivery during cranking can also cause hard starting.
- Missing or blown fuses
A blown fuse is a sign that an electrical device or wiring is drawing too much current. It is important to find the problem first before simply replacing the fuse and calling it fixed. After replacing your fuse, closely monitor it to confirm it’s not a reoccurring issue. If you’re replacing your fuses regularly, then you will have to look further when diagnosing your car’s electrical issues.
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