Modern cars have a strong reliance on electrical and electronic components. As a result, a car’s electrical system is just as critical to its function as its mechanical one. You can minimize any possible downtime by understanding what causes electrical problems in vehicles and how to troubleshoot them.
Electrical problems in cars can be caused by issues with the battery, alternator, switches and fuses. Besides, the problems could be with individual electrical or electronic components or the wiring and connectors that attach to them. You can troubleshoot some issues yourself, but it’s always safer and faster to let a technician do it for you.
In this guide, you’ll first learn how a car’s electrical system works and what components it consists of. Then, you’ll discover a few common electrical problems and how you can troubleshoot them quickly.
Let’s get started.
How Does A Car’s Electrical System Work?
Before diving deep into a car’s electrical problems and how to troubleshoot them, you must first understand how the system works. That understanding will help you identify any problems and solve them quickly.
Here are the key components of your car’s electrical system and how they work:
- Battery: The battery stores an electrical charge and helps power your vehicle’s electrical and electronic components. More importantly, the battery delivers the cranking charge necessary to start the engine.
- Alternator: The alternator is designed to recharge your car’s battery continuously. It’s powered by the engine, which means it only works when the engine is running.
- Switches And Fuses: The electrical system also consists of switches and fuses. Switches allow you to turn parts of the electrical system on and off, like when you turn on your headlights. Meanwhile, fuses protect the system by destroying themselves if there’s an electrical fault like a short circuit.
- Electrical and Electronic Components: Of course, the system also consists of the car’s electrical and electronic components. Some examples include the car’s lights and air conditioning system, as well as the radio and any LCD screens that the car might have.
- Wires and connectors: Last but not least, all of the items above are connected through wires and connectors that deliver power to where it’s needed. Those wires are concealed behind various panels to keep them out of sight. But despite never seeing them, your entire car is lined with wires from front to back.
What Causes Electrical Problems In A Car?
Now that we’ve understood the different parts of a car’s electrical system, let’s look at the typical root causes of its problems.
Here are 5 general causes of electrical problems in cars:
1. Battery Issues
One of the most common sources of electrical problems stems from battery issues. A car battery that can’t hold a charge, deliver that charge, or recharge will quickly lead to the electrical system failing entirely.
Car batteries naturally wear out after 2-3 years. However, they can also wear out prematurely from overuse, and their terminals can also corrode.
All of those traits will lead to battery-related problems.
2. Starter Or Alternator Malfunctions
The car battery delivers the initial charge that starts the engine. However, fault starters and alternators can also lead to electrical problems.
Firstly, a starter that malfunctions will prevent the engine from starting. Without a running engine, the battery can’t recharge, and the entire electrical system will quickly run out of power.
A failed alternator prevents the battery from recharging even if the engine runs. That battery will quickly drain and be unable to restart the engine later.
3. Blown Fuses
When a fuse blows, it breaks the circuit it was protecting. That means no electrical power can flow through that circuit until the affected fuse is replaced.
4. Burnt Wires
Burnt wires can prevent electrical and electronic components from receiving the power they need to function. Those wires will burn when they overheat due to electrical faults like power surges and short circuits.
5. Loose Connectors
Lastly, loose electrical connectors will prevent components and accessories from receiving a reliable electricity supply. Those connectors can come loose due to the car’s vibrations, or because they weren’t firmly attached in the first place.
How Do You Troubleshoot A Car’s Electrical Problems?
Troubleshooting a car’s electrical problems will depend on the issue you’re facing.
Here are some of the most common issues you’ll experience in a car and how you can troubleshoot them quickly:
Why this happens: The car battery is too weak to deliver enough charge to turn the starter.
What to check: Check the car battery to understand how long it has been since you replaced it. If the battery is more than 2-3 years old, the battery has likely worn out.
Also, you can check to see if you accidentally left your headlights or any other electrical components on while the engine was off. Those will drain power from the battery, leaving not enough power to start the car.
How to fix it: There are 2 options you can use in this scenario. Firstly, you can jumpstart the car as a temporary solution. That will start the car, so you can drive it to your preferred mechanic.
However, a worn-out battery that’s more than 2 years old must be replaced regardless, as it can no longer hold an electrical charge.
Why this happens: Burning smells typically happen because of overheating wires. They’ll overheat when left unresolved for too long until they burn and no longer function correctly.
What to check: Unfortunately, this will require a thorough inspection of all your car’s wiring. That way, you can identify the burnt wiring section, understand its cause, and replace it with new wiring.
How to fix it: It’s best to let a professional technician handle this for you. They’ll inspect the wiring and replace the affected section with new wires.
Why this happens: A car fuse will blow if there’s an electrical fault like a short circuit or power surge. It’s completely normal for this to happen on occasion. But if the same fuse blows repeatedly, one of the circuit’s components has an electrical fault.
What to check: Firstly, identify the blown fuse and the circuit it protects. Then, check the components on that circuit for any electrical faults (e.g. a radio with a short circuit).
How to fix it: Firstly, you must replace the affected fuse with an identical replacement. Simultaneously, you should inspect the components on that circuit to identify any repairs or parts replacements that might be necessary.
Low Or No Power To Individual Components
Why this happens: When a component experiences low power, no power, or intermittent power, that means its electrical connectors are loose.
What to check: Firstly, check the electrical connectors on the affected component and its wiring. Some of it might be loose, so its power supply isn’t stable and continuous.
How to fix it: Firstly, shut off the car and disconnect the battery to prevent any injuries or electrocution. Then, remove the electrical connector so you can reattach it firmly, ensuring that it never comes loose again.
As you can see, some car electrical problems are straightforward to solve yourself (e.g. replacing blown fuses). However, electrical repairs can still be dangerous. So, don’t hesitate to let a qualified technician handle it. Not only will they be able to do the repairs safely, but they’ll also get them done quickly so you can be back on the road as soon as possible.