When you lose electricity at home, you know it instantly. Your refrigerator turns off. You can’t flip a light switch to the on position. And all your electrical appliances won’t work – no drying your hair, turning on the coffee machine, or running the vacuum.
For your car, it’s not as obvious. A car’s electrical system is made up of a:
- Battery cables
- Computer system
The electrical system controls such things as:
- Brake light
- Infotainment center
- Heated seats
While problems with the electrical system might not be as noticeable at first as a problem with the braking system, it becomes apparent as you drive. It may start with things that make your drive more comfortable – heated seats and the radio – but can quickly escalate to problems starting the car.
What can it be?
Symptoms of car electrical problems
As you drive each day, it’s a good idea to quickly inspect how your car operates. Does it sound okay as you start it up? Do the gadgets work as usual? While it won’t take you more than a few seconds of time, it can also alert you to the start of potential problems, giving you a chance to fix them before they escalate. Things to watch for include:
An engine that doesn’t start correctly
One of the most basic electrical functions is your car battery. The car’s engine needs electrical power to start. The battery is used as a power source to create a spark that ignites the fuel/oxygen mixture inside the engine. If this doesn’t happen, the problem could originate with the power source.
The most common way an electrical problem shows up is by a clicking noise when you turn the key. This clicking noise occurs when current flow isn’t strong enough to start the engine. The battery isn’t generating enough power because of a low charge or being at the end of its useful life. It may also indicate a problem with the igniter or starter.
A problem with the battery
A dead battery is one of the most obvious indicators of an electrical problem. Before you change it out, consider its age. Batteries can last up to five years; if it’s nearing end-of-life, it may need replacing. Because of how the battery works together with the alternator, it could also be at fault.
If the battery won’t start, check for corrosion. Also ensure the wires haven’t come loose, ensuring it’s properly connected. A quick trip to the repair shop can ensure your battery is working well, or install a new one to have you back on the road.
As a battery wears down, it conserves energy and doesn’t supply it to the many accessories that rely on it for power. The headlights are critical to safety. Brake lights and turn signals also help keep you and your passengers safe. If you drive at night, interior lights can be a first sign of trouble. You can also pay attention to comfort systems that no longer seem to work.
When the electrical system isn’t supplying full power, it causes the system to lose voltage, which fails to keep the battery fully charged. This moves throughout the system, impacting all other electrical components within the car.
Most of us are aware that if too much power goes to one circuit inside our homes, it can blow a fuse and turn off the power to that circuit. You’ll have to adjust the circuit breaker to gain back power. Fuses work similarly inside your car. They prevent short-circuiting and over-voltage. When a fuse blows, it breaks the circuit, so too much current doesn’t flow to other electrical components.
If your vehicle is consistently blowing fuses, it’s a sign your car is having electrical problems. If you leave it without replacing, you further enhance the damage occurring within the system. Any electrical system should be checked out immediately to get to the heart of the problem.
The alternator works with the battery to keep it fully charged while the car is operational. It helps to distribute power from the engine to the rest of the electrical components. If you notice lights flickering or a radio that won’t turn on while driving, it could be a sign the alternator isn’t properly recharging the battery. It could be a problem with a faulty alternator, or a problem with the alternator belt.
If you ever sense a burning smell any time your car is in operation, turn it off and get it checked before operating again. If you continue to drive it, you risk further damage.
Today’s cars operate through technology and computerized components. Sometimes electrical issues can stem from software problems, where an upgrade occurs and triggers the system. It might not be an electrical problem, but instead from a tripped code. The only way to fix it is through a diagnostic test, fixing sensors as necessary.
Diagnosing a car’s electrical problems
Any problem with a car’s electrical system can be difficult to diagnose on your own. Instead, an experienced technician will likely put it through a series of tests, including diagnostics, to pinpoint the problem. Every circuit of a vehicle needs full power to operate properly. If a sensor is bad or a connection is loose, it will cause problems.
The first test starts with the battery. Is it still operating efficiently? Is it connected and in proper working condition? From there, a technician will branch out to discover the problem. It’s a matter of investigation to get to the root of the problem.
To troubleshoot your car’s electrical system, an experienced technician will use diagnostic tests to pinpoint the cause of the electrical problem. They’ll also perform a visual inspection of the battery and case condition, ensuring the battery is still delivering a proper amount of power. Cable connections are examined, and further diagnostics to the engine are used to ensure your entire vehicle is operating as it should. It’s the best way to fix electrical problems and get you safely back on the road.