How to Troubleshoot Your Car’s Electrical System


Jul 08th, 2020

How to Troubleshoot Your Car’s Electrical System

When people say that they're having 'car troubles', it's easy for us to assume that one of the mechanical parts is faulty. However, those aren't the only parts that can cause headaches for car owners. Aside from the mechanical side of things, your vehicle also has a very complex electrical system. That system powers everything from spark plugs in your engine to the radio that you sing to as you drive.

These two systems, the mechanical and the electrical, are highly interdependent, so if one of them has a problem, it will usually cause issues for the other.

In this article, we're going to talk about the common electrical problems that you might face with your car. More importantly, we'll go through a few necessary steps to diagnose or troubleshoot those car electrical problems.

Firstly, let's talk about the common symptoms of electrical problems.

Common Symptoms of Electrical Problems

When a mechanical problem occurs in your car, chances are there'll be a warning light on the dashboard that highlights the problem. Unfortunately, that's not always the case with electrical issues. As a result, you'll need to be aware of symptoms that indicate to you that there's a problem. More importantly, if you understand those symptoms well, you can trace the electrical problem right down to its source.

One of the most obvious signs is an electrical accessory that stops working correctly. Perhaps it’s your headlights, taillights, or indicators flashing weakly or not flashing at all. Or, maybe your radio stops working. These kinds of symptoms are not complicated and may indicate that the problem is the accessory itself, like the malfunctioning lightbulb or radio.

Aside from those, you may notice symptoms related to your engine's performance. If your engine has a problem starting up, or if it sputters and jerks occasionally, this might point to an electrical problem. With this particular symptom, it could be a problem with the battery or even your spark plugs.

But if you ever smell something like burning plastic, that could be a cause for more concern. It might point to overheating or burning in the wiring. Whenever you notice this symptom, it’s best to drive to your trusted workshop to have the issue diagnosed immediately.

While those are common car electrical problems, others are harder to identify. Here are a few common sources of electrical issues that you can troubleshoot.

Replace the Relevant Fuse

All the electrical accessories in your car have their own fuse. The purpose of their fuses is to ensure that the accessory doesn't get damaged by a sudden surge in electrical power. 

When an electrical accessory stops working, it could just be that its fuse has blown. All you need to do in this case is to find your fuse box and change the relevant fuse(s). Usually, there's a diagram in the fuse box or in the car owner's manual showing which fuse corresponds to which electrical accessory.

However, if you find yourself changing fuses more often than usual, this could indicate a bigger problem. Frequently blown-out fuses might be caused by another problem somewhere in the electrical system that's sending too much electrical current through those fuses.

Inspect the Battery

If you notice symptoms where your car lights are weak, or your engine struggles to turn over, you might want to inspect your car battery.

Check to see if the battery terminals have debris on them or if the connections are loose. Either of these could stop the battery from supplying power to the car's electrical system. 

Of course, don't forget to check how old the battery is. If you don't have any memory or records of when you bought it, it might be written somewhere on the battery itself. After the battery's warranty period, the battery starts losing its ability to store power. This may cause it to under-supply your car's electrical system.

Check the Alternator Belt

Your alternator belt could also be another source of electrical problems. Remember: the alternator's job is to recharge the car battery whenever the engine is on. For the alternator to work, it needs to be connected and synchronized to your engine by an alternator belt. 

If the belt is damaged in any way, the alternator may not be working as it should. This leads to your battery not recharging efficiently, which then causes a lack of power supply to everything in your car's electrical system.

Check Your Spark Plugs

As mentioned earlier, some symptoms of electrical problems are related to your engine's performance. If your engine struggles to turn over or sputters, the problem may be with your spark plugs. Make sure that they're screwed on tight and are clear of any damage. If your spark plugs are the source of the problem, all you have to do is to replace them.

Check Your Wiring

Wiring delivers the power that your car needs, so make sure they're all in good shape. Sometimes, wires can be burnt out or short-circuited.

If everything else seems like they're working as they should, yet you notice some symptoms, you might have a problem with your wiring. After all, if it's faulty, then the electric current can't get from your battery to wherever it's needed. Checking the wiring yourself can be risky and complicated, so if you're not entirely sure of what you're doing, perhaps it's best to leave it to the experts.

Get Your Workshop to Troubleshoot It for You

Electrical problems can be quite complicated, so there's no shame in getting an expert to troubleshoot it for you. When you hire a trained professional, they'll have the experience, knowledge and equipment to track down and fix the problem much quicker. Sure, it'll cost you more to get someone to do it for you, but it will be worth the money to solve the problem quickly instead of losing sleep trying to figure it out by yourself.

You may also want to read related articles, such as the articles on the parts that make up the electrical system and common car electrical problems. You may also search for auto electricians near you through our directory. To source car replacement parts, the most convenient and cost-effective way would be to request CarPart to locate them for you.

By Ray Hasbollah