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Car Electrical Problems


A career as an auto electrician is very rewarding mainly because car electrical problems can be far more difficult to diagnose and repair than a mechanical malfunctions. Individuals who enjoy tasks that put their troubleshooting skills to the test generally do very well as automotive specialty technicians. The fact that vehicles are entirely dependent on a functioning electrical system means that technicians who specialize in this system enjoy very high demand for their knowledge and expertise.

The four main components of the electrical system in vehicles include the battery, alternator, starter, and connectors. The battery is responsible for storing the electrical charge that is used by all other automotive systems. The alternator’s job is to maintain electrical charge while the vehicle is operational and it switches on and off as demand fluctuates. The starter initiates the combustion process that gets the engine moving when the driver turns the ignition switch. The process of starting the engine consumes a substantial portion of the electrical charge supplied by the battery. One of the most common sources of car electrical problems involves loose or corroded connectors. The connectors are the wires that allow electrical charge to travel from one system to the next.

Common Signs of Electrical Malfunctions

Many people are familiar with the most common signs of an electrical malfunction in their vehicle. These include a lack of response when the ignition switch is engaged, dim or absent lighting, and stalling at traffic lights or stop signs. Issues relating to the electrical system are usually very noticeable because, in many cases, the vehicle becomes completely inoperable or severely impaired. This can have a dramatic impact on an individual’s ability to complete normal daily routines and can result in extreme frustration and anger. In these situations, it is usually a good idea to try to get an idea of where the problem exists. There are some things that the average consumer can do to try to diagnose their car electrical problems prior to making a trip to the automotive repair shop.

Diagnosing Electrical Malfunctions


The best approach to isolating an electrical malfunction is to test the main components of the system. The first, and most obvious, potential source of the problem is the car battery. Typically, a battery will last for many years before showing signs of failure, but it is possible for a battery to stop working much sooner than would be expected. In order to make sure that your car electrical problems are not stemming from a dead battery, you will need to ensure that the connectors are securely fashioned and free of corrosion.

If the battery terminals look fine, then you can assess the battery’s charge by using a digital multimeter (voltmeter). It is a good idea to keep your multimeter in your vehicle in case you need to use it while you are away from home. If the voltmeter reads between 10 to 12 volts then the battery should be working properly. You may also want to measure the voltage at the terminal clamps in order to make sure that there is not an issue with the connectors.

Another electrical component that is relatively simple to diagnose is a fuse malfunction. If you notice that your car electrical problems occur in one particular component such as a set of lights or the stereo then you are likely experiencing a fuse malfunction. The source of this type of problem can easily be isolated by using your vehicle manual to locate the problem in the fuse panel.

Car Electrical ProblemsOnce you have located the bad fuse, you can replace it with a new fuse of the same amperage. If the fuse quickly burns out again then it may be a sign that a more significant electrical problem exists. It is a good idea to keep an assortment of commonly used fuses in your vehicle in case you need to replace a bad fuse while you are away from home. Fuses and batteries are relatively simple to diagnose and replace. This is not always the case for car electrical problems that are in the alternator, starter, or connectors.

One way to assess the health of an alternator is to apply the probes of a voltmeter to the positive and negative terminals of the battery while the vehicle is running. A reading of between 12.8 and 14.7 volts is usually an indication that the alternator is functioning properly. If you get a reading lower than this then it is a good idea to use your multimeter to assess the voltage at the alternator’s output terminals. If both of these components appear to be working properly, then there may be a problem with a different component.


Car electrical problems that happen within components other than the car battery, the alternator, or a simple fuse should usually be handled by an automotive electrician. If you notice something unusual about how your vehicle starts or runs, such as an abnormal delay after turning the ignition switch or odd behavior when accessories are plugged into power sockets, then you should probably make a trip to the auto shop to have the electrical system checked. These can be signs of serious problems that require expert attention.

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