What causes electrical problems in cars?

Check Engine light

When the car shorts out

Imagine if you will, you’re driving to work, and your car just quits. No spit or sputter, it just quit. The gas gauge shows plenty of gas, an oil pressure gauge is in the middle, water gauge is on the cooler side of the middle. So, engine-wise, all seems okay, could it maybe the car electrical system?

Having a car with electrical problems can be just as annoying and expensive as engine repairs or front-end problems. If you hear a rod knocking, you have a pretty good idea the problem is in the engine. If you’re having a hard time keeping your car going straight, you can be 99% sure the front-end needs servicing.

Then that one question “why did my car lose all power?” can end up being something simple and inexpensive, yet it can take a lot of trying this and that to get to that conclusion. There are car electrical basics, but that can only get you so far in determining what is wrong.

Car electrical wiring repair generally will start with a look at the obvious, such as the alternator and battery. Using a car electrical circuit tester can often give a mechanic an idea of other things to check, but there is still the unknown and so many questions, for the mechanic and by the car’s owner.

How do you know if you have electrical problems in your car?

The cars today rely a lot, and we mean A LOT, on their electrical system for functioning. The alternator and the battery are just a tip to a car electrical system. The main piece to this is the computer, and just like the computer on your desk, so much can go wrong and cause so much chaos!

Mechanics today not only need to know about lifters and rods and gas flow and compression, but they need to have basic computer and electrical knowledge as well. Because, when a car suddenly quits, loses any or all its functionality, the possibilities of what is wrong are endless. When it comes to a car electrical system, here are some indicators that there is a problem:

The Motor Won’t Crank

Yes, your car needs gas, but it also requires electricity and that comes from the battery which causes a spark that provokes the fuel to go from the gas tank to the motor. If the motor isn’t cranking, the alternator, battery, or some other car electrical system issue could be why.

A distinct “clicking” sound when the key is turned, the first hint to it being the alternator or battery. Usually, it is the battery, and connecting your car to another with jumper cables can answer that quickly. It will either start or it won’t. If there is a “grinding” noise while trying to start your car, a common problem is the starter has gone out.

Sometimes, it could be the flywheel is faulty, or it can be something more detailed electrical, which in any of these situations, you need to have a professional mechanic look at your car.

Battery Problems

If your battery has had to be “jumped off” via jumper cables and another car supplying the power, have your mechanic look at your car to make sure there isn’t another car electrical system issue causing the battery’s power to drain. The average lifespan of a car battery is 5 years and in hot climates it could be less. A car electrical system issue could be the alternator or other issues within the electrical system.

Dashboard or Headlights Not Working

The dashboard, interior, and headlights all run from the car electrical system. This includes the brake lights, blinkers, taillights, etc. If there is any type malfunctioning, like lights are going from bright to dim and back to bright, or they simply dim and stay dim, this can indicate a problem with the car electrical system getting low system from the alternator, a battery, a loose belt or loose wires. This is one of those times the experience of an auto mechanic is a must.

Fuses Keep Blowing

Just like your home, every car has a fuse box too, and its job is to prevent the car electrical system from sending out too much voltage or short circuit the system. The fuses inside the box are intended to break the circuits so that the electrical system’s vulnerability is damaged by too much current.

However, there are times that a fuse blows and the reason is not obvious. You replace it and it blows again. This is when you need the experience of an auto mechanic. If replacing it didn’t fix it, then there could be a deeper problem with the car electrical system.

A Burning Electrical or Plastic Smell

If you smell something electrical or plastic burning and have one or more of the above issues with your car electrical system, your car is having an electrical malfunction and you need to get it to a mechanic promptly. Anything electrical can spark a fire and with a car being fueled by gasoline, it doesn’t take much for it to catch the entire car on fire. Have your car thoroughly checked by an experience mechanic.

What causes a car’s electrical system to suddenly stop working?

There is a maze within your car that has fuses, relays, wires, and a host of other major electrical components. If there is any trouble with these components, your car could just quit. Seven of the most common problem with a car electrical system are:

  • A Dead Battery: An obvious problem and a common signified by the motor won’t start when you turn the key. The lights and radio may or may not still work, but until you have a jump with cables or get a new battery, it isn’t going anywhere.
  • Battery Won’t Charge: Your battery died, you got a jump start, got to your next destination and it won’t start again. This indicates the battery isn’t holding a charge and is probably simply worn out. How old is it? If it’s 5 years old or older, you got your money’s worth from it.
  • The alternator is Bad: An alternator that is damaged or malfunctioning can keep a battery from holding a charge. In this scenario, your car will lose all electrical functions, including the headlights and radio.  
  • Solenoid or Starter Failure: If the solenoid or starter is the problem, the motor won’t turn over. Instead, you’ll hear a series of loud clicks.
  • Battery Cables Bad: Your car not starting could be corroded or loose battery cables.
  • Electrical Fuses Blown: If this is the problem to your car electrical system, a blown fuse is an easy and quick fix.
  • Spark Plugs Failed: Dirty or loose spark plugs affect a car’s operation. A car that has a rough idle or lurches when you take off indicates spark plugs need attention.

What controls a car’s electrical system?

Your car electrical system comprises an alternator, battery, and starter. The battery delivers electrical currents to the starter. The alternator provides the battery energy and that energy powers your car.

So, when you turn your key in the ignition, the car electrical system goes into action. If any of these components quits or isn’t working correctly, it affects how, or if, your car will run, may not even start.  These three components also determine if your accessories, like the radio or the defroster, headlights, internal lights, wipers, etc. will work.

The car electrical system is important and as the driver/owner of a car, it is important that you are informed about each of these components and be aware if there is any issue. By not paying attention and leaving things unchecked, you could have a dead battery at the worse time.

electrical wiring

Will car run on alternator only?

The battery and alternator work together and compensate for each other when needed. The car battery is the power output to your electrical system and when you have several electronic devices going at once, it is making the alternator work harder because it is supplying power to the battery.

So, you can start your car and then remove the battery and it will probably keep running because the alternator is picking up some of the battery’s share of the work. If you run it too long like that though, it will kill the alternator and could damage the whole car electrical system.

As a car owner, it is your responsibility to be aware of all things going on with your car. From the battery being slow to turn over the engine, to puddles of various liquids under the car after you’ve parked it.  Regular checkup and tune up by your mechanic recommended by the car manufacturer and getting the oil changed. If you have an electrical car issue in Atascadero, CA, call German Performance at (805) 466-3236!