Troubleshooting an Electrical Problem
by Lee Wyatt
(last updated February 21, 2009)
Troubleshooting an electrical problem in a car or truck can very easily be one of the most frustrating experiences in a person's automotive repair life. The reason for this is rather simple, since modern vehicles have become more like a computer it almost seems like you need a degree in computer programming to understand anything to do with the electrical system. Thankfully, if you follow some rather simple guidelines anyone can quickly troubleshoot an electrical problem.
Materials and Tools:
- Car Manual (Chelton's, Haynes, or similar)
- Test light
- Box of automotive circuits
- Adjustable wrench
- Safety. Prior to beginning any automotive electrical work, you should first consider safety. It doesn't really matter if you are working on your car or your home's electrical system, if you are not careful, then you can end up hurt or even dead. The best way to ensure your safety, at least when you get past the basic stage, is to disconnect the battery. My personal suggestion is that when you are doing any automotive electrical work you need to wear some rubber latex gloves. The rubber should provide at least a small measure of insulation from electrical currents, while not becoming too cumbersome. At the very least, such gloves are going to help keep your hands clean.
- Basics. When trying to troubleshoot an electrical problem, the very first place that you should start is with the basics. What this means is that you should check the battery connections for any corrosion or to see if it is too loose, if either is found then fix or clean as the case may be. The next place that you should check is the fuse box for any burnt or busted fuses. Needless to say, if any are found, then you need to replace.
- Simple Voltage. The best way to do a simple voltage check is to use what is called a test light. A test light can be purchased at any local auto parts store. Using the wiring schematic in your car repair manual, and making sure that you have disconnected the battery, simply carefully insert the probe into each of the wires. You can tell how good the wire is by how bright the light becomes. This is simply testing to make sure the wire is in good condition.
- Advanced Voltage. If the testing from your test light comes back positive, then you should use a more advanced tool to help locate the problem, in this case the tool is going to be a voltmeter. The voltmeter when used in conjunction with the car repair manual is going to help you locate any corroded or faulty wiring that needs to be replaced.
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