The Real Causes of Battery and Electrical Failures


If your new car has been showing signs of electrical problems, do not take what your dealer tells you at face value. Apart from being time-consuming, diagnosing electrical issues requires great skill and a thorough knowledge of modern automotive electrical systems. If your dealer doesn’t appear sure or confident about the outcome of electrical repairs, get a second or even a third opinion from other dealerships.

Defective or substandard batteries: Batteries can develop internal short circuits or breaks in internal connections. An incipient problem could be triggered by rough handling of the battery, incorrect jump-start procedures, extreme cold weather, or over/under charging by the alternator.

Defective or substandard rectifiers and regulators: A defective rectifier will cause the alternator not to charge at all, while a defective voltage regulator will cause undercharging or uncontrolled overcharging, which can destroy a good battery in minutes. If that happens, irreparable damage to the rest of the electrical system is a distinct possibility.

Bad connections in the wiring harness: A seemingly tight and proper connection may, in fact, be “dry,” interrupting the flow of current or cause “arcing” when high amperage current jumps the gap across the bad connection. This causes the connection to overheat, which could damage and even cause the fusing together of adjacent, unrelated wiring. This problem has been known to cause fires that destroy cars.

Defective fuses and relays: The switching part of a relay could in some cases become fused together, causing the continued delivery of current to places where it should not be for prolonged periods. One example is the relays that control the alternator or starter motor. A malfunctioning relay in these systems can cause the alternator to burn out, or in the case of the starter motor, a failure to disengage from the flywheel after starting the engine, which can lead to the starter disintegrating or the destruction of the flywheel or flexplate.

Water or moisture ingress into electrical components, fuse boxes, and switchgear: The presence of water or moisture in a supposedly watertight part or component will lead to major and sometimes fatal short circuits, with the potential to completely destroy a car’s entire electrical system. Just driving in the rain can cause water to enter parts or components that should be watertight.

Incorrect jump-start procedures: Vehicles should never be jumpstarted by untrained personnel. However, dealers who are supposedly well-versed in jumpstarting procedures often get it wrong, which usually results in significant damage to the electrical system.

Misrouted wiring: Wiring that is misrouted during the assembly process often leads to chafing of the wiring harness, which can lead to catastrophic short circuits when grounded against metal bodywork.

Incorrect servicing procedures by dealers: When resetting warning lights or service indicators, dealers very often get it wrong by following prescribed procedures in the incorrect order. This can cause voltage “spikes” that have the potential to erase the car’s operating system or, worse, destroy the entire electrical system.

Incorrect or misguided fault finding procedures by dealers: In order to isolate a problem, mechanics will often disconnect and reconnect various parts of the electrical system while the vehicle is switched on or the engine is running. This can result in depriving critical parts of the ECU (engine control unit) of current, which when reconnected, can cause voltage “spikes. This has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the electrical system.

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