How to Fix the Most Annoying Electrical Gremlins in Your Car


As a car owner, dealing with mysterious electrical issues can be incredibly frustrating. You're driving along and suddenly the radio starts glitching, your power windows stop working, or the dash lights flicker on and off. Tracking down the root cause of electrical gremlins takes some troubleshooting, but you can learn to handle many problems yourself. With some basic diagnostic skills and the right tools, you can banish the electrical ghosts haunting your ride.

Common Causes of Electrical Issues

Electrical problems can stem from a number of factors. Here are some of the usual suspects behind electrical gremlins:

Loose Connections

Vibration from driving can cause wires and connectors to come loose over time. This interrupts circuits and leads to glitchy operation or dead components. Check for loose plugs and wires. Wiggle suspect connections while the problem is occurring to see if it cuts out.

Corrosion and Contamination

Corrosion in connectors or on circuit boards can cause resistance and connection problems. Look for green corrosion on terminals, or whitish contamination on boards. Clean gently with electrical contact cleaner.

Faulty Grounds

All circuits need a solid ground connection to work properly. Issues here affect multiple systems randomly. Check for loose, corroded or rusty ground wires and fasteners.

Blown Fuses

When a fuse blows it interrupts power flow through a circuit. Check fuses first when dealing with electrical faults. Replace blown fuses with ones of the proper amperage.

Faulty Relays and Modules

Many systems rely on electrical control modules and relay switches. Failure of these components can cause weird issues. Have the module tested or replaced if you suspect it's bad.

Damaged Wiring

Exposed or pinched wires short out and cut power flow. Inspect under dash, underhood and body wiring harnesses for damage. Repair with electrical tape or splice connectors.

Essential Diagnostic Steps

When electronics start acting up, a systematic approach is key to getting to the bottom of it. Follow these steps:

1. Gather Symptom Details

2. Inspect Fuses

3. Check Connectors and Wiring

4. Check for Mechanical and Environmental Issues

5. Scan for Trouble Codes

6. Test Circuits and Components

Common Electrical Gremlins and Solutions

Here are fixes for some of the most perplexing electrical faults:

Gremlin: Radio Glitches/Power Windows Stutter

Possible Causes: Low system voltage, bad alternator diode

- Load test battery and charge if low.
- Replace alternator if it's overcharging and damaging systems.

Gremlin: Gauges/Lights Flickering

Possible Causes: Dirty ground connections, loose/dirty battery cables

- Clean and tighten battery cable ends and ground straps.
- Verify tight ground connections everywhere.

Gremlin: Turn Signals Don't Cancel

Possible Causes: Faulty turn signal relay, bad multifunction switch

- Try replacing the flasher relay.
- Test or replace turn signal switch.

Gremlin: Electrical Shorts and Blown Fuses

Possible Causes: Damaged wiring, bad relay/module, loose connection

- Inspect wiring for bare spots causing shorts. Repair or replace.
- Check relays and modules using diagrams. Swap in new ones to test.
- Check all connectors for loose pins not making contact.

Gremlin: Intermittent Faults

Possible Causes: Corrosion, loose connections

- Clean dirty connections with electrical contact cleaner spray.
- Carefully check plugs/wires for intermittent contact issues.

When to Seek Professional Help

While many electrical faults can be tackled at home, more complex or challenging issues may require a professional mechanic's expertise:

Seeking professional help can save lots of time and frustration when dealing with electrical ghosts.


With some basic troubleshooting techniques and an understanding of where to look, you can banish many of the pesky electrical gremlins plaguing your ride. Always start by gathering clues on when and how issues occur. Methodically check connections, wiring, grounds and components. Seek codes to point toward the fault. Tap into repair manuals for system diagrams and specifications. And don't hesitate to hand off really tricky ghosts to a pro. Follow these tips and you'll be better equipped to handle electrical hauntings as they occur.