One of the most frustrating problems most motorists face is failing to start their vehicles. In most cases, the battery is the first component to blame. But, imagine performing several tests only to find that the battery is in good condition? Well, in this case, the battery cables might be the culprit. If you’re a novice driver, then you must be wondering what are the common symptoms of loose battery cables.
You see, most motorists focus on the battery and neglect the battery cables. What they fail to understand is that the battery works hand in hand with the cables. While the battery provides huge bursts of energy to power the vehicle, the cables are responsible for transferring this energy from the battery to the engine’s starter to start the car.
So, once these cables are loose, then it means there will be lean energy getting to the engine, which in return will affect ignition. If not remedied on time, loose cables can affect the entire vehicle leading to costly repairs. That said, this short guide will walk you through the symptoms of loose cables and how to fix them.
What Are the Symptoms of a Loose Battery Cable?
Now, your car’s battery cables consist of two thick heavy gauge wires that connect to the battery’s terminals. The red wire is the positive cable and is connected to the positive terminal of the battery. The other end of this cable connects to the car’s computer, the ignition, lights, and other electrical components.
Next, there’s the negative cable, which is usually black. This cable connects to the negative terminal of the battery while the other end connects to the car’s chassis for grounding. So, to have a continuous flow of power, these two cables must be connected tightly to the battery. If any of the cables are loose, then you won’t have any power to start the engine or operate any electrical component.
Now that you’ve learned how battery cables work, this guide will now walk you through some of the common symptoms of loose battery cables.
Difficulty Starting the Car
The first sign of loose battery cables is difficulty starting the car. In most cases, you’re likely to hear a long crank in the engine without the car starting. If this is what you’re experiencing, then it means there’s a problem affecting the battery and the starter. Since the cables are loose, it means that the battery is unable to supply sufficient power to the starter to ignite the car.
If this is what you’re facing, then you should open the hood to inspect the condition of the cables and the terminals. In case you detect loose cables or build-up of corrosion around the terminals, then you should fix the problem immediately.
The buildup of Resistance on the Negative Cable
To those that studied Physics, you learned how electricity flows through metal conductors. As electricity flows, atoms and molecules collide causing a buildup of heat, widely known as resistance. Back to our discussion, we mentioned that the negative cable connects to the car’s chassis for grounding.
So, in case the negative battery cable is loose, then it will increase the resistance, which will heat the negative terminal. This will make the wire hot when touched.
Low Voltage on the Battery
If the battery cables are loose, then it means the battery will transfer insufficient power to the components. The same case will happen to the battery itself. If the cables are loose, then they won’t transfer sufficient electricity from the alternator to the battery.
Remember, the alternator is tasked to charge the battery when the engine is running. To do that, the cables need to transfer huge bursts of electricity from the alternator to the battery. So, if the battery isn’t sufficiently charged, then it will record a low voltage. Low voltage means that less energy will get to the starter motor causing a slow cranking speed.
The last symptom of loose battery cables is dimming or flickering headlights when driving. Now, your car’s headlights draw a lot of power from the battery to illuminate the road ahead. Since the headlights are the eyes that guide you through a dark road, they’ll demand a steady flow of electricity to illuminate the road.
Now, in case there’s a loose battery cable, then it means the headlights will dim or flicker especially when you drive over bumps and potholes. This can make your driving experience quite hard and risky, especially if the road meanders through a dark forest.
Since it’s impossible to drive with flickering or dimming headlights, the best course of action is to park your car in a safe place to check the connection on the battery cables. In case there are loose cables or terminals, then you should tighten them immediately.
How to Check for Loose Battery Cables
Now that you’re aware of the common signs of loose battery cables, we will now finalize our discussion by looking at ways you can check for any loose connections on the battery cables.
- As always, you’ll start by opening the hood or the trunk to access the battery.
- Next, check the condition of the cables and the terminals. For the cables, you need to ensure that they’re connected tightly to the terminals without playing or shifting. The cables should also be clean without any signs of wear/tear, breaks, or brittleness.
In the case of the negative terminal, check the point where it connects to the chassis. Make sure there are no grime or deposits in those areas.
- Lastly, inspect the terminals for any signs of corrosion. In case you detect any whitish or greenish powdery deposits, make sure that you wipe them off.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. When Should I Replace the Battery Cables?
In our previous section, we’ve discussed how to check for loose battery cables. During your inspection, one of the areas you should keep a close eye on is the condition of the cables. So, if you notice the cables are frayed or damaged, then that’s a clear sign you need to replace them. Failure to do so will lead to corrosion on the exposed bare wires.
Another clear sign that the cables need to be replaced is increased resistance on the cables. In normal circumstances, battery cables should not be hot. So, in case you notice the cables are extremely hot, then it means they’re worn out and ready to retire.
Q2. Can Loose Battery Cables Drain the Battery?
Not entirely. Actually, what happens with loose cables is that they prevent the battery from getting sufficiently charged by the alternator. So, what you’ll get here is a battery with low voltage. That said, if your battery is draining abnormally, then you should check for possible parasitic draw among your electrical components or else, check the condition of the alternator.
Q3. How Do I Tighten Lose Battery Cables?
The best thing about battery cables is that tightening them is pretty easy. All you’ll need is a socket or a flat head screwdriver to tighten the cables. Once you’re done, make sure that you confirm the tightness of the cables. You can do this by twisting the terminals a bit. A properly tightened cable should be stiff and should not shift at all. In case it does, then you should tighten it further.
As you can see, a loose battery cable can directly affect the performance of your vehicle. With loose cables, there will be insufficient power getting to the starter and the car’s electrical components. This will make it hard to start the engine and you’ll end up seeing signs such as the ones we’ve discussed here.
Thankfully, by detecting these signs early enough, it will be easier for you to diagnose your car and hopefully, fix them before they get worse. In case the problems persist, then you should have an expert mechanic inspect your car for other possible causes.