Troubleshooter: Do you need to investigate this electrical problem in your vehicle?

Modern vehicles are more complicated, but some tasks can still be easily done by yourself

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It’s no surprise that a significant number of vehicle owners are reluctant to attempt the kind of repairs and maintenance items that their parents once handled with apparent ease. Whether you attribute it to time management, lack of confidence, or personal preference, the biggest obstacles seem to be built into the vehicles themselves. Technological advancements have crept into almost every nook and cranny, making things almost unrecognizable from the owner’s perspective and certainly indecipherable. But being able to handle some basics involving common items is more than just practicality, it’s key to being a responsible, self-sufficient driver operating in sometimes remote areas with varying environments.

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Even if you decide not to tackle a specific item, at least knowing how to check things out to help identify a defect can make things easier when dealing with the pros at your regular store.


Exterior lights should be checked regularly. It’s an easy task to navigate, and if you have the headlights fully on with the emergency turn signals activated, you can check every exterior bulb, save the reverse lights and the high beams. Backup and brake lights are easily checked when backing up to a reflective surface like a large storefront. Swapping a bulb can range from easy (good access, easily removable bulbs) to ridiculous; requiring the removal or lifting of a major panel or battery. YouTube is always full of demo videos, but you have to do a bit of weeding to find credibility. Look for videos made or sponsored by local garages or dealerships.

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Compare the information with what might be listed in your manufacturer’s owner’s manual. These tomes often list the bulb type number for easy replacement purchase. Don’t bother with those rope-style LED lights used to outline the lamps; they are usually only serviced with a complete lamp assembly.

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When it comes to high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, the prices (even at competitive parts stores) are astronomical, and they’re non-refundable if they don’t fix the problem. HID lamps are equipped with individual ballast units which can also cause a projector to fail. If you can access the back of both lamps, swap the bulbs between them to confirm if the problem is with the bulb or the ballast.

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Yes, vehicles still use fuse panels, although they are generally not as user friendly as they used to be. Few will have clear listings to indicate which fuse protects which circuits, requiring you to pull out the owner’s manual. Many manufacturers also place the main fuse panels under the hood, with a smaller unit hidden under the dash. There are also some systems on vehicles that may not have fuse protection, instead relying on a relay or computer control.

Not all vehicles are the same, but you won’t often find fuses for headlights, windshield wipers, heater fans, or rear defrosters anymore. If you’re looking for blown fuses and have narrowed the search, use the little plastic tweezers that most car manufacturers still supply (attached under the cover). Also bring a strong flashlight, as the conductive strips that break when the fuse blows are often difficult to see through the colored plastic coverings. And resist the urge to use a pair of metal pliers to pull the fuses out; they will often break the fuse box.


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