(Updated on September 24, 2021)
Ground straps, also known as the engine ground wire or ground cable, perform an essential function in your vehicle’s electrical system. Every circuit needs to have a clean path to ground for it to work properly.
Without this part, the current might damage other parts of the car or its occupants. Like other electrical problems, a bad ground strap can be hard to diagnose but there are some symptoms you can look for.
How a Ground Strap Works
A ground strap runs from the vehicle’s wiring harness to the chassis, engine block, or the negative battery post. . The strap creates a complete circuit for any accessories that are tied into the engine block.
Grounding is necessary for every single electrical system in your vehicle, including sensors, the alternator, and the ignition system. Out of the three, the alternator is the most voracious energy user. It must be so that it can recharge your car’s battery.
What a Ground Strap Looks Like
Before we get onto the symptoms, we must explain a little about what the wire looks like. We called it a cable, but that’s not strictly accurate. It’s often more like a bunch of steel braided together.
This braid may become frayed over time due to weather, vibration, or hot oil leaking out of the engine. The individual strands start to deteriorate and eventually break. This reduces the strap’s overall efficiency. The worse condition a gound strap is in, the more likely you are to see electrical problems throughout the vehicle.
Top Bad Ground Strap Symptoms
A bad ground wire can be hard to diagnose. It causes numerous problems with your electrical system. These are similar to many other issues, and so it can be hard to narrow down the cause. Get your mechanic to check the vehicle for a firm diagnosis.
These are seven of the symptoms that you can expect to experience:
1) Flickering lights
If the strap is loose, it can affect the performance of the headlights. It results in uneven electrical surges that could cause the lights to flicker. Left as is, it may eventually cause permanent damage to the light mechanisms.
The lights are subjected to alternating surges and drops in power. This exposure causes them to burn brighter and then dim. It is not a serious issue if it happens once or twice, but frequent surges can cause significant damage.
If you think that this is the issue, try locating the ground cable. Ensure that it’s tightly in place. Sometimes it’s just a loose connection. It could also be an issue if the cable wasn’t properly insulated, which may mean replacing the unit.
Check the cable itself and make sure that it’s securely in place. Check for breaks and frays along the length. If you find quite a few, it’s time to install a new unit.
2) Car Battery Won’t Charge
Is your alternator working correctly? Then, it could indicate a problem with the ground wire. It’s also wise to check the state of your battery.
An old battery or one with defective terminals will also not charge. The issue here is the damage that it can cause over time. The alternator requires a steady supply of power to operate at peak efficiency, and if it doesn’t receive that, it can’t function efficiently.
If the battery doesn’t charge properly, it won’t last as long as it should. Ensuring that this system is in top working order is essential.
3) Low Voltage
Is there a low voltage in the vehicle? All you need is a simple voltage test to check this issue. If your battery is in good shape, you should pick up around 12.6 volts.
If your reading is lower, it’s a sign that the battery isn’t charging, which could also be due to a loose grounding wire.
4) Car Won’t Start
If the ignition system doesn’t get enough power, you can’t start your car. There are many reasons that this could happen, so do a basic check on fuel, the battery, and the main ground wire that runs between the starter and the battery.
If you hear a rapid tapping sound, it means that the solenoid is receiving some power, but not enough. Whatever the reason, it’s not going to do you much good – you still won’t be able to start the car.
5) Visibly Damaged Strap
It’s wise to check each ground strap occasionally, perhaps whenever you change your oil. Make sure that it’s still secure and check the state of the wires. If the cables have seen better days, it’s time to spring for a new unit.
6) Intermittent Electrical Problems
A bad ground may cause issues only when there is extensive load on the electrical system. For instance, this could happen when you turn up your aftermarket stereo very loud or turn on your high beams.
If your ground is ineffective, you may experience for a brief time the same symptoms you would experience when that electrical circuit was open or off.
7) Multiple Unrelated Electrical Issues
Multiple seemingly unrelated electrical problems are indicative of a possible bad ground. This is because many components share a few common ground points in the engine bay or on the chassis.
Ground Strap Replacement Cost
Fortunately, ground strap replacement is very inexpensive. An engine ground strap is one of the least expensive parts you can buy. Expect to pay around $10 to $20 for a good quality strap.
If you want to have a professional mechanic handle the replacement, the process is usually referred to as a battery cable or ground strap replacement. It’s likely going to cost you about $80-$100 for labor so you can quickly see the advantage of replacing the ground cable yourself.
Can I Drive With a Faulty Ground Wire?
This depends on how bad the ground strap is, and how critical that strap is to the engine’s normal operation. The problem is that the current can cause damage to a diverse number of systems within the vehicle. So, while it’s not necessarily going to stop your car dead, it may do further damage if you ignore it.
The longer you ignore it, the worse the symptoms will become, and eventually, you’ll get into the car and won’t be able to start it at all.