(Updated on November 21, 2019)
Ground straps, also known as the engine ground wire or ground cable, perform an essential function in your vehicle. If there’s an electrical surge or short circuit in the motor, it channels away excess electricity.
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
It’s simple. The wire either runs from the chassis to the engine block or the negative battery cable or terminal. The strap creates a complete circuit for any accessories that are tied into the engine block.
Systems in question here include 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.
When a power surge occurs, the alternator ground draws the current away from vital components. It’s led away and allowed to disperse harmlessly.
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 more like a bunch of steel braided together.
Over time, with normal wear and tear, this braid becomes frayed. The individual strands start to snap and break. It reduces the strap’s overall efficiency, and it will keep on going until all of it is has worn out.
Top 5 Bad Ground Strap Symptoms
As already mentioned, 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 five 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 will 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 ground wire.
If you hear a 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 the strap once a quarter or 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.
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.
Almost anyone can replace the strap themselves. It’s simply a matter of disconnecting the negative ground wire from the battery, following it to where it attaches to the car and disconnecting it from there. Then reverse the procedure by connecting the new ground strap.
If you want to have a professional mechanic handle the replacement, the process is usually referred to as a battery cable 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?
Yes, you can. We want to stress the point that this is only for short trips at a time, however. 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 will 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.