How do I make simple electrical diagnosis and repairs?

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Answered by: William, An Expert in the DIY Repairs Category
Electrical diagnosis and repairs would seem to be something of a “black art” right out of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, but it really isn’t. Every single electrical component in your Malibu follows carefully set down laws developed years ago. To start your diagnostic trip, the very first place you want to visit is, surprise, your owner’s manual. That’s the thick seldom read book stuffed under your seat or buried in the glove box under the Kleenex.



This book often contains troubleshooting suggestions that may guide you in the proper direction, even if that direction is straight to the dealership. Better yet, that owner’s manual should list where some of your key electrical parts are, such as the battery and fuse boxes. It should also list what type of bulbs you may need to use and what size fuses you might want to keep around as spares. So dive in, make the owner’s manual your first line of defense in electrical repairs.

What the owner’s manual will not tell you are precise repair procedures or show you complicated diagnostic charts. If they did, your Malibu’s glove box would assume trunk-size proportions or you would be sitting higher in your seat. This is the point where you will need to decide to step over the threshold into the real area of electrical diagnosis and repairs. Just like knights of old, if you make this step you should acquire a few pieces of armament.



By far the most important will be a shop manual, also known as: information. Sure, I hear the groans in the background right now. “That’s gonna cost me…” or “Not another dime will I spend on the dealership…”. While having the proper factory approved shop manual is a huge help and fairly expensive, you may obtain a great bargain on eBay or even Craigslist, with a used set of original shop manuals. What you may also find is that paper manuals don’t even exist for your car. Not surprising, as dealerships were switching out of paper into electronic versions over a decade ago. In this case the price might be easier, except on your ink cartridge bill as you attempt to print what you need.

Let me make another suggestion to you in your quest for electrical diagnosis and repair information. Do you have a library card? No? Then get one. They are still free in most cases and they contain an enormous benefit. Sure, you can check out the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, but more importantly you have just gained access to several deep wells of automotive knowledge. You see, there is buying power in the public library system and they use it to purchase a subscription to some of the top diagnostic databases available today.

Companies such as ALLDATA provide your local independent garages with the very same on-demand charts and schematics required for that Malibu you own. Your local repair shop pays top dollar for his subscription, but you have already paid for yours from local taxes earmarked for the library that just issued you a card.

In most cases, you can either run through the Internet to the library’s website to check those automotive databases, or go there in person. Doing it from home has the advantage that you control your spending on the printouts of what think you might need and you may always dial back in for more. What you will not get from the on-line experience is real hardcover books. Yes, stacked sometimes in the reference section, but often available for check-out, are the real do-it-yourself car repair guides. Often with Chilton written down their spine, these guides are somewhat less than the factory manuals but far better than a guess from your Uncle Sid. Don’t be afraid, ask directions this time from a librarian and she will take you right to the spot they are stored.

Once you have armored yourself some or all of the information for electrical diagnosis and repairs, it is time to open those books and printouts and start skimming them for content. For the next installment, I will tell you what to read and what to ignore.

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