Buyer Tips Maintenance Tips

Used Cars: Top 8 Common Electrical Issues in Auction Cars

By Daisy Emah-Emah Updated: 07/26/2022 Posted: 04/13/2022

Ready to make your first purchase? Here are a few pointers…


At used car auctions, cars with various conditions are auctioned – from salvage to flood-damaged vehicles and even clean title vehicles. All vehicles in all types of conditions are sold on a daily basis but for a first-time buyer, the chances of ending up with a lemon is quite high


So how can you avoid that dreaded scenario?


Yes, vehicle listings do show the title and the condition of the vehicle – but you need to do a little more to ascertain if it is the best deal for you….especially considering the sale condition of “where is, as is” 


You can run a vehicle history report which gives you information about the vehicle – from the title to the damage or repair history. But a vehicle history is limited to the information the previous owner updated into the database.


You can also request a physical inspection. Hire an inspection company to carry out a detailed inspection of the current condition of the vehicle. This cost a few thousand dollars but you will have detailed information on the vehicle’s condition. 


Then how do you handle electrical issues?


An average auction lot has nothing less than 100k vehicles and overtime is prone to develop issues. Electrical issues can be a pain in the neck for car owners and need extra care when diagnosing the root cause.


Most vehicles come with sensors of different types and complex wirings that help the vehicle provide the luxury and comfort you want. There are also electrical parts that may have outlived their lifespan and need changing. Parts like main and auxiliary batteries, alternators to mention a few.


There are common issues that vehicles in wholesale auctions can have. Issues developed before being listed in the auction or after. 


Here are some common electrical issues you might find in a used car bought from a wholesale auction lot:


Common Electrical Issues in Used Cars

1. Dead Battery

Car batteries usually have a lifespan of 5-7 years in the right conditions and their main purpose ii starting the car engine. It also serves as a backup for the alternator.

Having a dead battery is one of the most common electrical problems but the battery rarely dies on you at once. This is usually a gradual process and with time the weak cranking gets worse. 


Once winter starts, your battery is in a more critical period because the temperature stresses the battery as well.  If the battery is completely depleted – the vehicle won’t start.

This is a common problem for vehicles that have been on the auction lot for a long time. And as they sit in the snow they begin to develop other faults. 



If you end up purchasing a vehicle with a dead battery, you can solve this problem by having the battery recharged if it is not damaged. If the battery is totaled – it’s best to replace the battery. You can have a mechanic help with the replacement. 


2. Faulty Alternator

The alternator provides electric power to the car and charges the car battery while in motion. The alternator needs to function all the time or you cannot drive the vehicle. 

To pinpoint the alternator as the problem, you have to check the voltage output which should be between 13.5 volts to 14.5 volts max. The first sign you will notice if the alternator is faulty is a warning light pop-up on the battery icon on the dashboard. 


If the alternator voltage output is low (below 13.5 volts), the warning light will have a dim appearance or constantly be on. The source of low voltage output can range from the voltage regulator to the rotor (on rare occasions).

Signs of weak output include: poor cranking, dim headlights, and the vehicle may end up not starting at all because the battery is dead.



If the alternator output is too high (above 14.5 volts), the warning light will be on all the time or not come on when starting the ignition. Signs of high output can be seen in the vehicle’s headlight bulbs – they burn out quickly and a sulfur-like smell from the engine.

The alternator may also make some bad sound when faulty. If you hear a screeching or squeaking sound – it could mean a worn-out serpentine belt, bearings, or faulty pulley. If the sound is a grinding sound it could mean, worn-out bearings or a faulty alternator pulley.


There are two solutions to a faulty alternator – have it replaced or taken to an auto shop and have it rebuilt. A faulty alternator shouldn’t be taken lightly as it could cause major damage to the battery, ECU, and other components. 


3. Blown Fuse

Fuses are an important protection for your vehicle’s electrical system if there is a power surge. If there is a fault in the fuse circuit, your electrical system is protected by the fuse. 



A blown fuse is quite an easy fix – simply take out the old one and replace it with a new fuse.  If the fuse blows too often, the problem may likely be the circuit. Have an electrician trace this to avoid having your electrical components damaged. 


4. Faulty Spark Plugs 

If the vehicle is a diesel or gas engine, there is a high chance of having faulty spark plugs every now and then.  Spark plugs are responsible for igniting the air-fuel mixture inside your vehicle’s cylinder.

They can also last for up to 10,000km. If your spark plug is faulty you may experience misfires, the check engine light may come on, or you may experience issues with the working of your engine.  



Spark plugs should be replaced regularly during your scheduled maintenance. 


5. Faulty Sensors

Sensors are responsible for monitoring and measuring several components of a vehicle. They are like the eyes and ears of the vehicle. And there are about 60-100 sensors in an average vehicle. 


Faulty sensors could cause small issues like a light not going off. Or serious issues like transmission malfunction or engine overheating. Malfunctioning sensors are also the main cause of dreaded check engine problems. 


Run a diagnostics on the problem to make sure they are the cause of the problem. And have faulty sensors replaced.  


6. Broken Wiring

The entire electrical system of any machine is connected through wires. If there is a broken wire somewhere – it affects the entire machine. The car is no exception!


Wires are found in different corners of the vehicle where they vibrate and are exposed to heat or fluids. The wires can pull apart or corrode, stopping the supply of electricity to the needed components. 


Broken wiring is very common and affects any system in the vehicle. Tracing the wiring break can be painstaking and almost impossible without diagnostic equipment. Have a professional mechanic fix this issue for you. 


7. Faulty Bulbs

This is one of the most common electrical issues in any vehicle. Bulbs have a lifespan and require replacement when it has reached a limit. 


Replacing bulbs is pretty straightforward in many vehicles. If you find it complicated, have a mechanic fix it.


8. Short Circuit 

Short circuits are the oldest electrical problem. It is caused by damaged insulations on wires, faulty bulbs or connectors, etc. Sometimes short circuits are hard to locate especially with broken wiring and can cause serious damage to the wiring looms. 


Make sure to have an electrician run diagnostics to trace the source of the short circuit and rectify the issue. 


Further Reading

  1. 5 Sites you Need to Check Before Buying a Used Car 
  2. What Should I Check For When Buying a Car
  3. Everything You Need to Know about Buying Used Cars
  4. How to Get the Best Vehicle History Report on Auction Cars for Sale


Final Words

Electrical issues are common, even for brand new cars. But these issues can be rectified without costing so much.


Used vehicles are not free from faults but you can avoid buying a lemon. 


Electrical issues that affect the vehicle’s movement can cost you more because it may be forklifted during shipping.


It is best to avoid vehicles with loose wirings likely rejected by the shipping line. Flooded vehicles cause electrical issues – if you are buying for export we recommend you avoid them. 


Before making your purchase, reach out to us and we will advise on what’s best for you.


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