5 Symptoms of a Bad Ground Strap (Ground Wire) and How to Replace It

Updated

The ground strap is the heavy black wire which connects to the car battery’s negative terminal to the chassis of the car. Some other names for the strap include: negative battery cable, ground wire, or ground cable. The ground strap is the foundation of the entire vehicle’s electrical system.

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All of the electrical currents that flow throughout your vehicle goes through this battery ground cable. If you were to have a bad ground strap in your vehicle, then you will have all kinds of electrical problems. These wouldn’t just be minor problems either because it would affect your ability to operate the vehicle altogether.

Top 5 Symptoms of a Bad Negative Battery Cable

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to recognize the symptoms of a bad ground strap. The symptoms might start out being minor, but they could progressively get worse if you don’t do anything about the ground wire. Don’t wait until that happens. Take any electrical problems seriously when they occur in your vehicle.

Below are the top 5 bad engine ground wire symptoms.

#1 – Flickering Lights

high beams not working

If your ground strap is damaged or worn out, the electrical circuit will come across resistance while trying to deliver power to the headlights in front of your vehicle. As a result, you’ll likely notice  your headlights either flickering and/or dimming on a regular basis.

This will not just be a one-time incident as long as your ground strap continues to stay in its current faulty state. In some cases, your ground strap may just be a little bit loose and will require you to tighten it securely. Otherwise, you will need to replace it altogether if it is damaged or worn.

#2 – Low Voltage

bad ground strap symptoms

If there still appears to be electricity in your vehicle but it seems a bit less powerful than normal, you can conduct a voltage test on your battery. A digital multimeter can be used to measure the amount of voltage coming from your battery terminals.

A reading of 12.6 volts would be within the normal range. But if you have a reading that is under 11.5 volts, it’s probably due to a grounding issue. At that point, you should start your troubleshooting by looking at the ground cable.

#3 – Dead Battery

battery voltage

If your car’s battery seems like it just won’t take a charge, don’t automatically assume the battery is bad. Your vehicle’s charging system depends on having a good ground. If the ground wire is bad, then the battery cannot be charged.

Of course, another reason for a dead battery could be issues with your alternator or the wire that connects from the alternator to the battery. But if these parts are in good condition and you still have a dead battery, then chances are a faulty or loose ground strap is the problem.

#4 – Car Won’t Start

There could be a dozen reasons as to why your car won’t start. But if you’ve experienced the first three symptoms on this list beforehand, then it is safe to assume that you’ll soon have problems starting your vehicle.

When the ground strap is bad and you attempt to start your vehicle, you will probably hear a lot of tapping sounds. This is coming from the solenoid of the starter while it is opening and closing repeatedly. That happens because it is not getting enough voltage, again, due to the cable that connects to your battery’s negative terminal.

#5 – Visible Ground Strap Damage

bad ground strap symptoms

The best way to confirm that your ground strap is in bad shape is to visually inspect it yourself. If the ground strap appears to be damaged or worn out just by looking at it, then it is safe to assume you’ll need to replace it.

This is especially the case if you notice the other symptoms mentioned here too. The only thing you can do at this point is to replace the cable with a new one.

If you store your car outside for long periods, there is one culprit of the damage you probably haven’t considered… rodents. Mice and sometimes even squirrels love the safe confines of an engine bay and won’t hesitate to build a nest there. You might want to consider investing in some type of under the hood mouse repellent.

How to Replace a Negative Battery Cable

types of ground wires in car

If you’ve determined that the ground strap is in fact bad, replacement of the cable is the solution. Fortunately, it’s incredibly easy if you follow these simple steps:

1. Identify the negative battery cable (ground strap)

In most cases, the negative cable (or battery terminal cover) will be black while the positive cable (or battery terminal cover) will be red. In addition, the negative terminal will have a minus (–) sign next to it while the positive terminal will have a plus (+) sign.

2. Disconnect the negative cable

Using a wrench (most commonly an 8mm), loosen the bolt that holds the negative cable in place. Once the bolt is loosened, you will need to wiggle the terminal while pulling up at the same time to remove it from the battery post. If the bolt is seized and won’t move, spray some WD-40 on it and let it sit for a few minutes before trying again.

3. Disconnect the positive cable (optional)

Because the other end of the negative cable will likely be out of reach in most engines, the car battery will need to be removed to allow access. To do that, the positive battery cable will also need to be removed. The process is same as above.

4. Remove the battery (optional)

If a bracket is holding the battery in place, you will simply need to unscrew the bolts (usually two) that hold it there. Once done, carefully lift the battery out of the engine bay and set it on the ground.

5. Remove bad ground strap

Follow the negative battery cable to where it attaches to the vehicle. Use a wrench to untighten the bolt that holds the ground strap in place and remove the faulty ground strap.

6. Install new ground strap

Once you confirm the new ground wire has the same time of terminal connectors as the old one and is long enough, follow the instructions above in reverse order to connect the new ground strap and put everything back together again.

 

Comments

  1. I have a 05 Honda Civic 1.7 Liter have changed almost all electric components that I can think of. Had it running for 30 to 45 mins, jumped in for a test drive put the car in reverse and it spit ànd sputtered then shut off. Only runs when I put a little gas in throttle body. Tries to start back up but just won’t run. Does anyone have any suggestions?? Will ground strap have anything to do with this issue??

    Reply
  2. My 1992 Pontiac Grand-Am often refuses to start. I just hear a click and see smoke coming from under the hood. I finally saw that the smoke was coming from the chassis ground wire that is connected to the negative battery cable. Could my problem be as simple as just replacing the ground wire?

    Reply
    • More likely, the ground has a loose connection on the battery or frame rail. Check that first before replacing the ground strap.

      Reply
  3. I have a 2005 Scion Xb. Dash Lights are flashing. (brake lights is on when parking brake is not engaged, abs is on, check engine is on, ect) There are no codes. VSC and track off are also on. The speedometer is also jumping while this happens. It only does this when the vehicle is moving. If I step on the brakes, normal function resumes (No dash lights). Sometimes if I turn something off it will stop, but it is never the same device. (windshield wipes, ac, ect). The battery is fully charged and the alternator is working correctly.

    Reply
  4. I overhauled a diesel engine. When it works for like 20mins. And i off the engine it wont start and the engine will be cranked slowly when hot. But when i used 24v battery,it starts working at once. What could be the problem

    Reply
  5. Hi there I have a HYUNDI Santa Fe 2004 2.7 V6 the car keeps stopping at random, I have checked all the wiring, cleaned up ground points all over the car, replaced the fuel pump, crank sensor, air control actuator, added a few more ground straps to motor, no codes come up on ecu, not sure what to do now it’s got me beat can anyone help me.

    Reply
  6. It’s good to know that if your alternator is working fine and you still have a dead battery, then it’s probably a faulty ground strap. Within the last couple of weeks, I have had to jump-start my car twice and don’t know what the deal is. I appreciate the tips and I’ll have to continue my research to see if I need to bring it into a mechanic.

    Reply
  7. 96 ford mustang 3.8L
    I had an issue where I would turn the ignition and the car would just click and all the power would go off. I would then go wiggle the negative battery terminal connection and that would allow me to start my car. This happened again tonight only this time I couldn’t get the car to turn on. Instead I have a ticking noise in my trunk. I hooked up a booster to it and tried to start it that way and i got a bunch of ticks in a row(probably the starter not getting enough of the juice?) You think this is a ground issue? Also why the ticking in the trunk?

    Reply
    • Assuming your battery is good, check for corrosion around the terminals and ground strap and confirm everything is tightened to make sure you have a proper connection.

      Reply
  8. I have a 2009 Silverado and every now and then I start my truck and go down the road and I lose power, gauges go haywire, door locks go up and down and lights flicker. What do you think is the cause? Anyone ever have this problem?

    Reply
    • Definitely an electrical problem. Likely a bad ground, damaged wire, or poor connection somewhere. Unfortunately, these are tricky and often time consuming to find the culprit. Start at the battery cables.

      Reply
    • Put a new Speaker in your Driver Side Door and that Will Fix your Problem with the Silverado! Chevy is Notorious for Running everything through the Head Unit/ Stereo and the Driver Side Door Speaker! Water gets in behind the Glass and Drips down and I HAVE NO IDEA WHY THESE GENIUS ENGINEERS WOULD MOUNT THE DOOR SPEAKER WITH THE TERMINALS FACING STRAIGHT UP TOWARD WHERE THE WATER DRIPS DOWN BUT THEY DO! IT HAPPENED SO MANY TIMES IN MY SILVERADO THAT I ENDED UP JUST BUYING MARINE/BOAT SPEAKERS THAT WERE WATERPROOF! I HAVE SOLD THE TRUCK NOW BUT AFTER I DID THAT I HAD NO PROBLEMS WITH IT AT ALL!!!!!

      Reply
  9. I got a 2004 dodge durango it wont turn over but starter is getting power cause i can hear wat sounds lime a thud coming from starter when i turn key. I just replaced starter but its doing same thing old one was. Could it b a bad groung

    Reply
  10. I have a 2007 Honda Odyssey. I believe I have some kind of grounding issue. I have funky things go on like window will go down on it’s own Nd can’t get it to go up. I will lock the tje windows with the push button on the driver door and tje back window will go down. I shut the car off Nd when I take the key out the same passenger side back window goes down. Dash lights flicker when car is off. Alarm goes off in the middle of the night. Battery usually dead in the morning and it’s a new battery. Its always worse when it rains.

    Reply
  11. I have a 09 pontiac g6 replaced the engine and transmission but sometimes when I start my car it would mildly shake and say engine reduce and I turn my car off and pop the hood and wiggle my battery cables and start it back up it runs normal so not sure what that could be??

    Reply
    • If wiggling your battery cables fixes the issue, you may have a poor connection at the battery or corroded terminals. Buy a battery terminal cleaner if you don’t have one and make sure to clean off any corrosion. Corrosion will appear white from battery acid, or could also look like rust. Make sure to disconnect the battery at both ends when you do this. Disconnect the negative terminal first.

      When you reconnect the battery, make sure both terminals are nice and tight. Be sure you don’t over tighten them though; I know a guy who stripped his battery by over tightening the battery bolts. Just make sure they’re snug.

      Reply
  12. I bought and installed a new battery 3 days ago after my car wouldn’t start. The new battery worked just fine these past two days. However, my car wouldn’t start today and started making a clicking noise when I turned the key in the ignition. I tried readjusting the terminals to ensure they are secure and they were. Could this be a bad ground wire or possibly alternator ?

    Reply
    • Make sure you clean any corrosion on the battery terminals. I recently had a brand new battery fail to start the car because the terminals were so corroded, despite having enough juice to illuminate the dash and run the accessories.

      Do a visual inspection of the starter ground and any other ground straps in the engine bay to make sure the grounds aren’t loose, broken, or corroded.

      If your battery actually died within 3 days, I suspect there is a parasitic draw. You should be able to locate it using a multimeter if this is the case.

      Reply

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