How to Check for Electrical Shorts in a PC

Protect your computer from permanent damage

What to Know

  • Make sure to power off and unplug your PC before troubleshooting electrical shorts.
  • First, check for loose or stray screws that may come into contact with the motherboard.
  • Then, inspect the cables and wires for any exposed metal or other damage.

Electrical shorts inside a computer are usually caused by stray pieces of metal that form an electrical connection that shouldn't exist. Shorts can cause the PC to power off without warning and without an error message. They can also cause the PC to not power on at all, and potentially cause damage.

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Check for Loose Screws

Teenager fixing a computer

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Electrical shorts inside the computer are often caused by stray screws in the case that have come in contact with the motherboard or other internal components. Screws secure nearly every component to the inside of the case including video cards, sound cards, hard drives, optical drives, and other components or hardware expansions.

See our Important Computer Repair Safety Tips to learn how to stay safe while you work on your computer. For example, power off and unplug the PC first, and before handling sensitive electrical components, touch the case or other nearby metal surfaces​ to discharge any built-up static charge.

Turn off and unplug your computer. Also, disconnect all cables and peripherals from it, such as a monitor cable, printer cable, Ethernet cable, keyboard and mouse cords, and any other USB-connected devices such as external hard drives. Pick up the computer carefully and gently rock it side to side. If you hear a rattling sound, a screw may have come loose and is rolling around inside your case.

A few light shakes will usually knock it loose and into the bottom of the case where you can find it. If the screw is lodged somewhere that you can't reach with your fingers, try using a long pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers to reach it.

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Inspect Cables and Wires for Exposed Metal

Close up of a frayed wire
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Electrical shorts are sometimes caused by wires that have lost their protective plastic coating and touch internal components.

While the computer is off and unplugged, open the case and inspect all the cables. Look for stripped, naked, or frayed wires. If any are found, replace them immediately, even if they don't appear to​ be touching any components; they may not be causing a problem now, but they will likely cause problems in the future.

Also, check wire twist ties and any other wrapped metal bindings that might currently be used for cable organization. While most of these are plastic, some are not and will expose metal over time as they wear down.

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