What causes a car to lose all electrical power?

My car lost all electrical power while I was driving! I was able to drive for about a minute, but then the engine shut off too. I rolled to a stop and the car has now been towed, but what could have caused this?

Alex Healey · Answered on Jan 18, 2022
Reviewed by Shannon Martin, Licensed Insurance Agent.
Oh no, that sounds like a terrifying experience! I hope you aren’t too shaken up and that your car gets fixed quickly.
Mechanics call what happened to your vehicle a “died in flight” situation.
The fact that all of your car’s electrical devices stopped working before you broke down is clearly indicative of a power failure. This is normally caused by one the following issues:
  • Defective battery
  • Bad alternator
  • A blown fuse
  • Cables/wires that have deteriorated or become loose
Based on the events you described, it sounds like the most likely culprits are your car’s battery and alternator.
The alternator probably stopped functioning first, leaving your car’s electrical system to get its power solely from the battery, and forcing most of its components to power down.
Batteries don’t last long without support from the alternator, and you experienced the results a minute later, when your ignition shut off and the engine stopped working.
Another possible scenario (especially if you have an old car) is that your car’s ignition switch is worn out.
This can cause a car to shut off while driving, but the fact that you noticed a gradual electrical shutdown—rather than everything stopping at once—suggests an alternator or battery issue.
Having your vehicle break down is one of the most stressful aspects of car ownership, but a great car insurance policy can really help.
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