What do I do if my car switches get dirty?
The switches in most modern vehicles do have electrical and mechanical parts behind them. This includes power windows, locks, mirrors, and even the radio or climate control. Like the keys on a keyboard, these devices are sensitive to dirt and moisture; anything from spilled food and beverages, to a dusty environment, can allow dirt to enter the vehicle and accumulate. Due to the conductive nature of water, or the abrasive nature of dirt and sand, these factors are dangerous for the electric controls throughout the vehicle and may cause a failure. It may be necessary to discontinue the use of any switch that seems to have been compromised.
First of all, one should avoid using a household spray-on cleaner or any type of solvent on vehicle controls; chances are, your interior switches are not waterproof, and spraying household cleaners into them can cause a shorted circuit. Furthermore, solvents can damage the finish, and even warp the plastic outer shell of a switch. Many local stores sell cans of compressed air, which can be used to force large pieces of dirt out of the tight corners and cracks of switches. Electrical contact cleaner is another product sold at many auto parts stores for cleaning the electrical contacts of the switch; this is also safe to use on the outer shell.
To clean switches, use an absorbent cloth or paper towel to wipe the area around the switch clean. Afterwards, use a can of compressed air to force out any stubborn particles. Do not use toothpicks or sharp metal tools to dig into the switches, as these may break off into the switch, or damage the switch itself.
Once the area is clean and the pieces of dirt have been removed, one can use a dry microfiber cloth to remove any remaining debris. Activate the switch to see if function has changed at all. Electrical contact cleaner may be required for especially dirty control switches in the event of spilled food or beverages. Take care not to flood the switch with any cleaner; use it sparingly until all debris has been removed.
If a switch function has failed, consult an expert mechanic to inspect the electrical system, and the switch itself, to see which component has failed. After the inspection, your mechanic will be able to estimate the cost of repair.
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