What to Do if Your Laptop Is Plugged In but Not Charging

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When you plug in your laptop, you usually find yourself greeted with a cheerful chirp from your PC, a new glowing LED indicator light, and a display that perks up and beams a bit more brightly. At least that's what it's supposed to do. Sometimes, though, what happens instead is that you connect the AC adapter—usually because the battery is nearly drained—and you get nothing. No glowing lights. No brightened display. And no battery charging. What went wrong? Why won't it work, and what is to be done about it?

It may seem simple enough to recharge a laptop. You plug it in, it works; easy, right? Well, not necessarily. Between the wall outlet and your battery are several steps and parts that can all fail. Some are easy to fix yourself with a software tweak or a new battery, but some problems may require a visit to a repair shop or even a full-blown system replacement. Knowing which is which can save you hours of frustration and hundreds of dollars in repairs. By taking an inside-out approach, you can quickly narrow down where the problem originates and find the most economical solution.

Get ready, boys and girls, it's time to go troubleshooting.

1. Are You Plugged In?
It sounds silly, but you need to make sure that the laptop is actually plugged in. No software tweak or hardware repair can make a disconnected laptop magically power on. Before checking anything else, then, you need to ensure that both the AC outlet and laptop plugs are firmly seated. Check the AC adapter brick and verify that any removable cords are fully inserted. Next, make sure that the battery is properly seated in its compartment, and that there is nothing wrong with either the battery or laptop contact points. Finally, find out whether the problem doesn't lie with the laptop at all: Try plugging the power cord into a different outlet to see if you've got a short or a blown fuse.

At this point, we've determined that it's not just user error causing the problem. There is a real issue with powering the laptop; now it's simply a matter of figuring out where the problem may be. That begins with eliminating where it isn't. We'll start with the most common and easy-to-address issues.

2. Lose the Battery
A simple way to check the integrity of the battery is to remove it entirely and try plugging in the laptop. If the laptop powers on properly, the problem was likely a bum battery.

3. Breaks, Burnout, and Shorts
Feel along the length of the power cord, bending and flexing as you go, to check for any kinks or breaks. Check the ends for any broken connections, such as plugs pulling loose or spots that may have gotten chewed by a pet or caught in a vacuum cleaner. Inspect the AC brick. Is it discolored? Are any parts warped or expanded? Give it a sniff—if it smells like burnt plastic, that's likely where the trouble lies.

4. Check the Connector
When you plug in the laptop's power connector, the connection should be fairly solid. If it's suddenly wobbly or loose, or if the receiving socket gives when it should stay firm, the power jack may have broken inside the chassis. Are there discolorations or any sort of burning smell? If there seems to be any damage to the power connector, repairs will be in order.

5. Beat the Heat
A non-charging battery can sometimes be caused by an overheating laptop. This problem is two-fold; with the system shutting down to prevent overheating a battery and causing a fire. Also, as the temperature rises, the battery sensor may misfire, telling the system that the battery is either fully charged or missing completely, causing the charging problems. These problems become far more likely when dealing with older laptops which don't have the quality of cooling technology used today, or when using the laptop on the couch or in bed, with a blanket or pillow covering the cooling vents. Let the system cool down and take the time to make sure that the air vents are clean and unobstructed.
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