How to Tell if an Extension Cord is Bad

This cord is badly frayed and dangerous.
Image: osha.gov

Please Note: Do not use this procedure if you are not certain that you can complete it safely, or if it does not seem accurate. Skippity Whistles provides this information as advice, and cannot accept any liability from your usage of it.

You plug your groovy 90’s boom box into the extension cord, but it doesn’t work. Is it the boom box power cord, the extension cord, or the boom box itself?

Maybe it’s Not the Cord

Here’s a super-quick way to tell. Take the boom box over to the wall outlet and plug it in. 

If it works, you know the extension cord is bad. 

If it doesn’t work, try another outlet.

If it works, the other outlet has no power. Now you can plug in your extension cable and rock on.

If it doesn’t work, go to a room that has working lights and plug it in there.

If it still doesn’t work, wiggle the cable in the socket on the boom box. 

If the socket wiggles with the cable, or it feels like the socket is loose inside, the box no longer goes boom, and needs to be fixed. Even it you could get the thing to fire up, it would be a fire hazard and unsafe at any speed.

If the socket is tight, it’s probably the cable. Shop for one online – it’s not hard to find.

Maybe it’s a Bad Extension Cord

But let’s go back to the extension cord. Here are some signs that a cable might not be safe. While we’re using these examples on an extension cord, you can apply them to any electrical cord. 

Missing pins: if the male end of the cable should have three pins, but there are only two, run, don’t walk away from this cable. It’s a fire waiting to happen. Likewise, take a look at the female end: it’s there’s the pin from some other device wedged in one of the holes, you are in deadly territory. Put the thing in the recycle bin.

Cuts and Abrasions: If there’s a cut through the insulation to where you can see the conductor jacket, or the conductor itself, don’t even think about plugging it in unless you like fireworks and the smell of barecue.

Severe Kinks: a gently bent wire is okay, it’s just a little twisted up. A kinked wire is not – it’s been so badly twisted that the condutor inside is most likely broken. Plug it in and dial 911. A badly kinked cord is more of a weapon than an extension cord.

Age: finally, if the cord seems super old, or it doesn’t have the one-thick-one-thin blades of a polarized plug, it’s probably not safe to use with abandon. A good way to tell is merely the feel of the plastic insulation. If its gritty or crinkly, this cable needs to visit the recycling bin. If it has a fabric exterior, like you find on old kitchen appliances, you need to kiss it goodbye – just make sure it’s not plugged in when you do that. 

One thing: don’t throw a damaged cord into the trash – the copper is a semi-precious metal and can be recycled.

So, now we know what to look for in a crummy cord, and our boom box is beating out the best of the ninties. Life is good, and you did it!

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