Do AC adapters go bad?

Do AC adapters go bad? The answer surprises many people, but the answer is yes. The question, then, is how to lengthen their life expectancy and what to do if they do eventually go bad.

Why AC adapters go bad

It was very common for AC adapters like this one for an Atari 2600 to go bad
The user manual for the Atari 2600 said to unplug the AC adapter when not in use. Nobody I knew ever did. So these AC adapters went bad a lot more frequently than the game systems did.

AC adapters convert electrical power from household current to something that small devices can make better use of. When converting AC power to a lower voltage of AC, there’s not much involved beyond wire windings. So those devices, properly called transformers, often last decades. The only thing that causes a transformer to go bad is the windings burning up.

But today, most AC adapters actually convert household AC to low-voltage DC, which is a more complex process involving more components. More components mean more things that can fail, and it only takes one of them going bad to make the adapter stop working. Then the device quits working because it’s not receiving any power.

When any electronic device stops working, I always suspect the AC adapter first.

A qualified technician can take the adapter apart, locate the bad component and replace it. But it’s usually not worth the effort when mass produced AC adapters only cost a few dollars. The part may cost $2, but it may take half an hour to swap it in to save a $10 adapter.

When an AC adapter goes bad, it’s cheaper and easier to replace it than to try to fix it. More on that in a minute.

How to lengthen the life expectancy of an AC adapter

AC adapter components go bad from heat and use. The adapter still uses some electricity even when nothing is plugged into it. So the best way to prolong your AC adapter’s life expectancy and put off going bad is to unplug it if you’re not using it. Sometimes this isn’t very convenient, but an energy saving power strip, which turns off outlets when other devices are off, can help in the case of devices plugged into a TV or a computer.

Usually, an AC adapter lasts years regardless. Unplugging it when not in use will probably prolong its life expectancy beyond its usefulness. That’s not a bad thing.

So if you can unplug it, or let a power strip cut the power for you, when you’re not using the device, the AC adapter will last longer.

What to do when an AC adapter goes bad

When an AC adapter goes bad, you need to replace it. I’ve written about that before. If you need machine-specific advice, I have advice for Nook devices and Atari 2600 game consoles. Frequently, the device it plugs into will still work just fine once you replace the adapter.

I frequently buy AC adapters online, but if you need something today, here’s an offbeat source. Most thrift stores have a box of stray AC adapters somewhere in the store. If you find that box and sift through it, you may very well find something suitable, and you’ll probably only pay a couple of dollars for it.

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