A simple way to make sure a Christmas-gift train works on Christmas morning

Last Christmas Eve, I helped one of my Internet pals figure out why a brand-new N scale train he purchased as a gift didn’t work.

He got lucky. He had his old train available, which he was able to steal parts from to get it to work that morning. Not everyone is that lucky. As long as you’re reading this before Christmas, I have some advice for you if there’s an electric train of any sort on someone’s list.

Set it up one night this week and make sure it works.

Before you wrap a train set to give as a gift, take it out of the box, set up a circle of track with the power pack, put the locomotive on it, and make sure it works. Image credit: Joe Haupt/Flickr

There are two things in the box that can arrive dead straight out of the box: the transformer and the motor in the train. Problems do seem to be rarer than they used to be, but you don’t want to be the one with one crucial part that doesn’t work, like my friend. And as I recall, getting through to technical support after Christmas wasn’t very easy. They were friendly enough once he got through, but it took a couple of days to get through.

Set it up prior to Christmas, and you’ll have a few business days to get help, either from the manufacturer or from the store you bought it from. They won’t be as busy then, and if the store you bought it from can help you, it can save you the embarrassment of a gift that doesn’t work.

Testing the train set

All you need is to plug together the smallest circle of track you can, connect the transformer, and put the locomotive on. If it runs, great. Put it back in the box as best you can. And if anyone notices it was opened beforehand, just say you tried it out to make sure it worked. Some guy named Dave told you to. I’ll take the blame for that.

If it doesn’t run, double check the setup instructions. Make sure you’ve connected the wires from the transformer to the track correctly. If it makes a lot of noise and doesn’t move, you probably have the wires on the wrong set of terminals. If it doesn’t do anything at all, it could be the wires, transformer, or the motor in the locomotive. You can isolate the problem by connecting a different set of wires to the transformer, turning it on, and touching them straight to the wheels on the locomotive to try to isolate the problem. But at this point, I’d probably recommend you contact the manufacturer or the store you bought it from as soon as possible. That’s why you’re trying it out ahead of time.

It’s tradition!

Besides, trying out electric toys before Christmas used to be a tradition. I clearly remember my uncles testing out toys at my grandmother’s house, behind locked doors, before re-boxing them and giving them to my grandmother or my aunts to wrap them. Some of the intent may have been to tease my cousin and me, but every single time we unwrapped a present, it worked. They made a big show of it. That part is optional.

If it doesn’t run, contact the store or the manufacturer, who may have some scripted steps they want you to try. But trust me, every train maker I’ve ever dealt with has been far, far better to deal with than any computer manufacturer. The sooner you try it, and the sooner you contact your potential help, the better your chances are of saving the gift.

But speaking of computers, I recommend doing the same with computers and game systems too.

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