How to check a fan relay

Written by dan ferrell
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How to check a fan relay
Common automotive relay with control and power circuit contacts marked on one side of the case. (Photo courtesy of Leonard G. at Commons Wikimedia.org.)

Checking the operation of a fan relay on your vehicle is an easy procedure. Just keep in mind that many modern cars use electronic relays. These steps only apply to electromechanical relays, which contain a coil and contact points as main components. The most common problem on these relays is an open or shorted coil and burnt points that block the flow of electrical current after years of use.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Ohmmeter
  • Fused jumper wire
  • Jumper wire

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Look at the markings on top or side of the relay case and locate the two control circuit terminals, which connect to the relay's coil, and the two power circuit terminals, which let electrical current pass to the fan. If your fan relay does not have markings on it, you will have to consult the cooling fan wiring diagram found in your vehicle service manual. See the Tips section at the bottom for more information.

  2. 2

    Connect the leads of an ohmmeter to the power terminals on the relay. Set the ohmmeter to the lowest range. You should read infinite resistance. If you read any amount of resistance, the relay contacts are stuck closed and the relay should be replaced.

  3. 3

    Hook one end of a fused jumper wire to one of the relay control terminals and the other end to the positive terminal of the car battery. Attach the end of a regular jumper wire to the other terminal of the control circuit on the relay and touch the other end to ground on your vehicle. As you touch ground with the jumper wire, you should hear a click sound coming from the relay. This means the relay contacts are operating normally. If you do not hear the click sound, replace the relay.

  4. 4

    Leave the jumper wires connected to the relay control terminals if you heard the click sound in the previous step. Using your ohmmeter as described on step 2, check for continuity at the relay's power terminals. Now you should read zero resistance. If you get infinite resistance from the ohmmeter, the relay contact points are not letting electric current flow through. Replace the relay.

Tips and warnings

  • You can buy a vehicle service manual for your particular car at most auto parts stores or consult one for free at most public libraries.
  • If the relay does not have markings on it to differentiate the control and power terminals, try looking at the wires connecting to the relay contacts under the fuse block or power junction on the vehicle. In most cases, the two thin wires connect to the control circuit and the two thick wires connect the power terminals on the relay.
  • Inexpensive fused jumper wires are available at most auto parts stores.

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