How to Know if a PCB Is Bad?

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A printed circuit board (PCB) is an integral component in most electronic devices. It provides the foundation on which all the individual electronic components are mounted and connected.

Over time and through repeated use, PCBs can become damaged and stop functioning properly. Identifying a bad PCB is important to troubleshoot electronic device issues and determine if a repair or replacement is needed. This article provides a detailed guide on how to test for and recognize the signs of a bad PCB.

Symptoms of a Bad PCB

There are several distinct symptoms that can indicate problems with a PCB:

Visible Damage

Carefully inspect the PCB for any visible signs of damage:

  • Cracks or broken traces in the copper lining
  • Burn or discolored marks
  • Damaged or cracked solder joints
  • Bent or broken component leads
  • Evidence of liquid spills or corrosion

Short Circuits

Short circuits occur when there is an abnormal connection between two points in a circuit that are not supposed to meet. This results in excessive current flow and can cause components to heat up, malfunction, or become damaged. Signs of a short circuit include:

  • Device components getting hotter than expected
  • Device not powering on at all
  • Device immediately powering off after being turned on
  • Fuses blowing or circuit breakers tripping repeatedly

Failed Components

If visual inspection does not reveal physical damage, problematic components on the PCB could be causing issues. Warning signs include:

  • Distorted or abnormal sounds from speakers, buzzing, etc.
  • Display screen exhibiting artifacts, flickering, or malfunctioning
  • Buttons or controls not responsive
  • Device starts but certain features do not work

Intermittent Issues

An intermittent problem that comes and goes can indicate a bad solder joint or component that is borderline faulty:

  • Device functions normally at times but fails unexpectedly
  • Issues occur randomly under certain conditions like vibration or movement
  • Problems disappear for a while but eventually return
  • Issues only happen when exposed to high temperatures

Testing Methods

To further diagnose PCB issues, specialized tests can reveal problems not visible through inspection alone:

Continuity Testing

  • Uses a multimeter to check whether electrical current can flow properly between two points in a circuit
  • Can identify open circuits from damage like cracked traces
  • Maps out short circuits by detecting unwanted connections

Resistance Testing

  • Measures the electrical resistance along PCB traces
  • Unusual results indicate damaged or corroded traces
  • Also used to see if resistors and potentiometers are in spec

Voltage Testing

  • Uses a multimeter to check circuit voltages at various test points
  • Measures if voltage is present, and within expected values
  • Helps find shorts, opens, and faulty connections

Signal Testing

  • Views waveform signals using an oscilloscope
  • Visualizes shape and values of alternating (AC) voltages
  • Checks for abnormal waveforms or unexpected signal behaviors

Thermal Imaging

  • Uses an infrared camera to visualize heat across the PCB
  • Can detect short circuits which may heat up under load
  • Locates hot or cold solder joints and failing components

Common Fault Locations

Certain parts of a PCB are more prone to damage and faults:

Solder Joints

  • Connection point between component leads and copper tracks
  • Cracked, cold, or fractured joints can cause intermittent problems
  • joints can work loose over time due to vibration or heating/cooling cycles


  • Fine copper lines or tracks connecting circuit nodes
  • Cracked traces from stress or corrosion will cause opens
  • Nearby traces can short if insulation degrades or water damage

Plated Through-Holes

  • Metal-plated holes allowing traces to pass between layers
  • Similar to vias but pass fully through the PCB
  • Can develop cracks or openings causing layers to disconnect


  • Discrete components like resistors, capacitors, ICs can overheat or short
  • Components near heat sources or under mechanical stress tend to fail
  • Old or counterfeit components may die prematurely


  • Ports used to connect wires, cables and interfaces
  • Can work loose over time and cause intermittent contacts
  • Liquid damage and corrosion can ruin electrical contacts

Diagnosing Specific PCB Types

Specialized PCBs found in certain devices are prone to their own unique failure modes:

Graphics Cards

  • Look for artifacting, distortions, or blank screens indicating GPU/memory issues
  • Check for scorch marks and failures near power systems and voltage regulators

Laptop Motherboards

  • Focus on the CPU, RAM slots, charging port, and DC-IN controller
  • Screen for damage near common laptop failure points like hinges and vents

Game Consoles

  • Test HDMI/video out, wireless modules, memory card readers, and USB ports
  • Target areas around processor and GPU as they generate significant heat

TV Boards

  • Irregular colors, tinting, or distortion signify problems with video processing
  • Backlight issues like flickering or dimness point to power supply failures

Drone Flight Controllers

  • Intermittent control issues hint at faulty gyroscope, accelerometer, or compass sensors
  • Damage near antennas suggests RF transmission problems

Automotive ECUs

  • Scan for faults with sensors, actuators, CAN bus networks, and voltage regulators
  • Code reader can detect issues registered in ECU firmware error logs

Fixing a Bad PCB

For minor PCB damage,repair may be possible by replacing components or fixing solder joints. However, extensive repairs for complex multilayer boards are difficult and unreliable. Replacing the entire PCB is often the best solution when faults are widespread or origin is unknown. Some repair options include:

  • Resoldering loose solder joints
  • Replacing shorted/open resistors, capacitors, fuses
  • Bypassing damaged traces by soldering thin wire jumpers
  • Patching broken traces using conductive epoxy
  • Removing and replacing damaged connectors
  • Swapping out the faulty integrated circuits or processors

Replacement PCBs are available for many consumer devices either from the OEM or third party part suppliers. Tech savvy hobbyists can also choose aftermarket replacement boards with upgraded features. Professional microsoldering tools and repair skills are often needed for PCB repair work.

Preventing PCB Damage

PCB failure can be minimized by following good design, handling, and maintenance practices:

  • Include redundant and robust power systems with adequate heat sinking
  • Avoid routing traces near vibration sources or mechanical components
  • Minimize trace lengths to reduce noise susceptibility
  • Apply conformal coating to protect from dust, grime and liquids
  • Include test points for easy diagnostics and repairability
  • Regularly inspect boards and connectors for damage or wear
  • Take steps to prevent static electricity discharge through components
  • Control operating temperatures and environments to specification
  • Appropriately handle and transport boards to avoid flex damage


How can I tell if a specific component is faulty?

  • Visual inspection for obvious damage like burnt marks or discoloration
  • Removing power and testing component with a multimeter for shorts or out-of-spec values
  • Monitoring pin voltages to see if signals are abnormal
  • Replace component with a known good one to verify operation

What tools do I need to troubleshoot and test PCBs?

  • Multimeter for voltage, resistance, and continuity tests
  • Oscilloscope to visualize signals and detect noise issues
  • Soldering iron, solder, flux, and desoldering tools for repair work
  • Digital microscope to inspect solder joints and trace damage
  • Thermal camera to identify hot spots on operating boards

Can I repair damaged traces or pads on a PCB?

  • Carefully scrape away solder mask layer and roughen copper with fiberglass pen
  • Apply a small blob of conductive epoxy and use a probe to bridge the gap
  • Run jumper wires point-to-point for damaged traces
  • Uses copper foil and etchant to restore chewed up pads or holes

How do I know if an intermittent problem is caused by a bad PCB?

  • Issues that occur under vibration or movement point to a loose connection
  • Temperature sensitivity indicates material expansion problems
  • If software reboots and configurations don’t improve reliability, suspect PCB
  • Confirm with temperature profiles, vibration testing, and visual inspection

Is it safe to power up a PCB with a suspected short circuit?

  • No, attempting to power a PCB with a short can cause further damage
  • The excessive current flow can release magic smoke and destroy components
  • Use visual inspection and continuity testing to locate shorts before applying power
  • Consider current limiting or isolation testing to safely detect short circuits


Identifying and properly diagnosing PCB issues requires knowledge of common failure points, visible damage signs, and testing methods. While minor problems can sometimes be repaired, extensive faults often require full board replacements. Following design and maintenance best practices can help minimize expensive PCB failures.