A blown fuse can mean a bad day, especially if it's a component of some critical electrical system, like your car's horn during rush hour. But does blowing a fuse automatically mean a trip to an auto parts or hardware store?
In this article, we'll look into whether there's any truth to the rumor that a chewing gum wrapper can provide an ingenious fix for a blown fuse. But first, let's take a closer look at those pesky but protective little plugs. Fuses have been around since the 1800s and come in various shapes and sizes. What they all have in common is the capacity to keep wire from overheating. A fuse generally has two metal prongs that make contact with the wire on either side. In the middle of the fuse's fireproof protective casing is a conductive metal with a specific melting point -- one that's a lower temperature than the wire's. This way, if an electrical current is approaching a temperature that's too hot for the wire to handle, the fuse will be the first to know. It interrupts the current by melting and breaking the connection.
Fuses commonly are categorized by how much amperage (amount of electrical current) the fuse can handle. If the current flowing through a wire gets too hot, it could start a fire, so it's important to use a fuse with the correct amp rating. For more information on the protective electrical veins that run through mechanical devices and the critical junctions that connect them, read How Wires, Fuses and Connectors Work.
Circuit breakers are similar to fuses and perform the same basic function. While circuit breakers build on fuse technology, pros and cons remain for both methods of preventing electrical overloads. For example, fuses are cheap, but they're also limited to onetime use, so they may need to be replaced frequently. Circuit breakers on the other hand, are easier to reset since they simply switch off rather than melt a wire, but they tend to be more expensive. Circuit breakers are generally the norm in houses today, although some older homes may still have fuses.
Replacing a fuse is easier than replacing a whole wire, but is there a way to get around it entirely? Now that we have a little background, let's find out if there's any truth to the gum gossip.
Gum Wrappers and Fuses: A Winning Combination?
So if you're driving cross-country and your radio craps out, are you out of luck, or will a stick of gum save the day? If it's an issue with the fuse -- and the wrapper has metal foil -- you bet it can. And that foil on the gum wrapper isn't the only item that'll serve. A bit of aluminum foil can also do the trick, along with anything that can conduct electricity and fit wrapped around the fuse.
By putting the gum wrapper around the fuse, you're bypassing the failed safety mechanism in the blown fuse. The gum wrapper, when in contact with both ends of the wire, will allow the flow of electricity to resume and -- presto -- problem solved.
It's important to keep in mind, however, that a chewing gum wrapper is not recommended as a long-term solution. Or even a short-term one, really. You'll be better off replacing the fuse as soon as possible. The reason has to do with the purpose of a fuse, which we read about on the last page. Remember, fuses are important safety components, and it's dangerous to operate a jury-rigged system. Without the fuse in place, the electrical wiring could overheat and start a fire, causing much more damage to your wallet than a new fuse would've.
It's also worth mentioning that you shouldn't rush to ditch a fuse just because whatever's getting power from the wire it protects isn't working. Take a moment and check, because the fuse might just be loose. Securing it firmly back in place will re-establish the connection. If you've done that and it still isn't working, look at the little metal conductor inside the fuse. If there's a gap in the conductor, you'll be shopping for a new fuse. If not, you probably have some other sort of electrical problem on your hands.
So even though electrical overloads aren't that common -- how frequently do you have to change a blown fuse after all? -- we still don't recommend using a gum wrapper as a quick fix.
Find out some more fun (and safe) ways you can make use of your leftover gum wrappers by following the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How Electricity Works
- How Relays Work
- How to Do Home Electrical Repairs
- How Wires, Fuses and Connectors Work
- How Circuit Breakers Work
- Inside "MythBusters"
- Is it possible to generate electricity directly from heat?
- What are amps, watts, volts and ohms?
- Why is it that some appliance plugs have three prongs and others have only two?
- Gum Wrapper Thermometer
More Great Links
- Duschl, Gary. "Guinness World Record Gum Wrapper Chain." 6/11/2008. (7/10/2008) http://www.gumwrapper.com/
- Fix-It Club. "How to Do Home Electrical Repairs." HowStuffWorks.com. (7/10/2008) https://home.howstuffworks.com/how-to-do-home-electrical-repairs.htm
- "Fuse." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2008. (7/10/2008) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/222762/fuse
- Garskof, Josh. "10 Wiring Problems Solved." This Old House magazine. (7/15/2008) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,562098,00.html
- "How to Repair a Blown Fuse in Your Car or Truck." Edmunds Car Space. 1/25/2007 (7/10/2007) http://www.carspace.com/guides/How-to-Repair-a-Blown-Fuse-in-Your-Car-or-Truck
- "How to Troubleshoot Your Electrical System." Mustang Monthly. (7/10/8) http://www.mustangmonthly.com/howto/mump_0705_troubleshoot_electrical_system /battery_charging.html
- Nice, Karim. "How Wires Fuses and Connectors Work." HowStuffWorks.com. (7/10/2008) https://auto.howstuffworks.com/wfc.htm
- Savage, Adam. "MythBusters: Fixing a Fuse with Gum." Mythbusters. (7/10/2008) https://videos.howstuffworks.com/discovery/6533-mythbusters-fixing-a-fuse-with-gum-video.htm
- Stonehouse, Ernest. "Method For Making A Wrapping Material." United States Patent. 4/4/1978. (7/10/2008) http://www.freepatentsonline.com/4082594.pdf
- "What is Amperage?" WiseGEEK.com. (7/10/2008) http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-amperage.htm
- "What is the Difference Between a Fuse and a Circuit Breaker?" WiseGEEK.com. (7/10/2008) http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-difference-between-a-fuse-and-a-circuit-breaker.htm
- "What Makes a Fuse Blow?" WiseGEEK.com. (7/10/2008) http://www.wisegeek.com/what-makes-a-fuse-blow.htm