Have you ever wondered why just taping a cut cord back together doesn’t fix it? Well, there are a number of reasons!

“My Phone Only Charges at Certain Angles”

This is one of the most annoying aspects of broken or frayed cables, so I’ll put it first. How do you fix it? Unfortunately, the answer is usually replacing the cable, or stopping it before it happens. This is a very general article, so I’m not going to link tutorials – many cords have their own tricks anyway. If you’re looking for a specific tutorial, now’s the time to tune out.

Now, onto the ‘why’!

The area where the cord plugs into the phone receives the most stress. Power outlets are usually down low, and desks or nightstands are up higher. It’s almost never the plug-in part that fails, as a result – it’s usually either where the cable connects to the charger’s box or where the square plastic part of the plug-in side meets regular cable.

A cord, with the weak point underneath the phone’s plug-in side pointed out.

Engineers have been trying to fix this for years. What we have now is the best they have at a low price, until cordless charging really gets off the ground. The design is sturdy: the cord would simply bend the phone’s plug-ins if it weren’t reinforced at the end with the little plastic bit. However, they can’t just reinforce the entire cable, so the next part under the most stress, where the reinforced bit hits regular cable, is the next most-likely place to fail. That’s the spot that bends the most if the phone’s right at the edge of the table. The inside of the cable begins to suffer from metal fatigue after moving in and out of the same position day after day, year after year, and some of the copper lines building up the core of the cable snap. Pulling on the cable instead of the plastic reinforcement at the end hurts over time as well. When you, the user, move your phone in certain ways, the two frayed sides get to touch again. Sometimes there isn’t even visible damage on the outside!

You could try DIY reinforcing the cable by just slapping some cello-tape around the bit that breaks the connection when it moves, but ultimately, that’s a temporary fix (assuming it works at all. It might not!). If the cable is fairly new, it might also be the port that’s the problem – shine a light into your phone’s plugin, and if it’s looking a little dirty, you could try some compressed air. Particularly bad cases should be taken to an expert, though, as the pins are easily bent but not easily fixed.

Pins

A diagram of the ‘pin-out’ for an Apple charger, via TechInsights

The pins at the end of the charging cable each have a specific purpose. They can’t all perform their purpose via the same cable, so functions are split into several individual threads inside said cable.

Right here is why you can’t just slap tape onto your frayed cable – it’s also why frayed cables can sometimes still charge, but can’t transfer files anymore, or vice versa. The best thing to do is to prevent fraying in the first place, which mostly happens from material fatigue, i.e forcing the cable into odd positions over and over. However, Apple chargers sometimes just… do this under regular stresses, unfortunately. In that case, you could purchase some low temperature heat-shrink wrap, and double-reinforce the problem areas! Tutorials are scattered all over the web, so I’m not going to link a particular one; the ones I’ve used as a source are below, but I’m not endorsing them specifically. I will say to aim for low temp heat wrap, the kind that a hair dryer can set. Anything higher might damage the charger’s plastic.

As a sidenote, it’s really disappointing that Apple held such a monopoly on their lightning cable, only to drop their manufacturing standards and leave users constantly replacing cables, or DIY-ing their own repairs. The plastic isn’t particularly good on the outside, leading the charging head to sometimes snap off entirely if it isn’t treated delicately. 3rd party manufacturers aren’t doing much better.

However, phone chargers are not the only cable out there! Many others are in similar positions. HDMIs can’t just be copy/pasted back together, ethernet cables, printer cables, power cables, headphone cables, all of them are as good as dead if the cord is broken. They all follow similar methods for data transfer, where individual threads each do their own thing.

Is it possible to fix?

Well, yeah, depending on a number of factors. A frayed cable isn’t always dead, and sometimes heat-shrink or electrical tape is enough to fix it for another couple of months. On many other cords, you really, really shouldn’t try to DIY it. Especially high-powered ones, or ones that lead to delicate machinery. As I said before, the best thing you can do is prevent those cables from fraying or snapping in the first place by reinforcing their protective sheathes, but if you can’t, lower-powered cables do have tips and tricks to get them to work again (although you might have better, safer results with a pro).

On bigger cords, or cords to house appliances? Don’t touch that! It is technically possible to patch cables together yourself… however, with bigger appliances, that also greatly increases the risk of serious personal injury, fires, and shorts, both in the house’s circuit and your item’s. Assuming you don’t screw up at the starting line and mix and match two separate threads accidentally where it counts, i.e. a phone cable. If you’ve never done it before, if you doubt your ability to do it, or if you’re missing materials to do it safely, go to an electrician or a tech repair place. What’s cheaper – 70$ for a cord repair, or 700$ for a PC stand?  Plus, the ~danger~ factor!

House power is very dangerous. Electricians are paid mint for a good reason! While any number of kids have stabbed a fork into the electrical socket and survived, the fork isn’t carrying the full potential of the shock, and a number of people die doing that anyway. A cable would be. Never plug in a damaged or broken extension cable. 120 V of pure house power could be channeled across you if you touch the exposed part while power is flowing.

Flubs

Some people with more skill than wisdom assemble cords for things they think they need. You will never see a mass manufactured male-to-male three prong plug-in, for example. You could burn your house down, current is meant to go out of those plugs, not in. You’ll also never see A USB Male-to-A USB Male, because those almost always come powered, and transferring data to another computer is much less risky with a simple USB drive or Bluetooth transfer. You’d explode your computer with the male-to-male. If the computer manufacturers wanted you to have access to the forbidden plug-in, they would have made an adaptor for it. Do not make one yourself even if you have the technical skill to attach two cords to each other. It will end in a housefire. I’m not joking. You do not need a male-to-male plug.

Sources:

https://www.androidauthority.com/what-is-usb-type-c-594575/

https://acworks.com/blogs/ac-works-connector/male-to-male-extension-cords-adapter-dangers

https://www.techinsights.com/blog/systems-analysis-apple-lightning-usb-cable