Why is my USB cable not working?

orange USB cables
Cable bye: find out why your USB cable might not work

You’ve plugged a USB cable into your computer, but not matter how much you try, it’s not connecting to the phone, the camera, the printer or whatever else you’ve got it connected to. You try another cable and that works fine. So why is that USB cable not working? Here are a couple of reasons why a particular cable might not be behaving.

It’s not a data cable

This may come as a surprise to many people, but not all USB cables are capable of carrying data. Some of the USB charging cables that are provided with devices are only capable of carrying power. It’s rare, but it happens.

The problem is there’s no obvious way to tell a data cable from a charge-only cable. There are no markings or anything else to give you a clue. Charge-only cables tend to be a little thinner, but it’s far from easy to detect.

Technically, USB cables without the ability to carry data are not meant to carry the USB symbol, but there’s little or no policing of this market, so that’s not something you can rely on.

So, if a cable works to charge a device, but your computer fails to acknowledge any device that cable is connected to, that is the most likely explanation.

The cable has physically failed

The most likely reason for a USB cable not working is physical failure.

USB cables are pretty sensitive things, especially cheap cables. If the cable is routinely bent, tugged or otherwise manhandled, it’s likely to fail at some point. iPhone charger cables are particularly susceptible to this kind of failure, in my experience.

Be very careful with USB cables, especially if they’re being plugged into a mains socket. If any of the wiring in a cable is exposed, dispose of it. That’s not something you want to take a chance on, especially if children might touch the exposed wiring.

Braided cables are less prone to physical failure in my experience, but they tend to be more expensive.

USB drive not showing in computer

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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