How to Troubleshoot a Router

How To Troubleshoot A Router Featured

If you’re having issues connecting to the Internet, your router may be to blame. Regardless of whether you’re trying to communicate with local devices or the wider Web, your router is the center of all your Internet activity. By working your way through the suggestions in this list, you can test whether your router really is the cause of your connection-related woes, troubleshoot if it is the cause, and get back online as quickly as possible.

The Obvious Stuff

Before progressing to more complicated techniques, let’s try a few easy fixes. When you troubleshoot a Wi-Fi router, sometimes the simplest techniques will be enough to resolve your issues and restore your Internet connection:

  • Switch off your router and switch it back on again. Then wait a few minutes and see whether your Internet connection is back up and running.
  • Check whether there are any issues with your service provider. Most providers have a status page where you can access this information. If you’re unsure, try googling the name of your service provider, followed by a phrase such as “service status” or “outage map.”
How To Troubleshoot A Router Service Status
  • Try connecting with a different device. If you’re experiencing issues with a single device, there’s always the possibility the problem may lie with your device and not the Internet connection. Wherever possible, it’s a good idea to test your connection using at least one other Internet-enabled device. If this device manages to connect without any issues, then chances are the router isn’t at fault.
  • Switch to an Ethernet cable. If you’re struggling to connect to Wi-Fi, you may get positive results by connecting your device to the router directly using an Ethernet cable. There are many factors that can interfere with a Wi-Fi connection, including physical barriers, such as walls. By physically connecting your device to the router, you can check whether the issue lies with the router itself or the quality of your Wi-Fi signal.
  • Try a different Ethernet cable. Alternatively, if you’re already physically connected to the router, check that the cable is firmly attached. It may also help to remove and then reattach the Ethernet cable to see whether this kickstarts the connection. If you have access to a second Ethernet cable, you may want to try switching the cables.
  • Pay attention to the router’s lights. One of the easiest ways to troubleshoot a router is to look at the lights themselves. Depending on the router, different light colors and flashing patterns indicate specific problems. Check the user manual to see if your router has error light indicators.

Change Router Wi-Fi Channel

Perhaps you’re managing to connect to the network over Wi-Fi, but the network’s performance is slow or unreliable. In this scenario, it’s possible your Wi-Fi channel may be busy with traffic from other Wi-Fi users in your local area.

How To Troubleshoot A Router Channel

You can manually change your Wi-Fi channel through your router’s settings. To get to your router’s settings, you’ll need to know the router’s IP address. This is usually 192.168.1.1, 192.168.0.1, 192.168.1.254 or similar (check out the cheatsheet here) and needs to be entered into your browser. Here’s how to find your router’s IP address on any platform.

Once you’ve retrieved this information, enter your router’s IP address into your web browser. It should prompt you for your router username and login. This information varies by ISP, but is typically printed on the router itself.

If you haven’t manually changed the default username and password, you can often retrieve this information by using your favorite search engine and entering your router’s model number, followed by a phrase such as “default username and password” or “default login.” Your router’s model number should be printed in the manual or on the router itself.

Once you’re in your router’s Wi-Fi channel settings, how do you know which channel to pick? There’s quite a lot to it, so read our guide on how to find the best Wi-Fi channel for your network.

Some ISPs require you to download a separate app to manage your settings and perform any Wi-Fi troubleshooting. If so, you’ll see a prompt on how to download the required app. Also, for ISP-owned routers/modems, some settings/options in this post may not be available to you.

Reset Your Router

The more radical step up from simply restarting or rebooting your router is to reset it, which will restore the router to its default settings.

How To Troubleshoot A Router Reset

These steps can vary depending on your router, but it usually involves either pressing a physical button on the router itself or opening your router’s settings and searching for a reset option.

Upgrade Router Firmware

Another solution to troubleshoot your router that you can find right there in your router’s settings is a firmware upgrade. This can also be found through your router’s settings and will obviously require that your router is connected to the Internet to work (so that it can solve router-to-device connection issues but not Internet-to-router issues).

How To Troubleshoot A Router Firmware

If you’re having router not working issues, you might not be able to connect to the Internet to update the firmware. In some cases, you can download the firmware directly from the router’s manufacturer, connect directly to your computer via an Ethernet cable, and update that way. However, that doesn’t work with all routers.

Also, every router brand has a different method for updating the firmware. Some update the firmware automatically, leaving you without the option to do so yourself. Others require a desktop tool or an app, and others offer the setting in the Web-based interface.

Diagnostic Tools

In addition to the tips above to troubleshoot your router, you may have to dig deeper to fix the problems you have with the Wi-Fi router not working. Network diagnostic tools can help you discover possible issues, including finding dead spots.

Many router brands offer their own tools to troubleshoot issues. These might be a separate download from their websites or included in your router’s settings. While they might not offer as comprehensive of a solution as you’d like, they do offer a starting point.

Third-party diagnostic tools are designed mainly to help you create a stronger home network. This includes detailing where to place your router and any access points or extenders. These tools won’t necessarily tell you what’s wrong with your router outside of letting you know that it is indeed the router that’s causing the problem.

A few third-party tools to try include:

  • NetSpot – Get detailed Wi-Fi troubleshooting and analysis for macOS and Windows.
  • NirSoft – While only for Windows, NirSoft provides a variety of network diagnostics tools. Even when you’re not having router issues, some of these are ideal to have for monitoring traffic and general network health.
  • Windows network connection command prompts – Test your connection and help pinpoint issues with Windows built-in tools.
How To Troubleshoot A Router Command

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When should I replace my router?

As with all electronics, routers do wear out. If you can’t connect at all or multiple devices have trouble connecting simultaneously (assuming you have the data speeds to support your devices), it may be time to upgrade to a new router. As a general rule, some router brands recommend replacing every three to five years, though many brands have end-of-life lists for their routers.

2. Is it my router or my ISP?

If your router is newer, figuring out how to fix Internet connection issues may mean contacting your ISP. Even if outage maps don’t show an outage, regular connection issues could mean your ISP needs to upgrade their equipment. This may also include sending you a new router if your router was provided by them.

3. Is my router compatible with my modem?

An often overlooked router issue is compatibility with your modem. Some ISPs only allow specific brands and types of routers. Others may restrict you to just their routers and modems. Check with your ISP to ensure your router is compatible with their modem.

4. Is it my router or my devices?

If you’ve gotten a new Wi-Fi device, and it doesn’t work, you may not actually be experiencing any problems with your Wi-Fi router not working. It could be a simple case of your new device and router not being compatible.

For example, many smart home devices only work on 2.4 GHz bands, but if your router only uses 5 GHz or doesn’t let you switch bands, you’ll have trouble connecting, especially during the setup process. Or, a device may require a newer type of network than your older router provides. In this case, a new router is necessary.

Wrapping Up

The above are some of the main ways to troubleshoot a misbehaving router. If you have chosen to reset the router, you have to set it up again properly. If all else fails, consider contacting your ISP for a connection reset at their end. Beyond that, it may be worth looking at a new router (ideally provided for free by your ISP!) and learning how to put your old router to good use.

Crystal Crowder Crystal Crowder

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

One comment

  1. “As a general rule, some router brands recommend replacing every three to five years, though many brands have end-of-life lists for their routers.”
    That is called “planned obsolescence”. Companies want to guarantee themselves a steady income stream. All it does is generate and endless stream of electronic waste.

    Yes, new features, both improvements and just frills, are added to devices by manufacturers. That is part of the game. However, older devices, computers and otherwise, don’t stop working just because they reached their expiration date. As the old adage says “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. How many of us are driving 20+ year-old cars? How many of us have 20+ year-old appliances? etc. etc. etc.

    I use a Linksys WRT54GL router. While it may not have all the latest bells and whistles and head-snapping speed, it has worked and still works without any hiccups. When it no longer provides adequate service, I will replace it.

    Of course, those that get a new car every year or two, buy a new computer whenever a new processor is released, buy the latest wardrobe every season, etc, won’t understand where I am coming from.

Leave a Comment

Yeah! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic! Check out our comment policy here. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation.