HomeTechnologyNews7 common gamepad problems and how to fix them

7 common gamepad problems and how to fix them

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Corbin Davenport / Instructional Geek

Many common gamepad problems can be fixed with replacement parts, a good cleaning, or aftermarket accessories. Sometimes it’s easier, cheaper, or more desirable to replace the gamepad entirely.

Game controllers take a lot of abuse. From sweaty gaming sessions to spills and drops, some parts just aren’t built to last more than a few years. Here are some of the GamePad problems you’re likely to encounter, and the solutions you’ll need for each one.

drift stick

The analog sticks of most gamepads rely on two potentiometer-based modules on the X and Y axes. The potentiometers measure the change in voltage that occurs when you move the stick and rely on metal contacts that wear over time. time. This can cause the joystick to eventually register a change in voltage even when the joystick is at rest.

This is known as stick drift, and it’s a fate that awaits all but the most advanced gamepads out there. A better way to do this is to use Hall effect sensors like those found in the latest electromagnetic joystick modules. Unfortunately, very few companies are using them, including Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

iFixit Xbox Series X Joystick Module
I fix it

When a joystick begins to exhibit joystick scrolling, you may see movement on the screen even when you are not touching the joystick. It can make precise movement difficult, affect your aim in first-person shooters, and make driving in a straight line impossible. The only solution is to replace the joystick module with a new one.

Some systems, like the Nintendo Switch, have joystick calibration in the console settings. This allows you to counter stick drift by resetting the dead zone. Please note that this is a temporary solution. If the contacts have started to degrade, it won’t be long until stick drift rears its head again. A more permanent solution is to replace the joystick modules.

Nintendo Switch Controller Calibration Screen

You can find most of the parts you need for major brand joysticks online. This includes Nintendo Switch Joy-Con joysticks or Xbox Series X and S controller joystick modules on iFixit and Sony DualSense joystick modules directly from PlayStation. You can even replace the worn out joystick on your old Nintendo 64 controller.

Depending on your controller, the difficulty can vary wildly, so be sure to use a guide to help you out. Nintendo Switch owners may even be eligible for a free Joy-Con replacement.

If your device is compatible with higher Hall effect joystick modules that use electromagnets, as is the case with the Valve SteamDeck, you can even replace your sensors with a GuliKit electromagnetic joystick kit to prevent stick drift altogether.

Soft or sticky buttons

Face buttons can become mushy or sticky after being exposed to sugary drinks, beer, and anything else that might spill on them. You can replace these buttons just like you do joysticks, by buying replacement parts online and performing surgery on your controller.

You may also find that a deep cleaning is all it takes to get your buttons back to normal. Soak a cotton swab (Q-Tip) in isopropyl alcohol and wipe the tip along the edge of the affected buttons. Press the button repeatedly to remove any loose dirt as the alcohol soaks into the mechanism. You can repeat this until the buttons feel normal again.

Repair Sticky DualShock 4 Buttons with Isopropyl Alcohol
Tim Brookes / Instruction Geek

The alcohol will evaporate quickly and you will be able to test your controller in no time. Another tip is to cut a plastic straw so that you can insert the sharp edge into the crack between the button and the controller chassis. Remove any dirt as you do this, using the cotton swab to deposit the alcohol as needed.

Check out our other tips for cleaning your game controllers.

Failed or dislodged springs

Controller triggers can be temperamental as they rely on small springs and plastic. Squeeze too hard and the trigger may no longer return to the neutral position and you may be firing or accelerating indefinitely. Over time, springs can lose tension, come loose, or break completely.

The good news is that a stuck or loose trigger often doesn’t mean the entire trigger button needs to be replaced. Replacement spring kits can be found for a variety of controllers, including the DualSense, DualShock 4, and Xbox One. You’ll need to do some research for reliable parts and a guide you can follow.

Joystick wear

Rubber-tipped joysticks wear down over time, exposing the soft plastic underneath and making the gaming experience less tactile. In addition to being less comfortable, plastic can be slippery and affect your game. Fortunately, there is a simple and cost-effective solution: aftermarket thumb grips.

Setex Gecko joystick grips

You can buy thumb grips that fit just about any type of controller, like the Setex Gecko Grip Covers. You can even get raised thumb grips like the Foamy Lizard DualSense grips for added comfort and precision.

Replaceable thumb grips

Setex Gecko Handle

Aftermarket thumb grips for your DualSense, DualShock 4, Xbox, Switch Pro Controller, and Valve SteamDeck.

Wireless connection problems

If your console doesn’t recognize your controller when you turn it on, try pairing again. For most consoles this is a simple case of taking a USB cable and connecting one end to the controller and the other to the console. Turn on both and a connection should be established between the two. This works for PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series, and Nintendo Switch.

An Xbox wireless controller with a USB Type-C cable

If your console doesn’t recognize your controller or doesn’t work over a wireless connection, try using a wired connection instead. You will need a USB cable that is long enough to reach your console from where you normally sit for this to work.

poor battery life

Rechargeable batteries lose capacity over time, and controllers are no different. You should avoid leaving your controllers plugged in when not in use, as storing lithium-ion batteries at full charge will shorten their life.

Regardless of how you treat your controller batteries, they will eventually need to be replaced. Microsoft considered this in the design of its Xbox controllers, allowing you to simply buy another Xbox rechargeable battery pack and easily replace it without surgery. You can also find a better deal on third-party Xbox batteries.

For Xbox Series and Xbox One controllers

Xbox Rechargeable Battery Pack

Make your Xbox controller rechargeable or replace a faulty rechargeable battery with a new one. A fully charged battery should allow around 30 hours of gameplay.

This is not the case for PlayStation batteries, including those for the DualShock 4 and DualSense. Fortunately, you can buy replacement batteries for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, not to mention the Joy-Con and Switch Pro Controller. Check out a guide on a website like iFixit to help you replace the internal battery correctly.

If you’re looking for a simpler solution, a battery pack like the Rii 2000mAh DualSense Rechargeable Battery Pack adds around 10 hours of battery life to the PlayStation 5 controller at a cost of 1.8 oz (51 grams) of extra weight.

For PlayStation 5 DualSense controllers

Rii DualSense Rechargeable Battery

Extend your DualSense playtime by 10 hours with this battery that slots into the back of your controller and adds only about 1.8 oz (51 grams) of extra weight.

As a last resort, you can always plug your controller into a power source and play wired instead. This doesn’t have to be your console, as you can connect most controllers to a power source like a USB battery or power adapter and continue playing via Bluetooth.

Hand cramps and general malaise

Proprietary controllers are generally very comfortable, although this depends on factors such as hand size and physiology. Other than adding controller grips like the eXtremeRate PlayVital Xbox Series grips (also available for DualSense controllers), there’s not much you can do beyond replacing your controller.

If you’re having a problem with Nintendo’s detachable Joy-Con controllers, you’re not alone. You can replace your Joy-Con with a Hori Split Pad Pro for a more comfortable portable experience, or get a grip like the Satisfye ZenGrip Pro. You can even mount your Switch on top of your Pro Controller with a Fixture S1.

For Nintendo Switch Joy-Con

Satisfy ZenGrip Pro 3

Make your existing Joy-Cons more comfortable by placing the Satisfye ZenGrip Pro 3 on your Switch. This latest version is compatible with both the original Switch and the revised OLED model.

you get what you pay for

Expensive controllers are generally more comfortable with superior build quality compared to cheaper products. Your choice may be limited to one console, but if you are looking for a controller for your PC, you have a wide range of controllers available to you.

Take a look at our best gaming controller roundup or best retro controller roundup, depending on what you’ll be using your controller for. If you’re looking for a solid controller to use with a PC, Mac, iPhone, or Android device that’s comfortable and sturdy, Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S Controller is our top pick.

For Xbox, PC, Mac and Mobile

Xbox Core Wireless Controller

The Xbox Core Wireless Controller is available in a variety of colors and designs and allows other gamers to join you in local cooperative and competitive multiplayer experiences.

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