July 23, 2022

A Quick Way To Detect Buried Cable & Pipe’s Location & Fault

Excavation is inevitable when you constantly build or remodel properties to prevent casualties or havoc. Several methods have surfaced to locate and trace the underground utilities’ faults successfully. However, the best and the quickest way is with the use of an underground cable locator.

So, if you were struggling all this while, stress no more. We have curated the details about the method to help you detect the buried cable and pipe’s location and fault. Read on!

What is an underground wire tracker?

The device deployed for detecting any fault in underground utilities before starting the excavation process is an underground wire tracker. It is the safest, easiest, and quickest way to efficiently detect buried cable, pipe location, and fault. Furthermore, its application prevents fatalities during an excavation project as nobody knows what cables or pipes are running underground. These can be gas, electricity, power, or even telecommunication lines.

It has two essential parts:

  • Transmitter
  • Receiver

The detection of fault-finding is done through two different methods:

  • Passive location: The location or fault in the buried cable or pipeline is detected through the electromagnetic field in the buried utilities.
  • Active location: Signals are injected into the underground utilities using a transmitter. It is raced back using a receiver. To help you understand it better, here is how the active location method works:

Upon injecting an alternating current into underground utilities using a transmitter, the buried utilities naturally generate electromagnetic fields. The current runs between the positive and negative, creating a specific frequency known as Hertz (Hz).

Next, the cable tracker is used to detect the electromagnetic signals thus generated while the current is oscillating between positive and negative.

Now that you have understood the basics behind the two methods, let us understand them in detail.

Active and passive location detection method (in detail)

Passive location detection method

There exist three different types of modes for accomplishing passive location:

  • Power mode- When an underground utility sends off an electromagnetic field, these signals can be easily detected using a receiver. So, whenever an AC runs through cable lines, it generates an electromagnetic field. We can use a wire tracker to trace it.

But, this mode is possible for live current (current is passing through the wires). Therefore, the buried wire’s location or fault can’t be detected in the absence of current flow.

  • Radio mode – This mode uses radio signals of long wavelength and low frequency. When a radio signal is passed over the ground, it gets into buried metallic utilities, which are re-emitted. This way, the location or the fault is traced.
  • Auto mode – It is a combination of power and radio mode where both the methods are simultaneously arrayed over the ground. The best part is that it can detect the buried cable lines in the first inspection.

Active location detection method

Despite performing the passive location extensively, more than half of buried utilities go undetected. Therefore, it is again unsafe practice while excavating. So, the active location method is used to full-proof the area. Here, the signal is injected into the buried utilities, which are then tracked using the locator.

The three modes for accomplishing active location are as follows:

  • Induction mode – There is no need to connect the buried cable lines physically. Simply a magnetic field is injected into the ground, which compels it to send signals upon hitting any metallic utility. These signals are then detected using a signal transmitter. This way, the location of the buried utility is tracked.
  • Connection mode- It is the most efficient method. Here, a direct connection is established between the signal transmitter output and the buried cable line. This direct connection forms a circuit. It then directly sends the signals to the buried utility line, and the signals’ path is tracked using the device.
  • Locating the signal- You can locate the underground utility by detecting the magnetic field. So, here, a ferrite rod with wrapped wires is used. The locator uses it to track the electromagnetic fields. The smallest electromagnetic signals detected can be amplified with these rods to help the locator receive an input.


The underground wire tracker is the safest and quickest way to detect buried cable, pipe’s location, and fault. We have briefly discussed how the cable locator works.

So, you must detect the location and fault in the underground utilities to prevent any accidents or injuries while pursuing the excavation project.

About the author 

Peter Hatch

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