What to do when your dial tone comes and goes

If your dial tone comes and goes, start with the basics and examine your phone equipment for damage. If everything seems to be in working order, the problem may be with your phone service, and we'll need to help you.

Start with the basics

If your dial tone comes and goes, figure out the extent of the problem. Begin by examining your phone equipment for damage. The problem could be isolated to 1 (or several phones), a particular jack or even a frayed cord.

Look for simple fixes

These topics are covered in the phone equipment article in more detail, but since they're common causes for this service issue, we want to draw your attention to them.

  • Does your dial tone cut out when your move the cord? If so, check that the cord. Is it snug, both going into the handset and at the wall? If not, tighten it.
  • Check all your phone cords for damage. Even small nicks and cuts can cause your dial tone to falter. Replace any damaged cords. If you find a problem with your inside wiring, read How to get your phone wiring and jacks repaired.
  • If you have a cordless phone, the batteries could be weak and need a charge. Swap them out for some fresh ones and see if that solves the problem.
  • If the problem only happens with one phone, try plugging a different (working) phone into the jack. Next, place a call from the new phone to see if the issue is resolved.

Check your calling features

If the problem happens on all calls and all phones, could the issue be with one of your calling features? It's easy to misinterpret normal voice mail tones as repair issues.

For instance, when you're home and have a new voice mail message, you'll hear a stuttered (or interrupted) dial tone when you pick up the receiver to make a call. This is normal. Simply check your messages, and the special tone will go away. (If you've forgotten how to listen to your messages, we have instructions for checking your voice mail.)