4 Signs Your Automobile Has an Alternator Problem
The alternator helps power everything on your auto from the headlights to the battery to all those accessories you can't do without. It is truly a car's lightning rod, and without it you can land in a world of trouble. How can you spot problems with this device, and what can you do if the worst happens?
1. Lights Out
Since the alternator is like your vehicle's electrical grid, just as in a home, one of the first tell-tale signs of trouble is light issues. If your lights dim or brighten suddenly, this development could indicate the alternator is working overtime to supply electrical power. When you add to the electrical demands by doing tasks like turning on the wipers or the radio, the result could be a flickering effect in your lights.
2. RIP Battery
While a battery can die for a variety of reasons, sometimes the alternator it relies upon for its power is the killer. The reason: a wonky alternator places more stress on the battery so that it can meet your auto's electrical needs, eventually working it to death. The trouble may begin as a slow or difficult start-up for your car.
In order to determine the alternator's potential culpability, you can jump-start the vehicle with your jumper cables. If you're good to go after the jump, then your alternator is probably okay. A voltmeter can also assess the viability of a battery.
3. What's That Noise/Smell?
A pulley and a belt help drive the alternator function. Improper alignment or wear and tear on these structures can induce strange noises many drivers describe as growling, grinding, buzzing, or whining.
In addition, the overheating of a failing alternator can produce an odor similar to that of burning rubber or wires or electrical fires.
4. It's the Little Things
A stubborn power window, a stuck DVD player, or an inoperable sunroof may not raise red flags separately. If you notice a series of electrical mishaps in a short span of time, however, an alternator check-up is probably in order.
If your car does have such features, chances are the dashboard will alert you to a possible problem before the crisis escalates. A vehicle may signal a bad alternator by lighting up one of four indicators: a battery icon, the ALT light, the CHARGE sign, or the GEN light.
Alternator problems can be diagnosed and remedied by professionals, but you can play a role too depending on your comfort level with car maintenance. For one, you can test your alternator's viability with a multimeter. This device measures voltage. An alternator has a voltage output typically between 13.5 and 14.5. Anything outside this range could signify a problem.
If your engine's still operable, you can crank it up and then get under the hood of the car while it's running. Simply take the battery's negative cable off and see if the car stalls or sputters out. If so, a repair or replacement is likely needed. You can also appraise the charging system and check for misaligned belts, corrosion, or loosening bolts. With some luck, you may just need to make these tweaks with the help of your vehicle's owners' manual. Otherwise...
A New Start
If you do need a replacement alternator, you can order one and perform self-installation in about an hour. This process takes an advanced degree of mechanical knowledge, though, and at times even the most skilled amateurs simply cannot gain the needed access. Your safest option is finding a qualified service professional who can guide you through proper diagnosis, secure the right parts, and get you back on the road with minimal stress.
Prevention is the Best Treatment
Just like any other car part, maintenance and upkeep are critical for an alternator. In fact, most alternators should be serviced at the very least every 200,000 kilometers. Some TLC, quality parts replacements, and regular supervision of vulnerable areas like wires, serpentine belts, and connectors can decrease your chances of a massive headache and a massive bill to boot.
With vigilance and care, the alternator does not have to spell the end of your auto dream.
Weston Auto Service is an auto repair specialist located in Fort Collins, Colorado. We are ASE-certified mechanics specializing in foreign and domestic auto repair. For a free diagnostic and full analysis of your car problem please contact us.