car care tipsvehicle maintenance

Signs Of A Failing Alternator

An alternator is part of the car that delivers electricity to the parts of the car that need it. It powers the headlights, interior lights, and accessories. The alternator is driven by the crankshaft, and is usually located near the front of the engine. Your alternator usually doesn’t stop working without showing signs of failure. While driving you will notice subtle hints that over time your cars alternator is dying.

  • Flickering battery light: Your battery light doesn’t indicate a problem with the battery itself. The light comes on when the alternator’s doesn’t provide enough output. If the alternator isn’t working properly, the battery light may flicker on and off, or on all the time as the alternators output fails.
  • Dim lights: What happens to a flashlight with a dying battery; the light slowly dims over time, until it finally goes out. Your internal lights and headlights may do the same thing as the alternator fails to provide enough power for all the car’s systems.
  • Extremely bright lights: When an alternator starts to go bad, it may produce power surges. Surges will cause the car’s lights to randomly become very bright. The effect is usually temporary and in short bursts.
  • Unusual noises that come from under the hood: Growling and whining noises are most commonly associated with alternator problems. When you try to start the car a clicking noise may also occur. That sound is the starter trying to connect the alternator to the battery.
  • A burnt odor: If the alternator works too hard, it heats up. As a result, the connecting wires may overheat and melt or burn. The smell of burning rubber or hot wires alone isn’t sufficient to diagnose an alternator problem, but together with other signs it can indicate failing alternator.
  • Dead battery: Maybe you have to jump-start your car in the morning and then leaving work hours later it has to be jumped again. This occurs when the battery tries to “pick up the slack” for the alternator, by trying provide long-term power for the car. If the battery’s voltage is still fine, the alternator may be to blame for the dead battery.
  • Accessories or instruments stop working: The electric windows may stop working, the radio may cut out, or your cell phone won’t charge from the cigarette lighter. Late model cars are programmed with a list of what gets power first. Non-essential items are the first to go.

When the alternator fails for good, your car won’t start and you will end up stranded somewhere. If you suspect a problem with your alternator or the other connected elements, schedule an appointment with your local mechanic or dealer that services your car or truck.

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