Don’t Let Your Car’s Alternator Leave You Stranded

An alternator is one of the most commonly dysfunctional auto parts. Without a properly functioning alternator, your car will simply refuse to run. A faulty alternator can leave you stranded, but luckily, a low-performing alternator often shows warning signs that indicate its malfunction before it ceases to work. Being able to recognize these warning signs, and knowing what to do next, may prevent you from getting caught in an inconvenient or dangerous situation.

One sign that your alternator is going bad is that the battery of your car will frequently go dead. Though there can be other causes for a dead battery, an underperforming alternator is often the case-this lack of a power source will prevent your battery from recharging. Another warning sign may be a metallic clanging that changes with your engine speed. Often, this indicates that the shaft bearing on the alternator is about to break. This is a relatively common problem with alternators that have been in use for a long time.

The best way to prevent being stranded by a bad alternator is by having it tested on a regular basis. It is recommended that you do so every time a tune-up is performed on your car-about once every year. If you drive your car more than the average person, you may want to have a tune-up or maintenance service completed more frequently. A technician can easily test the output of your alternator. If you suspect that yours is going bad or not charging your car properly, you can have it tested free of charge at many automotive parts stores. In most instances, mechanics can even test the alternator while it is still installed in your vehicle.

With the advancement of technology, a car’s alternator is more important than ever. Taking a look at the newest cars on the market, many feature a wide variety of electronics; all of these require battery power to operate. The computer in a newer car needs power operate spark plugs, fuel pumps, and the engine, among other things. To illustrate how much pressure an alternator must handle, let’s take a look at all of the mechanisms it must provide power to: digital gauges, headlights, stereo systems, in-car DVD players and televisions, just to name a few. All of these rely on the vehicle’s alternator for power.

Older cars, such as a classic Austin Healey, do not place as much stress on their alternators. An older Austin Healey relied more on mechanical systems than electrical systems to operate, and therefore did not require as much electrical power to run.

If you like to do your own auto repair, and you have some experience with working on cars, then replacing your car’s alternator may be a feasible process. The hardest step in completing this task is being able to access the mounting bolts. The difficulty of this varies with the year, make, and model of the vehicle that you are working on. Older cars often have the alternator in the front of the engine, toward the top, making for a very easy replacement. Newer vehicles, especially those with front-wheel drive, may not have such an accessible alternator. Front-wheel drive cars usually have the engine installed sideways, meaning there is little room to access the mounting bolts.

Whether or not you should pay a professional to replace your alternator is purely a matter of confidence in your own mechanical abilities. Don’t forget that you will have to remove the serpentine belt in newer models. This may be a good opportunity to replace your serpentine (alternator) belt.

If you are experiencing electrical problems with your car, or if you frequently find yourself with a dead battery, then it is time to have your alternator tested. A faulty alternator may be the source of your problems.