It all starts with a few problems that may seem minor. A warning light may flash on your dashboard or your headlights may seem dimmer; your gauges may flicker. You may notice an odd smell or even a growling noise coming from under your hood. It may sound like a case of demonic possession, but most likely it is just a problem with the alternator. Without attention, alternator problems can begin to cause you inconvenience ranging from slower starts to a dead car.
Alternators are relatively simple, but they play a critical role in the operation of your vehicle. An alternator is essentially responsible for turning the crankshaft’s mechanical rotational energy into electricity, which it then uses to power your car’s accessories, ranging from headlights to power windows to heated seats. The alternator also keeps the battery fully charged so that it maintains the power needed to start the car. Alternator failure almost certainly will not cause any other damage, but it can be a huge inconvenience for you if your car is failing to start at the time you need it most. A failing alternator may also place more strain on the battery and cause it to die faster.
Five common signs of alternator trouble that you can pay attention to are:
Most late model cars have a warning light specifically to denote alternator problems. This light can be shaped like a battery, or read “ALT” or “GEN”, meaning alternator or generator. Many people see this light and assume that they have a battery problem, but it is often actually alternator trouble. If the alternator’s output drops below a preset limit, then this warning light will illuminate. Because of this, the light may only flicker on for a second at first, or only turn on when you turn on your accessories. As more power is demanded by your vehicle’s accessories, the alternator needs to work harder to maintain the necessary voltage, and once it drops below the preset number, the warning light will be switched on.
2. Dim headlights
Since alternators are responsible for powering your car’s electrical needs, your car’s accessories will get weaker as the alternator dies. Because of this your headlights or instrument panel may get dimmer, your power windows may slow down, your heated seats may not be as warm. In newer cars there is often an order of which accessories lose power first based on which are most essential; windshield wipers and headlights usually begin to dim last because they are essential to vehicle safety.
3. Sounds and smells
There are also some less concrete signs that can point to alternator trouble. There may be a growling or whining noise caused by the pulley or belt that drives the alternator falling out of alignment, or the scent of burning rubber due to the misaligned pulley/belt creating friction.
4. Dead battery
If you do not take care of a problem with your alternator, then your car battery may die, even if you don’t leave your lights on overnight. The battery in a car is not designed to provide long term power; only enough power to run the starter motor for the few seconds needed to set the engine in motion. One easy way to test if your alternator is dead is to jump start the car then remove the cables as quickly as possible. If your alternator is failing to charge the system, the car will die again soon. If the car runs and continues to run, then the problem is most likely with the battery.
5. Broken or Loose Connections
If you don’t notice any other symptoms but your car battery is still dead, then most likely the alternator is still fine but a wire has come loose or disconnected. Alternators route their electricity through cables and wires. A loose or broken wire could lead to the same problems as a malfunctioning alternator.
Here at Expertec Automotive of Huntington Beach, we can take care of any of your alternator problems and keep your car running efficiently and performing to the best of its abilities. If you think that you may be having problems with your car’s alternator, call our certified mechanics today at (714)-848-9222 to schedule an appointment. ExperTec is Huntington Beach’s favorite AAA approved auto shop!