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How to Tell if Your Alternator is Bad: Everything You Need To Know!

How to Tell if Your Alternator is Bad: Everything You Need To Know!

If you hear a rattle coming from your car or the headlights dim and flick, fear not, it is not haunted by a ghost. There is a very good chance that your alternator is bad. When your alternator fails, your battery is soon to follow. You should have enough time to drive to a mechanic.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE


Before you decide where to take your car, how much it will cost, and whether or not it is worth it to fix the vehicle, you may want to know a bit about what the alternator does and how to tell if there is something wrong with it. 


What an Alternator Does

The alternator produces the energy to power a car’s electrical system. It also charges the battery. 


Alternators were once known as generators and they basically work just like a generator.  A car's gas engine spins wheels under the hood which rotates a wheel on the alternator and that generates energy. It works in a manner that is similar to a dam. Water cascades down the dam and causes wheels along the way to generate energy. They have been used in personal automobiles since the 1960s. 


There has been much progress in alternator technology over the years. Originally, the parts were only used to generate a current that employed an external regulator. These days we have cars equipped with load request charging systems. Systems such as these are directed by the automobile’s Engine Control Unit. When an engine needs more load, the ECU relays a signal to the alternator asking for it to start charging.


The alternator has several different parts that are all critical to its operation.


Pulley: The pulley is attached to both the rotor shaft and the drive belt system. When this pulley is turned by the engine’s drive belt system it initiates the process of charging.


Voltage Regulator: The voltage regulator controls how much power the alternator will distribute to the battery. It does this in order to balance the process of charging. Regulators have different functions.

Rectifier: The rectifier is used to change alternating current into direct current (DC) this happens when the alternator is charging.

Slip Rings: The slip rings provide direct power to the rotor. They are bands which are comprised of an electrically conductive material.

End Bearing: The bearings ensure the rotation of the rotor shaft.

Rotor: The spinning mass inside the alternator that rotates via the pulley and drive-belt system is called the rotor. It behaves like a spinning electromagnet.

Stator: The stator is comprised of several coils of wire that are wrapped around an iron ring. The stator is located outside the rotor and this causes there to be a magnetic field.


Symptoms of a falling Alternator

There are a few things to look out for that can be indicative of a bad alternator. A bad alternator can damage other components in the car.


1. Dim lights

The main purpose of the alternator is to provide power to the starter, ignition, and all of the electronic components of your car. If the alternator begins to go out, the headlights and dashboard lights may begin to dim. You may notice the windows of your car going up and down more slowly and the automatic door locks may hesitate before they close.


2. The Warning Light Illuminates 

Today’s vehicles include dashboard warning lights that let you know when the alternator needs to be looked at The light may say ALT or you may see a picture of a battery. The exact point at which the light illuminates varies from car to car. 

3. Weak or dead battery

If your car’s battery dies an early death. it is a major sign that your alternator is starting to go. Whenever there is an acidic odor, your battery is leaking fluid, it might be due to an overcharging alternator. 


The alternator can be checked by measuring the battery's voltage when the car is running, It should not go above 15 volts. Make sure to check all the wires to the alternator for proper connection.

4. Weird smells

Your car’s alternator works in concert with a group of belts. If one of those belts is not able to turn freely, it will produce extra friction. Too much friction can make the belt to heat up, this will create a burning rubber smell. The smell is a sign that the belt is slipping on the alternator pulley and that causes the alternator to perform poorly.


You can always try tightening the belt If a belt is too tight it will kill your bearings in a hurry. If tightening the belt doesn’t work, you may want to take the car to a professional mechanic.


If your vehicle has a spring-loaded style tensioner, it should be inspected every 50,000 miles when you change the belt. If you have a car with a manual tensioner, your owners manual should tell you the proper level of tension.


5. Strange Noises

An automobile alternator has many moving parts. These parts produce an eclectic current. When a part breaks, you may hear a grinding noise. When bearings on the inside of the alternator are worn out it can cause this type of noise. 


Every alternator is mounted on bushings which are round metal shaft-like components. If the alternator is mounted improperly on the bushings, you may hear a rattling noise. If the bushings themselves go bad, you will also hear a strange sound. 


6. Visual Observation

Sometimes the belt connected to the alternator can be the real culprit. Belts that are improperly connected.  If you look inside the engine compartment, you can determine if a belt has not been tightened correctly. 

A new alternator will cost you around $500 to $1000 with labor. You can also get a refurbished alternator for around $300 to $500. If you need to get your alternator replaced, you will have a few options for who to go to for repairs.

Using an Autobody Shop

Most people in the United States prefer to go to autobody shops to get their cars repaired. They are less expensive than dealerships and you can talk to the mechanic directly.


The best place to find a good mechanic is on the AAA website. The site has a list of approved mechanics that have been vetted for you. It is always a good idea to check the Better Business Bureau website to see if there are any complaints against them. 


Be sure to ask what kind of training a mechanic has and how long they have been at their current shop. Ask them where they will get the parts they will use. They may be able to get the alternator through a junkyard. You can call a scrap metal dealer yourself to see if you can find the part. 


Having your Vehicle Serviced at the Dealership

The dealership is almost always more expensive than an auto body shop. However, there are a few perks to letting the dealership work on your car. They are sure to have your car’s parts in stock, so you don’t have to worry about a week of riding the bus or calling an Uber while you wait for parts to come in. The mechanic who services your car will also have experience with your particular make and model. They will have attended training classes in your car and they will even have formal certification in the bran.


If your car is worth less than the amount of money it would cost to replace or repair your alternator, you may want to consider selling it. There are a few ways you can get money for your old car. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages.


Selling Your Car Online

There are plenty of websites on which a person can sell an old car. You might think that internet sales are a good way to unload used vehicles. In fact, internet sites are one of the slowest ways to get rid of your car. 


If you try to sell your car on one of these sites, they will want monthly payments. You may have to pay for multiple months of advertising. When you list your vehicle, you will be in competition with quite a few other people trying to sell cars. These sites do not limit the number of cars that they show


It may be months before anyone even sees your listing on one of these sites. If you do get an interested buyer, you will have to take time out of your day to meet the person. You may have to meet up with more than one or two people before you can unload the car. 


Selling anything online can be dangerous. Criminals will often find their victims on sites such as Craigslist and Backpage. It is best to meet potential customers at a location other than your home.


Taking Insurance Money

If your alternator was knocked around in an accident, you may be able to get money from automobile insurance. There are two kinds of insurance rules in the U.S., fault and no-fault.

If you are in a no-fault state, your insurance company should pay the bills no matter who caused the crash. In a fault state, the person who caused the accident is responsible for paying its bills. 


An insurance company will base the value of the car on what it was worth seconds before the accident. There is not a real protocol for figuring out the value of the car; the insurer will decide how much the vehicle was worth.


Insurance companies have departments whose job it is to keep their money in house. They are likely to undervalue your car. You will have to take the amount of money they offer you or hire a personal injury attorney to negotiate with them. 


Trade-in Your Car

If you decided to buy a new car, the salesperson is likely to offer you a trade-in amount for your old vehicle. Car dealerships are savvy when it comes to negotiations. They may offer you much less than your vehicle is worth because they believe that you will want to avoid the trouble of selling your car elsewhere.


In other cases, a dealership may offer you good money for your car. If they do this, make sure to read the offer on your new car very carefully. They are likely to tack the amount of the trade-in they have given you back onto the price of the new car.


It is a good idea not to mention that you have a car to trade in when you first go to the dealership. Let them give you a final price and then tell them about your used vehicle. Get a few offers from junk car lots and independent buyers. When you tell them about the trade-in, let them know what other offers you have.  

Sell the Car to Us

Cash Cars Buyers will give you a very fair price for your old vehicle. We take most any car that was manufactured between 2002 and 2018. If your car is older than that, you can still contact us and we will see if we can make you an offer.


Simply fill out our online form and we will call you right back. You will need to provide your name, email address, and phone number. We will also ask for some basic facts about your car. We will make you an offer and schedule a time for pick up. 


Our friendly team member will arrive right on time. They will perform a fast inspection, pay you in cash, and tow the old wreck away. Click below to get started.