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What Are The Main Symptoms Of A Bad Alternator?

Does My Car Need a New Alternator

Some of the common symptoms of a bad alternator are:

1-    You'll see a check warning lights

2-    You might notice that the headlights are dimmer

3-    The headlights might flicker

4-    Your vehicle's battery might die

5-    You can visually find loose connections

6-    The vehicle's belt might have problems

7-    You'll hear weird noises

8-    Your vehicle might smell like electric fire

The alternator is one of the most critical components in your vehicle responsible for powering the electrical elements. With a bad alternator, you won't be able to start important accessories like the radio, the power windows, the heated seats, and sometimes you'll have difficulty starting your vehicle.

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Learning about the main symptoms of a bad alternator helps you keep an eye for any early damages that you might detect and resolve without needing to spend thousands of dollars. This article walks you through these symptoms and gets you prepared for expected replacement costs for a bad alternator if it happened.

What is the alternator, and what does it do?

Many people think that the battery is responsible for charging all electrical components in your vehicle. However, that's not the case because it's the alternator. The component continuously provides your electric components with an electric current to keep them going while driving the vehicle.

Keep in mind that you might see that the alternator is referred to as the generator depending on your vehicle, especially if you're driving older vehicles. Knowing that the alternator and the generator are almost the same terms helps you look through the vehicle owner’s manual to get an idea about import information the manual might highlight.

The alternator also charges the battery when your engine is running. This way, the battery holds the charge needed to get your vehicle started the next time you want to get the engine going after stop.

The alternator turns many electric components on, including the headlights, the dashboard instruments, the radio, the heated seats, the windshield wipers, the power windows, the electric steering, etc.

The alternator does not have stored electric current like the battery. Instead, it relies on the engine by converting the mechanical energy into an electric current. The mechanical energy is transferred from the engine to the alternator through the drive belt. That's why when the drive belt has a problem, you will see that some of the electric components in your vehicle do not work.

While the alternators do not go bad frequently, there might be a point where you deal with a damaged or faulty alternator. When that happens, you will struggle to deal with non-working electric components related to your vehicle safety which makes your driving experience extremely dangerous.

What are the main symptoms of a bad alternator?

One of the first things to help yourself prevent negative consequences due to a bad alternator is to look for symptoms of a bad alternator. There are plenty of symptoms that you might notice. Some of these symptoms are related to the alternator specifically, while others might be related to other faulty components. Thus, whenever you notice any of these symptoms, it is important that you perform a detailed inspection to determine the root culprit causing the issue.

Let's take a closer look at some of their common symptoms of a bad alternator:

1-    You'll see a check warning lights

A warning light on the dashboard is one of the first common symptoms indicating that your alternator is going bad. Typically, drivers must take warning lights seriously because they might be linked to internal issues that could cost you thousands of dollars, if not the entire vehicle.

In general, the warning lights associated with a bad alternator are more like a battery shape. It might be labeled “ALT” or probably “GEN,” which means either alternator or generator problem. Many people might get confused by seeing the battery warning light thinking that it's a bad battery, but in fact, it is the alternator that's going bad.

2-    You might notice that the headlights are dimmer

When the alternator is about to go bad, it won't have the required amount of electric current to charge all accessories simultaneously. That's why you will still see that accessories are working, but they won't be receiving the right amount of current they needed. Thus, the first thing you'll notice is that your headlights are much dimmer than they should.

Obviously, dim headlights might be related to a problem with the battery probably or any other faulty component, but you must consider checking the alternator as well.

3-    The headlights might flicker

Along with the dimmer headlights, you might even notice that the headlights flicker instead of getting dimmer. This obviously indicates that they're not receiving the right amount of electric current, and there is probably an issue with the alternator.

One way to confirm that it's the alternator causing the flicker headlights is to monitor the behavior of the headlights as you turn on other electric components simultaneously. If you notice that the headlights flicker when you turn on the radio, for example, it is obviously a battle tonight, or that it is not capable of supplying all electric components simultaneously.

4-    Your vehicle's battery might die

Since one of the most important responsibilities of your vehicle's alternator is to charge the battery continuously, you will immediately notice that your car won't start because of a bad battery after you turn the vehicle off.

Sometimes the battery might have sufficient charge to get the vehicle going. Still, because the alternator is bad, all electric charges in the battery will be depleted by electric components because they will rely on the battery instead of the alternator. Since the battery is not designed to supply that looks at components with the right current all the time, it will immediately die, and you will notice that your vehicle doesn't start the next time.

5-    You can visually find loose connections

If you suspected that the alternator is going bad, it is recommended that you perform a quick visual inspection. Sometimes the alternator problem might be minor, like issues with loose connections. Try to look at the alternator, and if you notice that the connections are not tightened enough, go ahead and tighten them and then check whether the problem is resolved.

Of course, you need to follow all safety protocols to prevent getting yourself at risk of electric shocks as you go near the alternator and the battery.

6-    The vehicle's belt might have problems

As we clarified earlier, the alternator receives the mechanical power from the engine through specific belts. When these belts do not work properly or have problems, the alternator will not receive the power, and it will not be able to do its shot by creating electric currents.

Therefore, take a closer look at the engine belts and see any signs of cracks or damages. Then, if you have the right level of mechanical skill sets, go ahead and replace the faulty belts and then check whether the alternator works or not.

7-    You'll hear weird loud noises

If you don't start your vehicle is making weird noises like growling or whining, the problem is more likely related to a bad alternator. When the alternator goes bad because of a broken or damaged pulley, some of the internal components might get loose or hit the surrounding components causing the growling and whining noise.

8-    Your vehicle might smell like electric fire

Another very important aspect of a bad alternator is when the car smells like an electrical fire. In some scenarios, the alternator might be working extremely hard and beyond its capability, causing it to overheat and make some electric fire smell.

As a rule of thumb, whenever you notice any weird smell, whether this smell is good or bad, you must take immediate action and have your vehicle inspected and resolved by a professional mechanic to prevent dealing with other complications that could cost you thousands of dollars.

9-    You have a hard time starting the vehicle

Another important symptom indicating that your alternator is going bad is when you have difficulty starting the vehicle. Obviously, the battery's first and most important element might have gone bad, but the alternator might be the root culprit causing the battery to go out.

As we indicated earlier, the alternator continuously charged the battery as your vehicle was running. Therefore, when you stop the car, the battery should fully charge to get your vehicle started the next time. However, with the alternator is not working properly, it won't be able to charge the battery, and that's where you'll deal with difficulty starting issues.

10- Your vehicle's accessories will be much slower

Finally, I bet the alternator impacts all the electric accessories in your vehicle. Therefore, I noticed that the power windows are not responding as they should; you need to check the alternator and replace it if it's not in good condition.

Again, this issue might also be related to another faulty component which means that you cannot immediately say that it's about alternators just because their customers are slower. Instead, you must have the mechanic inspect the car and tell you what went wrong.

How much does it cost to replace an alternator?

The alternator is not a cheap component, and when it goes bad, it might cost you somewhere between $500 and $1000. Obviously, before you spend this amount, you need to evaluate the situation and ensure that it's worth appearing in your vehicle.

In other words, if you notice that repair costs are getting close to 75% or from your vehicle's value, it might not be worth the fixing; instead, you should sell your vehicle and purchase another one. But, one might wonder, who will accept the vehicle with a bad alternator? Luckily, Cash Cars Buyer is one of the fewest companies that guarantee to buy our vehicle despite its condition and have any major problems like those related to the engine, not only the alternator.

We advised you to get in touch with our team by giving us a call at 866-924-4608 or visit our home page click on the free instant online offer.

How long does an alternator last?

Typically, the alternator lasts if your vehicle lasts. However, this doesn't mean that the alternator won't go back at all. As we indicated before, once you've noticed any of the mentioned symptoms of a bad alternator, you must take your vehicle to the nearest shop and have the alternator replaced if needed.


The alternator is a very critical component in your vehicle that is responsible for powering all electric elements. Unfortunately, when the alternator goes bad, the only option you have is to replace it to get your vehicle going again.

Since the alternator doesn't usually go bad, you must keep an eye for symptoms of a bad alternator so you can get the problem resolved without waiting for other problems to occur that might cost you thousands of dollars.

If your vehicle has other major problems aside from the alternator, it might not be worth the investment getting it to work. Instead, experts suggest that you sell this car and take its value towards a better vehicle that could be used or brand new.

The good news is that Cash Cars Buyer is willing to remove your car within one to three days only! Cash Cars Buyer is one of the top-rated car removal companies in the nation that guarantees to pay you the top dollars and provide you with free towing despite your living location around the United States.

Our process is very straightforward and doesn't take more than a couple of days to get your car removed safely and for the most money.

All it takes you is to:

  • Describe your car’s type and condition
  • Receive our instant free quote
  • Accept the quote
  • Get your car removed and receive your cash payment on the spot!

To learn more about our process and our teen, you can reach out to us by giving us a call at 866-924-4608 or visit our home page click on the free instant online offer.

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