Keeping your vehicle in good condition is the best way to avoid emergency breakdowns and reduce your yearly auto maintenance costs. Drivers should pay attention to their dashboard warning lights and keep up with factory scheduled maintenance. One component of your vehicle that you should be familiar with is the alternator or generator. Almost all vehicles encounter an issue with their alternator at some point. Bowers Automotive is here to give you some useful insights into alternator problems and repair.
What does the alternator do?
Before we get into the potential faults and defects of an alternator, we need to know what its function is. Your car is full of electrical components. Your lights, windshield wipers, sensors, ignition, AC, and radio all need electricity to work. A standard battery would quickly drain if it had to power all of these components simultaneously. This is where the alternator comes in.
The alternator converts mechanical energy from the engine into electrical energy which is stored in the car’s battery. The serpentine belt, also known as the engine drive belt, is the key piece of machinery needed to convert this energy. While the car’s engine is running, your battery is continuously charged by the alternator. This alternator or generator is responsible for keeping your car’s battery running.
How do I recognize a problem with my alternator?
When an issue with your car’s electrical system arises, it can be difficult to identify the source of the problem. If just one electrical component is failing, such as a single turn signal, or the windshield wipers, you probably don’t need to look any further than that particular part. However, if all of your electrical systems fail simultaneously, it means you have an issue with the battery or the alternator.
Some classic signs of a fault in your alternator to watch out for include a squealing noise made by the serpentine belt or a noticeably loose belt. In order to efficiently convert energy, this belt must be properly adjusted to handle an enormous amount of tension and friction. If it is too taut, it can snap as it wears out. If too loose, it can flip or twist and fail to run smoothly. A quick visual inspection can be enough to notice an obvious problem with the serpentine belt.
Another clear sign of something wrong with the alternator is when your dashboard warning light for the alternator or battery illuminates. This alternator light is usually represented by three letters ALT or GEN, whereas a dedicated battery light will be the symbol of a battery with positive and negative terminals. If you notice either of these lights on, it is important to get your vehicle to a qualified mechanic without delay. Ignoring these lights means you will probably soon end up with a dead battery. In this case, you can ask another driver for a jump start, then get to your mechanic as soon as possible.
Other warning signs of trouble with your alternator are weaknesses in electrical systems. Dim or flickering lights can signal low battery power. If you cannot get your car to start, this could be because the battery has no power and is often due to a fault in the alternator. Of course, if you have left your car parked for a long time without turning the engine on, it is possible that the battery has simply drained.
Remember, your car’s battery charges from the energy produced by your engine, and the battery doesn’t store that energy forever. Complete draining of your battery can happen quickly if you accidently leave the lights or radio on while your car is parked. If you find yourself with a dead battery, you can try jump starting the battery with help from another driver. If the problem is just a drained battery, this will be enough to get you going and give the alternator a chance to start charging the battery again.
Diagnosing an alternator problem
It is possible for drivers to run some basic diagnostics on their battery and alternator before bringing it to a professional. To check the level of voltage your alternator is producing, you will need a digital volt-ohmmeter or multimeter. These are available online and from most large hardware stores. The first step is to test the voltage of your battery while the engine is off.
Take the red lead from your multimeter and place it on the positive terminal of your battery. Place the black lead on the negative terminal of the battery and set your multimeter to read DC volts. A fully charged battery will read above 12.65 volts. If your battery reads below this level, you may have a faulty battery or a problem with your alternator, and you should take your vehicle to a certified technician for further diagnosis.
If your battery reads above 12.65 volts, then continue to the next step. Remove the leads from the battery and turn on your engine. Carefully replace the red lead on the positive terminal and the black lead on the negative terminal of your battery. With the engine on and the alternator running, you should see a higher output of voltage from your battery. Typically, it will read between 13.5 and 14.5 volts.
If your reading is within the normal range, this indicates that the alternator is doing its job. Your vehicle’s electrical failures may be due to a fault in the battery. If the reading shows the same voltage as the first test, then your alternator is not functioning as it should. Either way, you should take your car to an ASE certified technician for a professional diagnosis and repair.
Repairing your alternator
Alternator repairs often involve a simple replacement of the serpentine belt. The cost of this repair can vary between $60 and $200. While the replacement part itself is relatively inexpensive, most of the cost is due to labor. Replacing the belt involves disconnecting the battery, removing the belt, unbolting the alternator and removing the wire connectors. This can be a time-consuming process, and some models are more complex than others.
To ensure a quality alternator repair and a fair price, bring your vehicle to Bowers Automotive in Colorado Springs. Our technicians have over 26 years of experience in dealing with alternator problems and repair. When you entrust your vehicle to us, you can expect the highest standards and responsible workmanship. Our auto shop is fully stocked with the latest diagnostic tools and sensors for working on electrical systems. Ignition systems, batteries, alternators, and computer sensors in all makes and models of vehicles routinely repaired here. For more information and to schedule an appointment, visit our website today.