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Is My Alternator Okay?

March 26, 2019 3 min read

If you’re planning on getting anywhere in your car today, your alternator needs to be in working order. That’s because a car cannot start if the alternator is not functioning as it should. You might think that the electrical current needed to get your car going comes from the battery. You’d be partially correct. The battery does supply some electrical current. However, the alternator is an engine’s main source of electrical energy. In fact, the alternator charges the battery which creates its limited supply of electrical energy.

The job of the alternator is to take a car’s mechanical energy and convert it into electrical energy. This electrical energy feeds the engine, lights, radio, and other features such as air conditioning and electric windows. The battery alone cannot provide sufficient energy to the car to carry out all these functions. When an alternator fails, the car may be able to continue functioning on stored battery power alone. But it will soon fail due to its limited supply of electrical energy leaving you stranded by the side of the road with a flat battery and a non-functioning alternator.

Regular inspection of the alternator is the best way to make sure it doesn’t fail one morning when you’re running late. An alternator may begin failing well before the signs and symptoms manifest themselves. This is because the battery’s electrical energy supply may compensate for a failing alternator. Alternator problems are quite rare in cars. Usually, the alternator will only begin to give a car owner some problems after 15-20 years of driving.

Signs and symptoms of a failing alternator:

  1. Dashboard warning light

There is no warning light for an alternator. When there is a problem with the car’s electrical energy supply, the battery light will illuminate. This indicates that there is a problem with either the battery or the alternator. It’s advised to check both out as soon as the warning light comes on.

  1. Dim lights

If you notice that your car’s lights are not as bright as they should be, your alternator could be failing. A dimmer dashboard display usually accompanies the dimming of the car lights.

  1. Unusual engine sounds

You might become aware of a grinding or whining noise in the car’s engine. This could be caused by a broken or damaged alternator part. The alternator spins so that it can make electrical energy. If any part of it is worn out or broken, it will make a noise.

  1. A burning smell

The alternator is driven by a serpentine belt. When the belt becomes damaged or worn, there is additional friction as it turns. This leads the belt to start burning or smoking. A smell of burning rubber is an indicator that the alternator belt needs to be replaced.

  1. Cutting out after jumpstarting

When a car doesn’t start, the easiest way to remedy the problem is to jumpstart it. This entails attaching jumper cables to the battery terminals of your car and another car. The other car’s battery sends electrical energy to your battery. If your car starts with a jumpstart but dies right afterward, there’s a good chance your alternator isn’t working.

If you’re not much of a mechanic, it’s advisable to get your car to an expert if any of these signs and symptoms appear.