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Car Alternator: All you need to know

By March 18, 2019 No Comments

Although most of you reading this article probably drive your vehicle daily, not everyone knows how the different systems of the engine work. On the other hand, If you are a car enthusiast or an at-home mechanic you are better informed about the complex systems.

In this article, I am going to explain what exactly is the alternator in your vehicle. I will also outline different problems and possible repairs.

What is the car alternator?

All cars, with the exception of some hybrid vehicles, have an internal combustion engine. In other words, they generate power by burning oil or fuel.

The alternator in the vehicle is the tool that supplies electric power to help run your vehicle and acts as the charging system for the battery. Therefore, it can be said that the alternator is one of the most important components to keep your vehicle alive and functioning. The battery and the alternator work together to keep your car running accompanied by a regulator. As the alternator spins, the regulation device confirms that a steady flow of electrical power is given to the battery to keep everything charged.

Tuned Subaru WRX

What are some common Problems with the car alternator?

 The most common way you will find out that something is not running properly is through the display lights on your dashboard. If your battery-shaped warning light comes on and stays on, this indicates there is most likely a problem within the charging system.

However, a failed charging system doesn’t automatically indicate its the alternator. From the lights, it’s up to you or your mechanic to find out if its the battery or the alternator.

For the most part, a warning indicator light will turn when you turn on the ignition. You may see a battery warning light or another that reads ´CHARGE´.

Symptoms:

Dim or Idling lights

Beyond just the common warning light indicator, another way you will know there is something wrong with your alternator is with the headlights. In the case that the alternator is not correctly charging the battery, a common symptom is the dashboard lights and headlights become dim or idle.

Whining or Buzzing sound

If your vehicle wants to indicate a problem, more often than not, your engine will speak to you with warning signs. A clear indication of a problem within the alternator may be strange sounds coming from your engine. These sounds will let you know there may be a problem with the belt or pulley.

Smell of burning rubber:

It is never a relieving feeling to open up the hood of the car and smell burning rubber but on the bright side its a strong indicator of the problem at hand. If you have experienced this smell, look closely at the belt of the alternator. This smell is normal to a belt that is worn down and close to breaking.

How to fix alternator problems?

Before beginning repairs on your alternator, you want to be completely sure the alternator is the problem and not the battery at fault. In order to accomplish this, you can use a voltmeter to measure the voltage of electric power released from your alternator.

Your battery voltage should normally be above 12.65 volts. Therefore if your voltmeter gets a lower reading, you will have a better idea if it is the alternator of the battery.

When you are certain it is the alternator, the repairs can be quite simple to do yourself. However, you may have better luck with a mechanic. You should first research a diagram of the alternator so you know about the different parts and know how to put it back together.

First, you will need to disconnect the battery and remove the belt. From there you need to unbolt the alternator from the engine and disconnect the wires. With the alternator removed from the engine, you will be able to replace the different parts depending on the problem.

Some common problems include wearing down of the carbon brushes or worn down contact rings that might need replacing. If you are uncertain of the exact cause of your failed alternator, take it to a mechanic in order to complete the repair without further damaging the alternator.

Bottom Line

The alternator is essential to a functioning and healthy engine. Thus it is important to make sure all parts are running efficiently. Luckily, car code readers can help and give you a clear indicator of different symptoms to help you know the root of the problem before the problem becomes unrepairable. If you are a DIYer or car-enthusiast, you may be familiar with some quick fixes to repairing the alternator of your vehicle. For beginners, it is suggested to do your research before taking apart the alternator yourself. Moreover, don’t be turned off by the mechanics, most repair shops can help without a high cost.

Scott Huntington

Author Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is an Automotive YouTuber and writer who loves cars, sports, and business. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or email [email protected].

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