Although it's a relatively simple part of an automobile, a properly functioning alternator is critical to the functioning and efficiency of any vehicle. When an alternator fails, the vehicle may not run, and you may notice electrical issues and low fuel mileage.
What does an Alternator do?
Basically, an alternator converts mechanical energy into electricity through a process called induction. The electricity is used to power anything that uses electricity, like headlights. Because it connects the mechanical and electrical parts of a vehicle, it can be affected by mechanical failures and can cause electrical issues.
How Can I Tell if My Alternator is Failing?
There are several ways that your car can signal an issue with the alternator, here's a few examples that may mean you need an alternator repair:
1. The Warning Light
Most vehicles have a warning light for the alternator that says "ALT" or "GEN" or is shaped like a battery, which can signal an issue with the alternator. ALT stands for alternator, and GEN for generator. Although the battery light may come on, it's best to have it inspected before you purchase a new one because it can also signal an issue with the alternator.
However, this dashboard warning light may not trigger unless you're using a lot of power, or the alternator needs immediate attention.
2. Headlight Issues
If you notice that your headlights are dim or flickering, there may be an issue with your alternator. This symptom is caused when the headlights don't receive a constant flow of power or enough power to keep them running smoothly.
This issue can also cause interior lights, rear lights and other electronic lights to dim. Alternatively, you might notice that your cigarette lighter or USB port aren't charging things as well as they used to or your speedometer or tachometer might suddenly stop working. Pay attention to anything powered by electricity; from heated seats to the radio - these less critical functions may stop working before the headlights.
3. A Dead Battery
The alternator is responsible for charging the battery and is an essential part of a well-functioning vehicle. When the alternator fails, the battery cannot get enough power. A dead battery can signal a problem with the battery or with the alternator. If you're not sure which is failing, try charging your battery with an external charger and then running the vehicle. A failing battery won't charge much. Although the vehicle will start, you'll notice the lights quickly dimming. If the alternator is failing, the vehicle may still have trouble starting.
4. Stalling or Difficulty Starting
Vehicles need both petrol and electricity to start, which is why when the battery dies the car won't start. In addition to charging the battery, the alternator provides energy to spark plugs that ignite the petrol in the engine. Without this energy, the car may not start or it will stall out at any time.
5. Smells and Sounds
Many things can cause strange sounds and smells in a vehicle. If, however, it's an unusual sound or smell, it usually means that something is wrong and it shouldn't be ignored. A failing alternator can cause rattling sounds or you may notice a grinding or whining sound. This is because the alternator functions with a belt and a pulley. If they aren't correctly aligned or if something is worn out, you'll hear them rubbing.
You might notice the smell of burning rubber or a smell similar to an electrical fire, which both signal that it's time to have your alternator checked out by a professional. When the pulleys, belts and accessories are out of alignment, they create excess friction which creates heat. An overheated alternator can send too much electricity through the wires, leading to a burning smell. If you are unsure if you need a new alternator, the team at Autospark can help. Whether you just need diagnostics and advice on your electrical issues or a replacement, contact us to learn more or for an alternator repair quote.