Every motorist's worst nightmare is a stalled car right in the middle of traffic. While there may be a couple of causes for this, one of the most common is a faulty or broken alternator. This just adds to more reasons why regular maintenance and checks on your car are key. So before you ask," How much does it cost to replace an alternator?" here's a couple of things you should probably know.
What Is An Alternator?
Generally, a car that comes with an internal combustion engine has an alternator. An alternator is a small charging system that's connected to your car's engine for electrical power. This is the part that's responsible for the electrical energy that charges the battery and supplies power throughout the electrical system of your vehicle. Without it, your car's electrical system would not be able to support things like running the air conditioner, power the headlights or engine lights or your radio.
The car alternator converts mechanical energy into electricity that your vehicle needs to power the electrical components in your vehicle, ranging from your radio to taillights and here's how it all works:
a) The engine of your vehicle spins a belt that's attached to its alternator using a pulley system
b) The pulley rotates your alternator's rotor shaft and the surrounding set of magnets that go around the coil, therefore generating a current
c) This Alternating Current (AC) is then channeled into the car's rectifier. This converts the AC power to the Direct Current (DC power) that's needed to run your vehicle's electrical systems and other electrical components while also recharging the car battery.
d) The car battery stores any excess electricity that's created in this process for times when you'll need power and your vehicle's engine isn't running, for instance, at start-up. Alternators are pretty standard in most vehicles, although some modern cars and hybrid models don't come with one.
What Are The Signs Of A Broken/ Failing Alternator?
Most alternators are built to last for roughly 10-15 years, with proper maintenance, without causing any trouble. But eventually, you'll probably need to replace, when you notice any of these signs :
1. Flickering Headlights
Dimming or flickering headlights that are not functioning correctly are a clear indication that something is wrong with the car's electrical systems. The dim headlights are a way to indicate that the alternator is probably having problems in performance. You'll need to replace it before the dimmed headlights become completely unusable.
2. Overly Bright Lights
As the alternator begins to fail, it will give an inconsistent amount of voltage to the electrical components of your car. Generally, this is in the form of over-or under-performing equipment, such as its headlights. These may be either too dim or too bright. You may also experience an erratic flickering of lights that goes from dim to bright vice-versa.
3. Dead Battery
Car batteries will automatically die on their own after 3-6 years. But if your vehicle's battery prematurely dies, then it could probably be as the result of a bad alternator. This might likely be because the battery drained itself while recharging the alternator.
Obviously, your car will need both electricity and gasoline to run. The alternator gives your car's spark plugs the sufficient power it'll need to ignite the gasoline in the engine to get the car running. In the event that your car stalls seemingly for no reason, then you should first take a look at your car's alternator. In other cases, with a completely dead alternator, your car might not start at all.
4. Strange Noises
Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of the faulty car parts always make some seemingly odd noises. This helps let you know that there's a problem, but it can be a little embarrassing at times. However, if you specifically hear something that sounds like a rattle, then it might actually be the bearings in your car engine, which might be failing due to the bad alternator.
5. Foul Smell of Burning Wires Or Rubber
The foul odor like that of a burning rubber or of wires could be an indicator that parts of the alternator are slowly starting to wear out. One reason for this could be because the alternator's drive belt is constantly under tension and friction, plus it's also running close to a hot running engine. So, it may continuously wear out over time, therefore emitting an unpleasant burning rubber smell.
6. Additional Electrical Issues
Many parts of your car run on electricity. If you have any issues operating the windows, locks, or air conditioning, then you should take your vehicle into an auto shop to get the alternator checked out.
What's The Alternator Replacement Cost Vs. Rebuilt Alternator?
When you start noticing some of these signs and certain issues on the internal parts, it's definitely time for a visit to your local auto parts store to get the work done. Just be prepared for a hefty bill, especially if it will be an alternator replacement. Some people might consider repairing the vehicle's alternator to save money on the alternator cost.
However, trying to save on a few hundred dollars won't be such a viable option compared to replacing it in the long term. There are a few key factors you'll also need to consider, but the main one is the fact that the alternator repair cost can actually end up being a lot higher than actually replacing it. This is because the diagnostic fee, replacement cost and labor costs vary with each vehicle, thereby affecting the total cost.
An alternator repair
An alternator repair will require a diagnosis, the disassembling and removal of the existing alternator. After the repair of the alternator, there's the installation of new components, testing them out, and then reinstalling the alternator. Some people go for rebuilt alternators, especially for the expensive vehicles. Other than the remanufactured alternators in the aftermarket parts, some modern vehicles have alternator repair kits that you can find at your local auto parts store.
An alternator replacement
A replacement of the damaged alternator is simply buying a new alternator, taking out the bad alternator and fixing in the new one. It's important that as the mechanic replaces your alternator, that they inspect the surrounding parts as well since the alternator has an effect on your car's entire charging system.
If you're looking to explore all your options, you can ask your mechanic for an itemized alternator repair quotation and then compare it to the cost of the replacement. The itemized quote will show you exactly what you're paying for, how much of it is going into the labor and how much is going into the parts, whether for fixing or replacement.
Can I Safely Drive With A Bad Alternator?
Well, technically, you can still drive even with your faulty alternator, but it's highly not advised. Basically, the alternator is supposed to charge your battery, so when it goes bad, your battery will drain quicker. So, in addition to paying for a new alternator, you might also end up needing to pay for a new battery as well.
Additionally, a 12v battery will run for approximately 30 minutes to an hour after your alternator stops working, so you also won't have much time after the battery goes on its reserve. In that case, it's probably best to drive immediately to your nearest auto shop and have your alternator replaced.
Potentially, you can drive for a short distance with your faulty alternator, but it's generally not recommended. Since the alternator charges so many other different parts of the vehicle, driving while having a bad alternator could impact various of its functions.
Generally, a faulty alternator will often lead to a dead battery, but if not fixed, it could actually ruin your car battery as well. Simply put, your wallet and you are way better off getting the bad alternator replaced before it can lead to any more issues in your vehicle.
Should You Replace The Battery As You Replace The Alternator?
a) Serpentine belt - Your car's alternator is run using a serpentine belt, and on nearly all the late-model cars, the serpentine belt, or drive belt, is normally used to also drive the main pulleys. This belt must be removed in order to remove the car's alternator. If the belt has not been replaced in a while or is showing some signs of wear or cracking, this is the perfect time to replace it since it should be part of the labor cost of removing the alternator. This means that you save on the extra cost of labor and only have the added price of the serpentine belt.
b) Harness plug - In some but rare instances, the wiring harness plug that usually plugs into the alternator might also need to be replaced. This only happens when excessive heat causes the plastic plug to melt or deteriorate.
c) Battery - Just starting your vehicle takes quite some energy from your battery. If it weren't for the alternator that's always recharging it, it wouldn't last for more than a couple of starts. When the alternator fails, the vehicle still needs the power to operate and finds this power from the battery. Unfortunately, without the alternator recharging it, it could get some damage and need replacement, but if you're lucky, the battery might survive the strain.
Does Car Insurance Cover An Alternator Replacement?
Alternators die from the normal wear and tear, so typically, insurance policies don't cover the cost of a new one. The only exception would be if it's damaged in a car crash. However, the insurance still comes in handy with the roadside assistance policy when you can get towed to the nearest garage.
This means that a bad alternator won't leave you stranded or have you straining your battery while trying to get to the nearest mechanic shop. So an, insurance does come in handy and is key.
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