A vehicle’s alternator is an integral part of the electrical system. It helps keep your battery charged, which in turn keeps your car running by providing power to run lights, electronics, and other accessories. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a fully functioning alternator, it can cause your battery to go dead or, worse yet, overheat.
That’s why it’s essential to know if your alternator is going bad and what to do about it. In this article, we’ll cover some of the signs to look for that can indicate a faulty alternator and give you some tips and tricks to make sure you know what to do when that happens.
What Could Cause an Alternator to Fail?
Several things could cause an alternator to fail. What kills an alternator can be as common as the alternator getting old and wearing out due to age. The rubber belts that run the unit wear out after time, and you’ll need replacements.
A loose belt or other issues with the belts that run it can also lead to an alternator failure. In some cases, problems with other electrical components, such as a faulty voltage regulator, also result in a failed alternator, but these aren’t nearly as common as other failures.
In some instances, an alternator fails because of heat damage due to engine overheating or excessive strain on the generator itself caused by misalignment of gears or another mechanical issue caused by years of wear. In these cases, a rebuild or replacement of the existing alternator may be necessary to fix the problem.
What Are Signs/Symptoms that Your Alternator is Going Out?
The warning signs of a failing alternator include dimming headlights while the engine is running and warning lights on the dash lighting up when the engine isn’t running, indicating a lack of battery power caused by a dying battery. In addition, some cars will not start at all with an alternator issue, which is another sign of a problem.
Some other symptoms include a high-pitched noise coming from the engine bay when the car is running. This may be a belt slipping because of a bad bearing in the alternator or an issue with another component in the drive train. A lack of performance when driving can also indicate a problem, as can dim lights and other electrical components not working while the vehicle is running.
Sometimes multiple signs and symptoms will appear all at once. However, this isn’t always the case. More often than night, you might notice one of these signs first. If you don’t take care of it right away, then another sign will appear. If you go too long without getting your car looked at by a proper mechanic, you’ll likely eventually experience all the signs of a bad alternator. However, by that time, it might be too late.
Is it my Alternator or Battery Going Bad?
There’s a good chance it’s not your alternator going bad. If the car won’t start or is running poorly, then you may suspect a problem with the alternator because that device provides power for your entire electrical system.
However, before assuming that’s the issue, make sure your battery is up to snuff first by testing it using a digital multimeter or a hydrometer. You can also charge it up and take it to an auto parts store for testing, but make sure the battery is fully charged before taking it in because you don’t want them to test an undercharged unit. If your battery fails the test, get a replacement right away.
What Happens When Your Alternator Locks Up?
When an alternator locks up, it means the bearings have failed. This is caused by a lack of oil in the bearings due to a leaking or dirty oil seal inside the alternator. When this happens, it causes friction which leads to excessive heat and ultimately failure of the unit. This is what causes the noise, warning lights, and lack of performance when driving.
Can a Bad Alternator Lock-Up an Engine?
A locked-up alternator can cause severe damage to an engine. In addition, a bad bearing will heat the engine block enough to warp the metal, which is a costly repair. To reduce the risk of this happening, make sure your car always has oil in the engine and that it’s clean.
A dirty or low oil level can cause problems with the alternator, prop shaft, and other components. If you suspect an alternator problem, take your vehicle to be looked at by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
Can You Start a Car with a Bad Alternator?
You shouldn’t start a car with a bad alternator. It’s essential to check the battery and electrical components before starting a vehicle as this can cause damage that will only need to be fixed later on down the road. For example, if you try to start a car with a bad alternator, the engine won’t start, and the battery will be drained, even more requiring replacement. In worst-case scenarios, the electrical system in the car can be damaged, leading to a costly repair.
How Can I Temporarily Fix My Alternator if it Locks Up?
If a bad alternator locks up, you should replace it, but in the meantime, there are some things you can do to get your car running again. One option is to get another vehicle and use jumper cables or another battery that has enough power to turn the engine over long enough for the other one to charge. However, this will only provide a temporary fix as the battery won’t have enough power to last long.
Can Cleaning an Alternator Make it Work Again?
Cleaning the outside of an alternator will not restore it to working order. However, if there is dirt causing the bearing to wear out, cleaning can help. Cleaning the outside with a wire brush will allow you to see when the bearings are spinning freely again. Unfortunately, this only works in some instances when all that’s needed is some cleaning.
It usually only happens when the dirt is not baked on too hard because of heat, allowing you to clean it off with a wire brush. If the dirt is extremely baked-on or the corrosion has gotten into the bearing itself, it can be really difficult to clean, and you might just need a replacement.
What Can I Do to Maintain and Extend the Life of My Alternator?
There are a few things you can do to keep your alternator running longer. One thing is keeping it clean, so dirt doesn’t build up and get baked on by heat, causing excessive wear on the bearing. Another is making sure you’re getting the right amount of power from your alternator, so it stays cool and continues to work correctly.
The best thing owners can do is preventative maintenance by getting the vehicle regularly serviced, so problems are detected early on before they become major issues that cost a lot more money to fix later on down the road. If there is already an issue, don’t put off taking your car in for service; if left too long without being looked at, parts can wear out and need to be replaced – sometimes at costly prices.