When your car doesn’t start, many people first assume that the battery needs replacing. However, that is not the only reason for it, and replacing the battery could be costly. So while a weak battery may not have enough power to start your engine, why isn’t it fully charged in the first place?
As batteries age, they become less efficient and eventually fail. A dead battery is a common symptom of a bad alternator, but other electrical failures could cause a seemingly good battery to have insufficient power to start your car. For example, a bad or failing alternator, a broken or slipping belt, or a short circuit in the car’s electrical system can all lead to a dead battery or insufficient electrical power to start your engine.
The alternator is a big deal when it comes to your car’s electrical system. It is responsible for restoring the power your car battery loses while supplying entertainment, climate, engine management, and other systems with the power they need to run correctly. A faulty alternator can cause various electrical problems, eventually leading to vehicle breakdown if left unchecked. The following are the top ten signs of a failing alternator to watch out for to prevent alternator failure:
- Flickering or dimming headlights
- Visual signs of a worn belt
- Indicator or check engine warning light
- Odd noises
- Weak or dead battery
- Weird burning smell
- Car shakes while driving
- Cooling system or air conditioner problems
- Electric failures due to loose wire connections
- The car won’t start and has stalling symptoms
If you notice your headlights, dome light, or dash lights are flickering or dim, or your windshield wipers are moving slower than usual, it indicates that your alternator may be failing. Other bad or failing alternator symptoms include power seats or windows operating more slowly than usual.
A worn or loose belt driving the alternator could also be causing problems. If you see the warning light coming on, that may mean you could have a worn belt, dead battery, or alternator, and it’s essential to follow the factory-recommended maintenance for your vehicle.
Most modern cars have a dashboard indicator or light on the dash that lets you know if your alternator is failing, shaped like a battery, and sometimes labeled GEN or ALT. The indicator light may only trigger when multiple electrical components are in use, depending on how much electricity your car uses and how much life your alternator has left.
Slipping belts may generate a squealing noise, especially when you depress the gas pedal, and bearings beginning to wear out may make a growling or grinding noise. Also, you might hear a whining or grinding noise if the alternator’s bushings are faulty.
If your battery is weak or dead, you need to determine if the charging system is not working correctly or if the battery is at the end of its life cycle. Jump-starting your car can help confirm the belts are tight and the other symptoms mentioned above are visible. Installing a new battery with a bad alternator can fail to charge the battery and leave you stranded again. If your car cannot start even after its battery is fully charged, the problem is most likely with the alternator, and you might need to jump-start frequently.
The serpentine belt drives your engine’s crankshaft pulley and alternator pulley. If the tensioner on the belt is not applying enough pressure, the belt may slip and heat up, causing a burning smell. A loose or broken belt can also cause this issue. Always check the condition of the belt that drives the alternator.
The alternator works in conjunction with a system of belts to provide power to your car. If one of the belts doesn’t turn freely, it can heat up from excess friction and produce a burning rubber smell. If you detect an electrical fire-like smell, it could indicate that the belt is slipping on your vehicle’s alternator pulley, resulting in low alternator output. Tightening the belt can prevent this issue, but if the smell persists, you should seek professional help to evaluate your car for symptoms of a failing alternator.
Car Shaking While Driving
A car shaking while driving could be due to misfiring spark plugs. The alternator generates the power required to create a spark, and if it’s not generating enough electricity, the engine may run roughly. This can cause the engine to shake while driving or even make it challenging to start. On the other hand, if the alternator has failed or the belts are broken, the vehicle may only be running on the battery. If you notice the check engine light coming on or strange dimming light behavior while driving, you may decide to take it to a professional mechanic to eliminate the possibility of an alternator failure.
Cooling System or Air Conditioner Problems
The power steering and air conditioning cooling system is also driven by a belt in the engine. A loose or broken belt can cause the cooling system to stop working, and the alternator will not generate electricity. In addition, the AC can fail immediately if a belt breaks or is not tight enough. Check your belts to confirm they are in good condition and secure.
Loose wires and electrical components in the vehicle’s electrical system can drain the battery and cause the alternator to work harder to produce enough electricity. You may smell hot wires when the alternator provides more electricity than necessary to overcome a loose connection. In addition, if a diode in the alternator fails, it can’t generate the DC current required for your car’s headlights, dashboard lights, and other electronic systems to operate.
Car Won’t Start and Has Been Stalling
There can be many reasons for difficulty starting your car, but a dead battery is one of the most common. If the engine starts, it may run roughly if the spark plugs don’t receive enough voltage to ignite a spark. Check for loose or broken belts if your battery is dead. Use a code reader to read the error code if the engine or alternator light is illuminated on your dash. Verify that the connections to the battery and alternator are secure, and clean the battery terminals if there is a lot of corrosion around them. Keeping the battery terminals clean can prevent poor connections. Finally, schedule an appointment with your auto repair shop to check the condition of your electrical system and confirm whether your alternator is failing.
Tips for Dealing with Signs of a Faulty Alternator in Your Vehicle
If you notice any typical signs of a bad alternator in your car, such as dimming headlights, a burning rubber smell, or electric failures, it’s essential to take action immediately. Some ideas of choices you may make are:
- Schedule an appointment at a total car care center or auto repair shop for a complete inspection. A mechanic can check the car’s electrical system, spark plugs, and crankshaft pulley and make any necessary oil changes.
- If you have to jump-start your vehicle regularly, it’s a sign that your car may have a weak or dead battery due to a bad alternator. Get car maintenance done as soon as possible.
- Look for common warning signs of alternator failure, such as air conditioning failure, whining noise from worn-out bearings, and electric failures due to loose wire connections.
- Keep your car in good condition by getting oil changes regularly and checking the car owner’s manual if the check engine warning light comes on.
- If you can’t identify the problem yourself, schedule an appointment with an auto repair shop for a diagnosis.
- To extend your car’s or truck’s life, keep the battery in good condition and follow factory-recommended maintenance suggestions.
- If both the battery light and the check engine light are on when you start your car, there’s a possibility that your alternator is going bad.
In conclusion, taking action is essential if you notice any signs of a bad alternator in your vehicle. By following these tips and getting the help of a qualified mechanic, it can be less expensive in the long run to avoid repairs and instead keep your car running smoothly.