5 Signs Indicating an Alternator Problem
While the alternator is a relatively simple component, it plays a very critical role in vehicle operation. Essentially it converts the mechanical energy of the crankshaft into electricity through induction. This is used to power auto accessories, which can range from headlights to windshield wipers. The alternator keeps the battery fully charged, which is responsible for giving the necessary electricity to start the car.
Since the alternator is connected to other critical vehicle systems, it can create some mechanical difficulty and this will further complicate diagnosing problems in the car. However, paying attention to the following five signs will make it easier to know if the fault is in the alternator.
1. Warning light
On the instrument panel, in most cars built in the last decade, there is a warning light to indicate if there is a problem with the alternator. In general it is a battery-shaped light, although others show the designation “ALT” or “GEN” (for alternator or generator). Many people see this signal and instinctively think they have a problem with the battery, but it actually refers to the alternator.
The light is connected to a computer, which monitors the alternator’s output voltage. If it is above or below the preset limit, then the dashboard indicator turns on. Once the power is within range the signal remains off. One of the first signs that you have a problem with the alternator is when the light comes on for a second and then turns off. Or maybe it only comes on when you activate various car accessories. For example you are driving at night and you turn on the lights, then it starts to rain and you turn on the windshield wipers, at that moment the warning light comes on. When you turn off the cleaners, the indicator does this too.
Most of the alternators have a power output between 13 and 14.5 volts, they try to keep this electricity at a constant level all the time. The more electricity required by headlights, windshield wipers, stereo, heated seats, rear defroster and so on, the alternator requires more work to maintain the necessary voltage.
If the alternator in your car is not working to its full potential, or if too much is requested and does not meet its potential, the voltage will rise or fall from its optimum level, then the warning light will come on.
2. Light intensity
Since the alternator supplies the electricity that the car requires, when it begins to lose its potential, it is immediately noticeable in the accessories. You will notice when you drive your unit that the intensity of the front lights decreases, or at the time the dash indicators, like speedometers or tachometers, simply stop working for no reason. Other parts of the equipment, such as heated seats or power windows, can work very slowly.
3. Sight, Sound and Smell
These symptoms are grouped together as sense signals. They are less conclusive than a warning light; however, these will help you figure out if there is something wrong with the alternator:
View: Mechanics are used to constant customer complaints related to alternator, then open the hood to find some missing band, that is spinning around the engine block or is loose. A quick check of the alternator belt for cracks, wear and other signs of constant use can give you some indication of future problems. Likewise, the belt must have the proper tension to properly operate the alternator; too much or too little tension can affect its performance.
Sound: Usually before an alternator stops operating, a “growl” or “whine” sound is heard. The alternator is driven by a belt in conjunction with the crankshaft pulley. The alternator pulley typically rotates two to three times faster than the crankshaft pulley, to produce the necessary power required by the engine or pieces of equipment. The alternator pulley turns on an axis, which is supported either by bearings or bearings. If the pulley is not aligned with the belt, if the bearings are worn, these can generate the mentioned noises and are indicators that you may have a problem.
Smell: the essence of burnt rubber or cables, is frequently accompanied by a failure in the alternator. A pulley that is not aligned or is not spinning freely will cause friction in the belt, causing it to heat up and then smell charred. The charred odor from the wires is generally caused by an overheated alternator, which is overworking to generate electricity.
4. A dead battery
A car that doesn’t start has a problem with the starting system. When you turn the key, you will hear a click and then a tick but nothing happens. Later, that noise disappears, after several attempts. The immediate problem is usually that the battery is dead, but you may wonder why is it dead?
When an alternator begins to fail, the battery begins to lose its power, since it is the alternator that is responsible for keeping it charged.
In order to diagnose whether the problem is the dead battery or the alternator, it is relatively easy. Simply when someone passes you power to start the vehicle, remove the wires and wait. If the alternator is failing to recharge the battery, the car will stop working. Now if the car is still running, it is very likely that the problem is in the battery.
You have to be a little cautious, since a dying battery will be able to recharge in the moment but it will not last long and in the end it will run out, despite the efforts of the alternator. To test a battery you can do it with a voltmeter or take it to specialized stores where you can check it.
5. Loose or broken connections.
If the battery is dead, like other electrical parts of the unit. It means the alternator is producing electricity, but it is not getting anywhere or it is not the right amount.
The alternator’s electricity is supplied through large cables or small wires. Any problem within them or connections of these with other parts, can reduce or stop the energy generated by the alternator. Occasionally a symptom of this is having very bright lights, this means the alternator produces more electricity to overcome the resistance of a bad wire, loose or broken connection.
Another failure factor could be the rectifier diode. Alternators produces alternating current, but car accessories require direct current to operate. The rectifier changes the current from alternating to direct. Without that vital component operating properly, the electricity produced by the alternator cannot be used.