Car owners tend to develop a feel for when there is an issue with their cars. A different sound or a fluctuation in the way the car drives or operates in other ways can be a sign that something is wrong. By paying attention to these signs, you can avoid being stranded on the side of the road. In the case of electrical malfunctions, like a malfunction with the alternator, the signs aren't always obvious. Here you can learn what those signs are so you can change your alternator before it goes out altogether.
Alternator Light Comes On
It might be an obvious sign that something is wrong with the alternator if the alternator light on the dash comes on, but people tend to ignore it because it doesn't always stay on. That's because alternators fluctuate in the amount of voltage they put out. They do this to compensate for the times when the motor is cranking slower than the alternator, like when the car or truck is idling. If the alternator isn't able to put out enough voltage or is putting out too much, the dash light may come on, but not stay on. Test the voltage of your alternator. It should be between 13.6 and 14.3 volts. If it's not within this range, it's time to change the alternator.
Burning Smell or Squealing Sound
The alternator is connected to a belt, which is turned using the pulleys it is connected to. A burning odor may be a sign that the belt is about to break or one of the pulleys isn't working correctly. Inspect your belt for cracks and/or burns marks. Replace the alternator belt if it looks worn or is broken.
Slow Start or Not Starting at All
Your alternator sends electric charges to the battery as a means to filter the electricity that goes to your system, but also to charge the battery. If your battery isn't fully charged, your car may have a hard time starting. This could be a sign that the alternator isn't able to charge the battery, but it could also mean the battery is bad or cables are loose. Make sure your cables are secure and free of corrosion, then charge the battery using battery cables or a charger. If the battery takes a charge, the problem is with the alternator. You may be able to start the car, but it will lose power as you are driving it because the alternator isn't able to take over when the battery runs out of power.
Loss of Power
Newer cars rely more on electricity than older ones did because there are so many features that didn't exist years ago, like heated seats. Because of this, many cars have a system in place that regulates where power goes when the alternator is losing power. That means your radio might not work, but your headlights will. If you notice that some of your accessories aren't functioning or your lights get dim, there may be a problem with the alternator.
One sure sign that there is a problem is when you car dies while you are driving it, but starts back up after you charge the battery. This means that your battery is the only source of power because the alternator isn't working.
If you experience any of these signs, it's time to change your alternator. Alternators aren't that hard to change as they are held on by just a few bolts. However, you may have to pay a core charge, so it's best to take your alternator off and take it to the store with you to avoid this charge. You'll give the cashier your old alternator when you buy your new one.