blank 05/28/13 08:13AM Alternator Troubleshooting, Auto Electrical Systems, Do It Yourself Repairs

Car Won't Start: Could It Be The Alternator?

Car Won't Start: Could It Be The Alternator?

Drivers tend to think that a modern automobile will run for years without more attention and maintenance than the occasional oil change. Knowledge about the engine is important to avoid driving the vehicle when it needs professional attention.

Certain symptoms arise when the alternator begins to fail, such as:

• Warning lights on the dash will begin to flicker
• Headlights could lack strength
• Gauges flicker in various situations
• An odd smell is noticeable at times
• Growling sounds begin to emerge

The car has not been taken over by demons, but the owner should seek a professional consultation to diagnose the severity of the problem. Waiting too long could result in being stranded on a roadside at the worst possible time. An
alternator repair could be in order if one, or more, of these symptoms is present.

 

Warning indicator lights
Warning indicator light – On cars and trucks built in the last 10 years, the instrument cluster includes a warning light dedicated to the alternator. A voltage output meter is connected to this light to alert the driver to alternator performance outside the pre-set range.

All electrical equipment on the car, such as lights, heated seats and windshield wipers, receives power from the alternator. Failure to produce sufficient output for all of the accessories will cause the warning light to illuminate. Drivers begin to notice that certain combinations of accessories can run without a problem. Revving the engine can cause the warning light to go out until the engine returns to idle.

An alternator that works properly will produce more power when demand within the system rises. Inability to adjust to the requests from each accessory calls for an alternator repair.

Dim light beams

Headlights, interior lights and dashboard lights will be noticeably dimmer if an alternator repair is needed. Revving the engine causes the lights to return to normal brightness if the alternator is beginning to die. In severe cases, certain accessories will turn off to direct electrical power to the highest priority features.

Drivers will notice that a heated seat turns off if the headlights and windshield wipers are running. Internal priorities prevent the most important accessories from being turned off before the lower priorities. The driver must see down the road to drive safely. He does not need the heated seat or the radio to see where he is driving.

Sensory overload

The alternator has an induction motor inside that creates friction to convert mechanical energy into electricity. Malfunctions will be noticeable to the astute driver. Each of these situations is noticeable when the car is running and standing still.

Visible problem – A glance under the hood reveals a broken, or missing, belt that should be attached to the alternator. Without the belt, the alternator is not attached to its source of mechanical energy. A trained mechanic must conduct the alternator repair to set the tension correctly.

Audible alerts

An engine that “growls” or “whines” might have an alternator in the early stages of decline. A pulley that is not aligned with the belt can cause the bushing or bearings to wear out, which creates this noise.

Foul odor

 An alternator that is failing can create a burning smell. Additional friction on the belt is generated when the pulley is out of alignment, or bound. Overheating in the alternator causes heat to be transmitted along the wires that are carrying too much power through the stator and rotor. Hot wires give off a “burning rubber” smell.

Battery or alternator

A driver usually assumes that a car that will not start has a dead battery. The running engine recharges the battery when the alternator is producing sufficient electricity to operate the accessories. Malfunctions in the alternator will cause the battery to die. A battery that cannot retain a charge will fail eventually.

The driver can determine if the battery is dead by starting the engine and removing the battery cables. A car that continues to run has an alternator that is working properly. An alternator repair is required if the engine will not run without the battery attached.

Loose alternator connections – An experienced mechanic will follow a methodical series of steps to determine the root cause of the alternator issues. Lose cables will not carry electricity through the car’s systems to support the electrical needs of accessories. The mechanic will face challenges when attempting to locate the broken wire.

Take appropriate action

Drivers are wise to pay attention to the symptoms that arise when the car is running. Experimentation is important when determining if the alternator is unable to support multiple accessories. Turn on the radio, wipers, lights and power windows at the same time to gather important feedback for the diagnosis. Various sequences will reveal the number of accessories that can run concurrently. This information can assist the mechanic in the final determination of the alternator problems.

 

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