The alternator of your car is what makes all its electrical accessories work and keeps your battery alive and functional.
There are many signs of a bad alternator, from being unable to start the car to burning smells and whining noises.
Whatever symptom you might notice, we will cover it and help you determine if the alternator is the cause of your automotive troubles.
The alternator is a relatively simple part of the car, but it is vital for almost every process that requires electricity.
Let’s get started right away!
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Bad Alternator Symptoms
As the alternator is responsible for charging the battery and powering the electronic accessories in the car, many electrical issues can arise if an alternator is bad.
The most common signs and symptoms of a bad alternator are the following:
- Dead battery
- Flickering lights
- Burning smell
- Whining noises
- Warning light
In the following sections, we will cover each of these signs and symptoms so you can determine whether the problem lies in the alternator, or if the culprit is elsewhere.
As mentioned previously, perhaps the most important task of the alternator is to charge the battery.
As a result, a bad alternator will not charge the car sufficiently which will soon result in a dead battery.
Whenever your car has a dead battery, it is important to determine whether or not the alternator is the culprit. A bad alternator will empty a new battery very quickly.
A good way to test if the battery or alternator is responsible is to jumpstart the car.
If the car keeps running after the jumpstart, the battery is the likeliest culprit. A car with a bad alternator will usually shut down shortly after.
There is also a relatively simple way to test an alternator.
It is no secret that your car’s lights need constant electricity to work properly.
A bad alternator will produce little electricity or do so inconsistently, which can make the lights flicker.
This can apply to any type of light but is usually easiest to notice in the headlights.
The light will not necessarily flicker. Some might be brighter than usual, while others will be dimmer. This is all due to the inconsistent voltage produced by the alternator.
A more serious symptom that you might notice is a burning smell of rubber or electric wires.
The burning smell can be caused by a myriad of reasons, including a faulty serpentine belt, overheating alternator, or even an electrical fire.
These symptoms can have serious consequences. Therefore, the best thing to do is stop the car and investigate where the smell is coming from.
Bad smells are not exclusive to bad alternators but, whatever the cause might be, it should be investigated as soon as possible.
Possible culprits of bad smells include the air conditioner, brake pads, coolant, exhaust leaks, and much more.
A bad alternator may produce a variety of noises, including high-pitched sounds or knocking, depending on the specific problem.
In most cases, a bad alternator will produce a whining noise unless the bearings are deteriorating, which will create a knocking sound.
Much like the smell, noises are not exclusive to alternators.
This is why you should always consider other symptoms that may show up alongside these signs to have a more accurate sense of where the problem lies.
In most cars, a warning light will indicate if there is something wrong with the alternator or battery.
An alternator in poor condition could make the dashboard blink or flicker for the same reasons that headlights do.
If you are on the road and this light illuminates, you should turn off all the non-essential electronics to get a few more miles and stop at a safe location to address the problem.
An alternator that does not work properly will definitely reveal itself in one way or another.
In most cases, there will be a few signs, such as flickering lights, that are almost exclusive to alternators. However, there are also more general signs and symptoms.
For example, a drained battery could be due to a faulty battery or a faulty alternator. It is important to eliminate one of those possibilities before replacing a battery.
Other bad alternator symptoms include whining noises, a burning smell, or a warning light illuminating on the dashboard.
Whatever the symptoms and signs that appear, you should check and resolve the problem as soon as possible, especially if you notice a burning smell.
Always consider all the symptoms and signs to see the bigger picture as many of them will overlap with other problems.