6 Symptoms of a Failing Alternator
If you experience flickering headlights, stalling or strange noises when driving, your car isn’t haunted; chances are it’s just a failing alternator. The alternator is a key component in your car’s electrical system, turning the energy from the crankshaft into useful electricity to power your vehicle’s electrical systems and to help the battery recharge. When it starts to fail, it can create a domino effect of electrical problems that can ultimately cause a breakdown.
- The indicator light
It’s quite likely that your vehicle is equipped with a warning indicator light in the dashboard titled “ALT” or “GEN.” This is often the first indicator that the alternator is going bad. Don’t ignore this indicator, even if you are experiencing no other symptoms. Take the vehicle to a reliable automotive specialist for a diagnostic.
- Headlights are dim or flickering
Flickering or dim headlights are a strong signal that your alternator may not be working correctly. The alternator provides power to the headlights, so the flickering usually means the alternator is struggling to perform.
- Other electrical failures
When the alternator is going bad, other systems that are powered by the alternator may start to act up. These can include the power windows, power locks, dashboard lights, air conditioning, even your car radio. Other things might be causing these failures, but it’s worth taking it to a trusted auto repair service to have it checked out.
- Strange noises
This seems like a vague symptom–after all, lots of things can cause unusual noises in the car. However, sometimes alternator failure can cause some of the bearings to fail in the engine, creating unusual rattles. The alternator might be the culprit, especially if accompanied by some of the other symptoms we’ve mentioned.
- Car stalls or has difficulty starting.
Your car isn’t just running on gasoline; it also runs on electricity (even though it might not be one of those hybrid vehicles). The alternator provides power to the spark plugs that ignite the gasoline in your engine. When the alternator is failing, there might not be enough power in the spark plugs to keep the engine alive, which can cause it to stall for no reason while running, or to have trouble starting. Ignore this symptom, and your car eventually won’t start at all.
- Battery dies
Obviously, batteries sometimes fail on their own–but a bad alternator can actually cause the battery to drain because it’s failing to recharge it. If your battery goes dead, have the alternator checked when replacing the battery so it doesn’t happen again.