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How To Diagnose Alternator Problems And Failures

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

How To Diagnose Alternator Problems And Failures

Ben Mester
September 1, 2011

On any car there are a number of electrical systems that all need to work together to allow the vehicle run correctly . These components are the battery, the alternator, the solenoid, and the starter. Each of these systems has an important role in the running of the vehicle. If any one of these components fails, the vehicle won't go very far. You'll be pretty well stuck cold. But troubleshooting the various problems can be a fairly large challenge. When you experience an electrical issue , it can be very challenging to figure out what specific component is causing the malfunction . But besides the battery, the alternator is generally the most common electrical system on a car that fails. This article will assist you in determining whether you're having alternator issues or if you are experiencing some other type of electrical malfunction.

Alternator problems usually arise while you are driving down the road. But before we get ahead of ourselves , let's quickly talk about just what an alternator is and just what it does. An alternator basically is like a mini generator. It's run by the motor and produces electricity to run the many various electrical systems of the vehicle such as lights and stereo . It also recharges the battery once the vehicle starts. When the alternator goes out while you are moving along the road, the car will start to lose power, either somewhat gradually or else fairly quickly depending on whether the alternator goes out all at once or if it fails gradually before ultimately dying. This power loss will eventually cause your vehicle to lose charge and die . The alternator is needed to power the coil, which in turn gives the motor its combustive capability. So you can't run the car without a properly functioning alternator.

If you suspect your alternator is faulty but it did not go bad on you while you were driving down the road, there is another method of trying to diagnose the problem. The alternator is necessary to run the car but not to start the vehicle. Often, if the alternator has failed , you still might be able to start the car . If you aren't quite able to start the car, you'll definitely have the ability to jump start the car . The battery will quickly lose power if the alternator isn't able to recharge it though. So if you are able to start the car but not go very far before the car dies on you, then you may want to have a buddy follow you in another car so they can jump start your car and help you get to the mechanic.

Or, if you don't want to spend the money, you could always change the part yourself. Alternators are fairly standard and they usually run about $250 or so. So if you're feeling adventurous, an alternator is the part with the large mass of copper wire with a metal cage surrounding it . It is circular and a little bit smaller than a soccer ball . Of course, if you dont have any mechanical experience, it is not recommended that you work on your own car . But if the alternator is easily accessible and you feel like you've got the knowhow , then you might want to think about changing it yourself and saving yourself a bit of cash

There isn't anything like working on your own vehicle . It can be so satisfying and rewarding. For more tips on ways to save yourself money and hassle with your vehicle , visit :

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