What are the signs of a weak alternator?

By Julia Freeman

When we push the start button or turn the key, we naturally expect our cars to spring into life. In order for this to happen, the car relies on its battery, which in turn, relies on the alternator. When you think of what a car battery is running, the heating, lights, windows, sound system, charging ports, and so forth, it is no surprise, despite the large capacity of car batteries, that it needs a little help. This is where the alternator comes in. It works when the car engine is running by mechanically turning the power from the engine, via a drive belt, into electrical power.

Car Maintenance

This helps the battery to run the electrical systems of the car while re-charging it at the same time. Inside the alternator is a system of rotors and brushes, which, like all mechanical components, wear out over time and will eventually need replacing. While replacing the alternator or associated parts is a relatively simple job, failure to get them attended to can have a domino effect on other engine parts and the bill could soon mount up. Luckily there are some telltale signs that all is not well, so we can take action before we get that dreaded clicking sound as we turn the key, instead of the smooth engine start that we expect.

Things to look out for

One of the easiest ways to spot any signs of alternator problems is the dashboard warning light, some cars have the more generic battery warning light, but it could be that the battery is fine. If the alternator is not working, the battery will run out of charge soon enough. The main function of the battery is to give the starter motor that initial boost of power to get the car going. Whatever the warning light is, it is time to take the vehicle to be checked by a specialist.

In our experience, a dead battery will very often mean that there are alternator problems rather than that the battery has come to the end of its life, so it's wise to get it checked before potentially wasting money on a new battery. With a weak alternator, you may notice the lights become dimmer or they start to flicker. This is really obvious at night but during the day, it can be seen on the dashboard display too. If the lights get brighter as the revs increase and fade again as the revs decrease, this may be a sign that the alternator is struggling.

A related problem to this is slow or faulty electric windows, heated seats, or a sound system that behaves erratically or cuts out now and again. The engine management system in modern cars will prioritise where power goes in the event of any loss or reduction and so may limit the power getting through to non-critical systems. This may also manifest itself in frequent stalling or a reluctance to start, as the car struggles to find enough electrical power to turn the engine over.

You may also hear a whining noise. While any strange noise coming from a car should always be diagnosed, in this case, it could be the voltage regulator overloading the alternator. Some problems with the alternator can cause it to overheat, so you may get an unusual smell akin to burning plastic or burnt electrical wire. Faulty or damaged wiring could also lead to the failure of the alternator.

The local garage you can trust.

These are some of the ways to identify alternator issues. If your vehicle is showing signs of any of these or you just want peace of mind, you can book one of our free online vehicle checks. At Protyre, our years of experience tell us that a car that is regularly checked and serviced means more cost-effective and efficient motoring for its owner. Problems diagnosed early very often mean less costly repairs.

We offer the full range of services and diagnostics to keep you motoring safely. Our local garages are staffed by teams of qualified fitters who can undertake any work your car may need at a time that is convenient to you. In addition to taking care of any mechanical issues that your vehicle may present, all of our local garages have large stocks of tyres for when the time comes and your car needs some new rubber. We offer a full range, including world-leading brands such as Pirelli, Falken, Bridgestone, and Sumitomo. Our tyre professionals are always on hand to give you expert advice. Why not book online for your free vehicle check with us at Protyre today.

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About the author

Article Author Photo
By Julia Freeman
Julia is Head of Brand Marketing for Micheldever Group and loves engaging with customers and the business as a whole to deliver their automotive needs.
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