If you’ve been experiencing problems with your car’s electronics, such as dimmed headlights, glitchy infotainment system, or stuttering power windows, there’s likely an issue with one of the crucial components inside the engine bay.
Although it could be due to a minor issue, such as loose battery terminals or battery running low on life, there might be some serious underlying problem or malfunctioning electronic parts, such as the alternator.
An alternator is a necessary part of every car and serves the purpose of generating electricity that powers all the electronic components, contrary to the concept that the battery powers everything in your car. Let’s understand in depth what an alternator is, and what factors drive its price. How much does its replacement cost, on average? And which is the best choice for you in detail.
How Much Does It Cost To Replace An Alternator?
An alternator replacement can cost you somewhat in the range of $300 – $1,000. Depending on the quality, taxes, and labour charges, the total cost of getting an alternator replaced can vary a lot from place to place.
What Factors Define the Price of an Alternator?
All the alternators might look the same to you, but there is always a difference in quality, price, and capacity. Let’s understand the factors influencing its price;
Capacity or Amperage
The price is defined by the actual amperage of the alternator. Where average alternators are rated at 60-70 amp, some heavy-duty alternators can have a capacity up to 200 amperes and cost much more than average.
Bigger engines require a matching alternator to generate adequate electric power for all the onboard accessories. Particularly, the commercial heavy-duty engines require a much bigger alternator and it is priced accordingly as well.
Car Make and Model
Different cars have varying types of alternators and depending on the price and segment of the car, the price of the alternator might also vary.
There are different connection types, such as 1-wire and 3-wire connections. The 3-wire alternators are the newer type and cost more than the 1-wire configuration.
While aftermarket options might look economical, they are no match for high-quality OEM alternators that can cost you up to $650. Looking at the long-term reliability and overall performance, OEMs are a one-time and much better investment than remanufactured alternators.
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How Exactly Does An Alternator Work?
An alternator is a small device located inside the engine bay, usually at the front side. Although it might look small in size, it serves a great purpose, it generates electricity that powers all the electronic components, such as power windows, lights, sunroof, infotainment, air conditioning, and all the sensors.
It is driven by a serpentine belt which propels the rotor inside the alternator and generates the electric current. The power generated is in the Alternating Current (AC) form, which is converted to Direct Current (DC) before being supplied to all the electrical components.
In contrast to the popular concept, the battery only serves the purpose of starting the car, while the real power is generated by the alternator. While running, the alternator also charges the car battery and keeps it topped up.
What are the Signs of a Faulty Alternator?
It is obvious that when the powerhouse of your car has gone bad, you’d definitely get some signs, but it is also crucial that you know when to decipher those signs and get your alternator fixed or replaced.
Check Engine Light
The most obvious sign of a bad alternator is the illuminated Check Engine Light. When your car senses something wrong with any component, it generates an error code and flashes the light to warn you.
If you’ve recently noticed the check engine light on your dashboard, get your ECU scanned immediately. The error codes might point toward a failing alternator and this is the most obvious way of checking it.
If your car isn’t starting or its engine missing while going down the highway, it could be due to a bad alternator. The starter provides the electric jump to the battery and it helps start the car, if your alternator isn’t juicing up the battery, it would start to die slowly.
Issues with Lights
Imagine travelling at night and your lights start flickering or your taillights not working properly. Although it could be a burned fuse or a loose wire, if it has happened regularly, you must suspect a fault in your alternator and get it checked immediately before you are left stranded on a hillside without power.
Glitchy Electronic Components
If your power windows are acting up or getting stuck midway, A/C not working properly, the infotainment screen going dark abruptly, or car sensors not responding, it is likely that the alternator on your car has malfunctioned.
As the alternator is the sole source of electricity in your car, you should get it replaced before all the amenities in your car are rendered useless.
Burning Smell or Crackling Noise from Under the Hood
If you sense a burning smell or some weird rattling noise coming from under the hood, and the temperature gauge needle is at a normal level, suspect a problem in the alternator. It is one of the most used and actively functioning parts of your car, that could go bad if not looked after well, and must be replaced immediately if found to be at fault.
How Often Should an Alternator Be Replaced?
Unlike the timing belt, spark plugs, or brake pads, manufacturers don’t specify any timeline for alternator replacement as it is a part that doesn’t get worn out or needs any lubricant.
If maintained well, and not overloaded with continuous stress, an alternator works fine for 6-8 years, or in other words, it can last up to 150,000 miles easily.
Can I Drive with a Faulty Alternator?
If the problem has just appeared and it doesn’t seem serious, you can drive for a while and take your car down to a workshop for repair. It is recommended not to take longer journeys or ignore the Check Engine Lights if the electronic components of the car are showing problems (e.g check engine light keep flashing)
Immediately take your car to an expert technician if your alternator is showing problems, and get it replaced immediately.