Alternator

Alternator Facts (Failing Alternator)

If you notice that your headlights are flickering at night, that's something to pay attention to. While there could be many different things that could cause that problem, one possibility is your vehicle's alternator.

The alternator takes mechanical energy from the engine and turns it into electricity, in essence a generator.  The current it makes charges the battery and supplies power to the vehicle's electrical systems.  An alternator is made up of several different parts: a pulley, magnets, coil wires, brushes and a voltage regulator.  While your vehicle is running, these parts get a good workout and, after time, they begin to wear out.

Other symptoms of a failing alternator include your vehicle's lights dimming, the power windows going up and down more slowly than they used to, your power seats not moving quite as fast as before. 

Another sign of a worn out alternator is engine stalling.  Vehicles with fuel injection require a certain amount of power, and when an alternator is going bad, your engine could stall because the alternator isn't cranking out enough of it.

An alternator on its last legs can also fail to charge your battery properly.  Sometimes your battery isn't getting enough charge from the alternator and will go dead.  It also can be the opposite problem. The battery is getting too much power and will cause the battery to get hot.  Your vehicle may give you a clue on the instrument panel.  If you see any of these warning lights, take note: Check Engine, ALT, CHARGE or one that looks like a picture of a battery.  If that light is on, it's time to have your service facility give it a look.

As mentioned earlier, there are other components of your vehicle's electrical system that can fail, such as a worn out serpentine belt or a malfunctioning voltage regulator.  A reputable service facility has diagnostic tools to pinpoint the causes of your problems. And when your issues are fixed, your electrical system will be back to its hard-working self.  You'll get a real charge out of it!

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

A Non-Starter (Alternator Problems in Cold Weather)

As the temperatures dip, we all know there could be problems starting our vehicles. After all, batteries can grow old and not hold a charge as well as when they were newer. Or starters can go bad.  But there's one more component to keep an especially sharp eye on during winter: your alternator.

The alternator is sort of like a small generator. It sends power out to various parts in your vehicle that need electricity.  That includes the battery, which needs charging to keep its power topped off.  The alternator creates electricity by taking mechanical energy from the engine and turning it into electricity.  It is connected to the engine by belts and pulleys. 

In cold weather, the material the belt is made from is less flexible than it is in warm weather.  That means it may not be turning the pulleys as effectively since it doesn't have the same grip. Also, when it's colder, lubricants, including the engine oil, are a little stiffer and parts just don't move like they do when the weather's warmer.  With that extra strain, sometimes it takes the alternator longer to recharge the battery. That, in turn, may leave the battery a little less power to start the engine when it's cold.

You may have a warning light on your instrument panel that looks like a battery.  If it lights up or if you notice your headlights flickering or not shining quite as brightly as they usually do, it could mean a weak alternator. But it also could be an aging battery, corroded battery terminals, a loose belt or another charging system part. Yes, it's complicated. 

Pinpointing the cause involves testing the battery and charging system with diagnostic equipment.  If it does turn out to be an alternator, there are options besides replacing it with a brand new, original equipment part.  Ask your service advisor for recommendations. Obviously, you want your vehicle to start reliably, especially in cold weather.  Take care of your charging system and it will take care of you.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com

PDR Automotive Tips: Alternator

Your alternator makes electricity to start and run your engine and all of the vital electrical systems in your vehicle. That’s everything from the on-board computers to the turn signals. And of course there is the entertainment system, seat heaters, power windows and everything you plug into the power outlets. After your alternator makes enough electricity to do all that, it recharges your battery with what’s left over.

When Urbana drivers constantly have a low or dead battery, the alternator is usually a prime suspect. However, the alternator is just one vital component of the starting/charging system, and a problem with any of the other components could be the actual cause.

In addition to the alternator, the charging/starting system includes the battery, starter, serpentine belt system and all of the electrical cables that connect them. Your PDR service advisor has a systematic process of testing components and connections to get to the source of your trouble. The initial symptoms determine where to begin the diagnostic process, and he follows the procedure until he tracks down the culprit.

For example, diagnostic tests at PDR could reveal that the alternator is not generating enough electricity to keep the battery charged. Is the alternator bad? Not necessarily. A worn serpentine belt tensioner could be allowing the belt that spins the alternator to slip. So the perfectly good alternator is not spinning at the proper speed. The solution for Urbana drivers is to replace the serpentine belt system – not the alternator.

The good news for Urbana drivers is that our highly-trained technicians at PDR can properly diagnose all your vehicle troubles and make the necessary repairs to get you back on the road in Urbana.

Give us a call.

PDR
1008 N. Cunningham Avenue
Urbana, Illinois 61802
217-367-9481
http://www.pdrauto.com