Blog Post

Alternators: What Are They and What Do They Do?

Alternators: What Are They and What Do They Do?

Your alternator serves an important purpose, as it powers all your car’s electric components such as the radio and headlights. You may wonder how an alternator works and why it’s so vital to the smooth operation of your vehicle. Let’s talk about it.

What an Alternator Does

Yes, the battery is critical when you want to start your car when it’s already off, but the alternator keeps your car going once the engine is up and running. The alternator supplies the following components with direct current (DC) power while driving or idling:

  • Headlights
  • Steering
  • Power windows
  • Windshield wipers
  • Heated seats
  • Radio
  • Dashboard instruments

The alternator essentially converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, powering a drive belt attached to a pulley, which is attached to the alternator. The pulley is responsible for turning the rotor shaft, which then spins magnets around a special coil. AC current is generated around the coil, which gets sent to the alternator’s rectifier. It’s this rectifier that is responsible for converting AC power into DC power, thereby activating the vehicle’s electrical systems.

Your alternator should last the life of your vehicle, but sometimes issues crop up due to excessive wear and tear, heat damage, moisture exposure, overuse, faulty parts, or frayed wires.

Warning Signs That Your Alternator is on the Fritz

If your alternator isn’t working properly, you won’t be able to start your car and keep it running for any length of time. But most people blame the battery at first for these problems when in fact it could be a failing alternator. The problem is, it’s tough to diagnose which component is the culprit. Bring your car to a trusted mechanic who specializes in alternator repair if you notice any of these problems:

Dim or Too-Bright Lights

When alternators start to fail, they give inconsistent voltage to the electronic accessories, which results in either under- or over-performing equipment. This includes headlights that are too dim or too bright. Or, they may flicker or operate erratically.

Dead Battery

Batteries don’t last forever. If your battery has reached the end of its life, there’s not much you can do other than replace it. Sometimes, a dead battery could also signal that your alternator is starting to fail.

A bad alternator cannot charge the battery enough while the engine is on, which depletes the charge faster than normal. To find out, you could try jumping the car. If it stays running, you may have to replace your battery very shortly. If it dies again right after you jump start it, this means the alternator isn’t providing sufficient power to the battery.

Slow or Malfunctioning Accessories

An alternator that can’t provide enough power to the electronics system can result in slow or inoperable accessories. Maybe your windows are slower to go up or down, or your seat warmers aren’t quite as toasty as they used to be. The alternator could be responsible.

Whining or Growling Noises

While many sounds a car makes are harmless, others can signal serious mechanical problems. If you have a bad alternator, you may hear a growling or whining sound emanating from the hood. This happens when the belt that turns the pulley gets misaligned or if you have worn bearings responsible for spinning the rotor shaft.

Odor of Burning Rubber or Wires

A foul odor that smells like burning rubber or wires could mean your alternator is wearing out. The drive belt is under a lot of stress all the time and can wear out over time, especially as it’s located near the hot engine. This is when you may be hit with an unpleasant burning rubber smell. This smell could also be from a seized alternator pulley bearing. If you smell something akin to an electrical fire, this could mean your alternator is frayed or has damaged wires.

Battery Warning Light

If you see this light up on your dashboard, you may think it’s a battery issue at first glance. But it could actually involve a failing alternator.

Contact Rick and Ray’s Auto Plaza

If you are dealing with any of the above problems and aren’t sure if it’s the alternator or the battery to blame, let the diagnostic team at Rick & Ray’s Auto Plaza get to the bottom of it. Get a quote when you contact us today. We can troubleshoot the issue, let you know what’s going on, and make the necessary repair.