The battery is a vitally important part of your car. Not only is it responsible for powering your radio, headlights, and some safety mechanisms, but you also can't even start your car without it. Why, then, do you rarely have to replace it? Surely one battery can't run all of those things every day without charging. Well you're right, it can't. That's where your alternator comes in. You see, the battery is one of two vital parts of your car's electrical system. The other would be your alternator. We might even go as far as to say it's even more important than the battery itself.
Alternators are a little harder to diagnose and replace than a battery. We've seen a lot of battery and alternator problems, and we're here to help you shock your electrical system back to life.
So what exactly is an alternator?
Usually little bigger than a softball, the alternator is primarily responsible for recharging the battery after the vehicle has been started. Inside the casing is an electrical coil and a generator motor run by a pulley attached to the serpentine belt. Once running, the alternator passes power through the battery to other components on the vehicle, mitigating the load on the battery.
When should an alternator be replaced?
That's a hard question to answer. Alternators typically last a long time, sometimes upwards of 100k miles, but sometimes as little as 40k miles. This depends on how the vehicle uses electricity. This is why it is important that you know the symptoms to look for that indicate a failing alternator.
What are the symptoms of a dying alternator?
As your alternator nears the end of its life, several things may start to happen. You may experience power loss in some electrical components. Your vehicle may not start or stay running after it's jumped. You may feel your engine lose some power when some electrical components are used (like headlights or a higher wattage stereo system). Comforts like your stereo system and your HVAC blowers may stop working.
What happens to the battery if the alternator fails?
It's typically a good idea to replace (or at least inspect) the battery in the event that the alternator needs replacing. A bad alternator can put a lot of strain on a battery, which can result in the battery failing too. Inversely, an old battery that needs replacing can also put more strain on the alternator, causing its lifespan to dwindle rapidly. You wouldn't want to replace only your alternator only for a bad battery to kill it again, and vice versa. Make sure to get them checked out at the same time.