The alternator is arguably the hardest-working component under the hood of your vehicle. It produces a current and then transfers that current to the battery. This, in turn, powers the electrical features of your car while your alternator makes sure the battery remains alive. If the battery goes, so too, will your radio, headlights, and other features that depend on the juice.
If you have ever turned the key in your car's ignition and heard a clicking noise, you'll already be familiar with the sound of a dying alternator. The noise indicates the component needs to be replaced. For most drivers, the question is, how long can the part be expected to last?
We're going to explore this question in more detail below. Because your alternator is so important to the smooth operation of your vehicle, it's worth examining the factors that can shorten its life. You'll discover that its longevity depends largely on the quality of its design.
Slow Deterioration Over Thousands Of Miles
One of the most common reasons an alternator fails is because it was built poorly in the first place. New components are rarely an issue. You can expect them to last up to 100,000 miles. Replacement parts, however, are another matter entirely. Often, a poorly-designed rebuilt is used to replace an original unit that has died. Unfortunately, if the craftsmanship of the rebuilt is lacking, the replacement can fail within months due to the load placed upon it.
Another reason this component can fail is due to normal wear and tear. Over time, the diodes can wear down, the stator windings may become ineffective, or the needle bearing on which the part's rotor spins can deteriorate.
The wear and tear suffered by the alternator may be accelerated by other circumstances. For example, extreme heat generated by the engine can slowly take a toll; the battery may lose its charge, taxing the component more than normal; dirt may infiltrate the part. It's often difficult to know these things are occurring, especially because they happen gradually. However, you can - and should - periodically test the component to make sure it is in good condition.
Testing And Maintaining The Component
In order to test the alternator, you'll need to purchase a voltmeter. They normally cost less than $20 and can be found at most auto supply stores. This device tests output level. To use it, turn your car's engine over and allow it to idle for a minute. Make sure your radio, DVD player, headlights, and similar features are turned off.
Then, attach the voltmeter's positive and negative connections to the positive and negative posts on your battery. The device should display a reading between 13.8 and 15.3 volts. Next, turn on your headlights and look at the reading again; turn on your radio and take another look; turn your vehicle's heater on. The voltmeter's reading should never dip below 12 volts. If it does, there's a good chance your alternator is faulty or failing. In both cases, you'll need to have it replaced.
Thoughts On Replacing The Part
Even though alternators are commonly rebuilt, they are rarely repaired. The diodes, bearings, rotor, and other pieces that wear down with time are usually replaced. That means if the component fails, the replacement - whether a new unit or a rebuilt - will have new pieces fitted.
As mentioned earlier, the quality of a rebuilt varies by the rebuilder. For this reason, replacing a failing alternator with an OEM-certified unit is always recommended; it should come with a warranty that covers it for at least a year. Don't be tempted to save a few dollars by purchasing a cheap substitute. You'll find this is one component where the investment in higher quality is worthwhile.
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Star Tech European in Vacaville uses OEM parts! We specialize in European Automotive service and repairs. The auto repair business doesn't have the best reputation, so we go the extra mile to build trust. That includes taking extra time to really explain what your car needs and why. Our goal is to give professional, friendly, honest service without the stress and hassle of going to the dealer. We will never sell you something you don't need.