Learn All About Car Alternators

Why should you take care of your alternator?

It must be pretty evident by now that your car needs electricity to run even if you have a gasoline engine under the hood. All your electronic devices such as the power windows, power seats, stereo system, speakers, infotainment devices, touchscreens, GPS navigation systems, heated seats, etc. all run on electricity. But have you ever wondered how one little battery is capable of churning out so much power to run all your comfy needs? Well, it isn’t the battery that runs any of these elements. It is the Alternator that does the heavy-lifting. Once the battery has helped start the engine, the alternator works to provide electrical power to all the components in the car, from your headlights to the heated seats.

The alternator is basically a generator that runs off the energy created by the engine through a belt and produces alternating current, unlike a generator that produces direct current. The alternator is one of the most essential elements in the vehicle as it is responsible for many crucial tasks and if it fails then the effects are adverse and can even prevent vehicle startup.

So, How long do they last?


Now if you ask so much from a single element in terms of power output then the likelihood of it failing will increase especially in modern vehicles where the number of electrical components has increased so dramatically. The lifespan of an alternator depends on many factors such as the car, the engine, the conditions under which it's used, how much electrical equipment it's regularly operating, how many miles you have put in and so on. It is, however, certain that the alternator will need replacing since they don’t last the life of the vehicle.


Generally, it can need replacing from around 4 to 8 years or if the km rack up above 150,000 but some cases report earlier replacement at about 60,000 km. It is hard to ascertain when you will need an alternator replaced although you can simply look out for the signs that can signal you towards a failing alternator.

How to Prolong Alternator Life?


The alternator is designed to output a certain amount of power which is usually enough to run the necessary components in the vehicle and has very little buffering room to accommodate extra appliances like a heavy stereo system, or having plenty of devices being charged at the same time, etc. All these elements draw more power from the alternator and eventually the battery. This discharges the battery faster and overclock the alternator which leads to a reduction in its lifespan.


Here are a few things you can ensure to prolong the life of your alternator:


  1. Reduce Excessive Appliances in the Vehicle: Ensuring you get a healthy and long operating life from the alternator requires the users to entertain cautionary usage when it comes to electrical appliances in the vehicle. It is common to have a surplus of devices running when the vehicle is idling and to have a variety of different aftermarket electrical products running in the car connected to the vehicle that can cause overloading of the alternator and can eventually break it. 
  2. Fluid Leaks: These are common in a vehicle but fluid can be an alternator’s biggest enemy. If you notice a gasket leak around the engine then have the issue addressed right away or you may require a complete alternator replacement.
  3. Belt Tension: Excessive tension on the serpentine belt can induce wear on the alternator and its bearing whereas the opposite, having loose belts can reduce the alternator’s output and result in overheating that can cause furthermore problems. Having the right tension in the serpentine belt means the belt doesn’t deviate too much when pressure from a finger is applied and not too loose to see visible slack. A belt tensioner is usually part of every engine that adjusts itself in case of slack or over-tightening. Make sure to have a properly functioning belt tensioner to ensure prolonged life from your alternator. 
  4. Worn Out Bearings: The most common culprit of a broken alternator is its busted bearing. The magnetic pole responsible for electricity production runs of this bearing and if the bearing fails then the alternator is no good. To ensure the bearing is running smoothly, hear for any grinding noises from the alternator and make sure the belt isn’t too tight. Also, inspect the condition of the bearing. It is common to have rusted pulley and its bearings that can eventually wear out the alternator and its performance. This can help increase alternator life and potential. 
  5. Belt Alignment: An unaligned belt setup can create a chirping noise and will cause uneven wear on the belt and reduce the alternator’s efficiency. Checking the belt alignment can be simple, just grab a straight scale and place the edge along the pulley, and if the belt touches the scale on one side and the other doesn’t then its likely a misalignment issue. This can deteriorate the belt and the pulley and eventually the alternator, so make sure to have properly aligned belts and pulleys to get the best working results from the alternator and help increase its life.
  6. Airflow and Clean Engine Bay: The alternator experiences high temperatures both from being in close proximity to the engine and due to its own workings. This heat is repressed by incoming airflow into the engine bay and cools the alternator. If there is too much dirt in the bay, the flow of air is restricted and the dirt finds its way into the alternator which can reduce its operation. 
  7. Improper Jump Starting: One of the more common issues that can have an adverse effect in the alternator is improper jump-starting of the vehicle. This can directly affect the alternator and will require you to replace it since there is a possibility of it short-circuiting.
  8. Clean Battery Terminals: The battery terminals are prone to rust and these corroded terminals will prevent charging of the battery and the alternator will work harder in order to charge the battery well which can further increase alternator load and eventually render the alternator overheated and reduce its working efficiency. Cleaning the battery terminals with baking soda and a wire brush can help remove the rust and changing the battery cables is also a good idea.

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