Your car’s alternator may not be the most glamorous component under the hood, but it plays a vital role in keeping your vehicle’s electrical systems running smoothly. From powering your headlights to charging your phone, the alternator ensures that everything works as it should.
Getting your car to start with a bad alternator is often a lost cause because the alternator charges the battery—and when the battery gets depleted, your vehicle isn’t going anywhere. What’s more, a bad alternator may end up damaging your car’s electrical components, such as the fuel pump and power steering.
In short, it pays to keep your alternator in tip-top shape. To help you take care of this vital car part, here are a few tips from the experts:
Follow the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule
To start off, never underestimate the importance of sticking to your car manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Regular check-ups by a professional mechanic can catch potential alternator issues before they escalate into major problems. Remember that a well-maintained alternator can save you from unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs down the road.
Invest in High-Quality Parts
When it comes time to replace alternator components, don’t compromise on quality. You can either choose genuine spare parts from the manufacturer or source aftermarket replacements from a reliable car parts supplier. While top-notch components may be pricier, they’re an investment that can save you from more frequent and costly repairs and replacements in the long run.
Inspect the Belt Tension Regularly
Your alternator is driven by a serpentine belt that connects to the engine. It’s important to regularly inspect this belt’s tension to ensure it is properly tightened. There are a lot of things that could go wrong with a loose belt. For instance, it could cause slippage and reduced power transmission; it could also put a lot of strain on the alternator, which can shorten its lifespan. Thus, always check for signs of wear or damage and replace the belt as needed.
Clean Electrical Connections
Corrosion in electrical connections can hinder the flow of electricity between the alternator and the battery. To maintain your alternator’s optimal performance, inspect and clean its electrical terminals periodically. You can do this with a simple mixture of baking soda and water. This solution helps remove corrosion and keep electrical pathways clear.
Monitor Battery Health
Your car’s alternator and battery have a symbiotic relationship. A bad alternator can’t charge the battery effectively. Meanwhile, a weak battery can strain the alternator unnecessarily, causing it to work harder than necessary. As a maintenance measure, regularly test your car battery’s health and replace it can no longer hold a charge well. Remember, a healthy battery helps an alternator perform its job efficiently.
Limit Electrical Load at Idle
Running multiple electrical devices while your car is idling can strain the alternator. To avoid this, turn off non-essential electronics when the engine is not running at full potential (i.e. when you are not driving). This simple practice can extend the life of your alternator and help maintain a stable electrical system.
Regularly Drive Your Vehicle
Are you expecting to leave your car in storage for a long time? If so, you should be aware that prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to battery discharge and alternator strain.
If your vehicle will not be driven frequently, consider using a battery maintainer to keep the battery charged. Also known as a battery tender or trickle charger, a battery maintainer is a device designed to keep a vehicle’s battery charged and in optimal condition when it’s not in use for an extended period. Alternatively, you can periodically take your vehicle out for short drives to keep your battery healthy and in prime condition.
Avoid Frequent Jump-Starting
Jump-starting a dead battery is only necessary during emergencies—and it should stay that way. Frequent jump-starts can put undue stress on the alternator and other electrical components. If you often find yourself jolting your car’s battery to life more often than not, consult with a professional mechanic to diagnose and address battery-related issues while keeping a portable jump starter for when you get stranded.
Heed Warning Lights and Indicators
Your car’s dashboard is equipped with warning lights that indicate a problem somewhere in the vehicle. Depending on where the issues are, one or more of these lights may illuminate. For the alternator, the battery check or the master warning light may light up. Another indicator of a bad alternator is when multiple warning lights are turning on at the same time. Ignoring these warnings could lead to more significant problems, so address them promptly.
Your car’s alternator might not be in the spotlight, but it’s undoubtedly a workhorse that powers your vehicle’s electrical systems. By following these expert tips, you can ensure that your alternator remains in prime condition, providing reliable electricity to your car to keep you on the road without a hitch. Regular maintenance, careful usage, and attention to warning signs will go a long way in extending your alternator’s life and preserving your car’s overall health.