Your car’s alternator is a critical part of the electrical system. Without a working alternator, the car battery would quickly drain while running all the electrical systems in the vehicle. As the car runs, the alternator recharges the battery and maintains a proper voltage in the system. If your alternator starts to have problems, you will know it quickly. You might see the battery light on your dashboard, although you might get no warning light in some cases. A bad alternator must be replaced immediately, and the cost depends on several factors. Keep reading as we give you average prices for an alternator replacement.
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How Much Does An Alternator Replacement Cost?
If you are reading this article, you are probably wondering, “How much does it cost to replace an alternator?” On average, alternator replacement costs usually range between $400 to $800 on most vehicles. It is usually a good idea to go ahead and replace the serpentine belt at the same time, but this usually adds less than $50 to the cost. The new alternator costs $150 to $300 in most cases, while the labor for the job costs about $250 to $500. However, there are a few things that can greatly impact the cost of the replacement. First, the make and model of your car will have a big impact on the final cost. Alternators for some vehicles are much more expensive than others. So, if your car requires an expensive alternator, the repair cost will be higher.
Similarly, the location of your alternator will greatly affect the labor costs of the repair. Some alternators are easily accessible and require less than 2 hours of labor. However, others are much harder to remove and replace. Some alternator replacement jobs can require more than 5 hours of labor due to the work required to access the alternator. The extra work will significantly increase the repair cost.
In some cases, you might decide to repair your alternator instead of replacing it. There are some auto repair shops that will rebuild your old alternator, although that sometimes depends on the extent of the problem. We will discuss the costs of repairing an alternator in more detail in the next section.
Cost To Repair A Bad Alternator
When your alternator fails, you usually have a couple of options. The first option is to replace the alternator with a new one. We discussed the costs of that option in the previous section. You might also have the option to repair your bad alternator. Repairing your old alternator can be a viable option if the old alternator doesn’t have any serious damage. So, how much is an alternator rebuild? If you only need to clean a connection or replace the pulley, the total job will probably be less than $300.
However, it is almost always a better decision to simply replace your alternator than to attempt a repair. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, repairing a bad alternator is seldom cheaper than getting a new replacement. It takes time to rebuild an alternator, and this time equates to more money on your repair bill. Plus, a rebuilt alternator seldom has a warranty as good as a new one. Most mechanics will warranty their work for a period of time, but you can expect the best warranty coverage from a brand new unit. When considering the total cost of a repair versus a new replacement, the replacement is almost always the best decision.
How Does An Alternator Work?
Your alternator is the heart of your car’s charging system. The electrical components of your car run off the car’s battery, but the alternator keeps the battery charged as you drive. Otherwise, the battery would go dead, and your car would stop running. Remember that parts like your fuel pump, ignition system, and other critical parts of your car require electricity to work properly. So, how does the alternator do its job? Here is how it works.
As your engine runs, the crankshaft turns. The drive belt or serpentine belt is connected from the crankshaft pulley to all the accessories on your engine. The alternator is one of these accessories. Therefore, the alternator spins as the engine runs. We won’t detail the laws of electromagnetics, but the alternator produces an alternating current as it spins by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. This current is converted through a rectifier into a direct current that is then used to recharge the battery, which powers the electrical components.
Signs Of A Bad Alternator
An alternator problem will become apparent very quickly, and you will see some noticeable signs immediately. Here are the most common symptoms of a faulty alternator.
— Squealing Or Whirring Noises
The first sign of an alternator problem is usually a strange noise coming from under the hood. The alternator spins very fast, and it usually starts to whine or growl before something goes wrong. These noises could be a sign of a bad bearing inside the alternator, or they could point to the fact that the voltage regulator is telling the alternator to charge more than is necessary. Either of these conditions will cause a problem, and you might need a new alternator soon. A squealing noise that happens sporadically could be a sign of an alternator problem, but it usually points to a serpentine belt that has gotten loose and needs replacing.
— Electrical Problems
Most modern cars have powered accessories, like power windows, power locks, seat heaters, and other features. If you start to notice problems with these electrical components, then you might have an alternator problem. Perhaps the radio shuts off, the seat heaters don’t work properly, or the power windows are slow to roll down. These types of problems may point to an issue with the alternator. Your car’s computer will cut power to the least essential accessories first. So, you might notice that your radio stops working before the headlights begin to go out.
— Dim Lights
Car headlights require a lot of power, so problems with your alternator can often be seen in the headlights pretty quickly. If you notice your headlights seem dimmer than usual, the alternator could be the culprit. One surefire sign that this issue is a symptom of a bad alternator is to do the following. Let the car idle and see if the headlights appear dim. If they do, give the car a little gas to increase the RPMs. If the headlights increase in brightness when you do that, then you almost certainly have a failing alternator.
— Dead Battery
When you turn the key in the ignition and just hear a click, you immediately think you have a bad battery. However, your battery could be dead because of a malfunctioning alternator. Remember that the alternator keeps your battery charged as you drive the car. If the alternator is not putting out the proper number of volts, then the battery will slowly discharge as you drive. When you shut off your car, the battery might not have enough voltage to start it up again. Before you just stick a new battery in your car, you should check the output of your alternator to make sure that the dead battery is not just one of the symptoms of a bad alternator. You might need to place the battery on a charger and replace the alternator instead.
— Battery Light Illuminated
Your vehicle’s electrical system has sensors that can determine when the voltage output of the alternator is not high enough. If it senses low voltage, the battery light will likely illuminate. This light is one of the warning signs of a failing alternator. You should visit an automotive repair shop soon, as your car might not run much longer once the light comes on. Since the alternator is not recharging the battery properly, the vehicle might shut down abruptly.
How To Replace Your Own Alternator
We have already mentioned that the average cost to replace an alternator is $400 to $800 on most vehicles, but you can save some money on that car repair by performing the work yourself. Your alternator repair cost can likely be cut in half if you can perform the work yourself. First, you will need to locate the alternator to determine how much work will be involved in the repair. If the alternator is not easily accessible, you might be better off going to an auto shop unless you have some mechanical knowledge.
Once you have located the alternator, you will need to remove the serpentine belt. Disconnect the electrical connections on the alternator, and then remove the alternator from the engine. Reattach the new alternator to the engine, reinstall the serpentine belt, and plug the electrical connections back in. Start your vehicle and make sure that everything is running smoothly and that no check engine light or battery light is illuminated.
Performing the work yourself can save you a few hundred dollars worth of labor costs. You might also decide to purchase a remanufactured alternator to save even more money. Remanufactured units typically include a decent warranty, and they are much cheaper than the OEM brand from the dealership.
The Bottom Line
So, how much is a new alternator? Replacing an alternator will cost you a few hundred dollars, but this repair is not something that you can wait on. If your alternator fails, you will need to replace it before you can drive your car. Without a properly working alternator, your car will have many electrical issues and might not even run at all. If you want to save some money, you can always buy a remanufactured alternator at your local auto parts store and install it yourself. The job is not very complex on most vehicles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you drive a car with a bad alternator?
No, you cannot drive a car with a bad alternator. The car’s electrical system requires the alternator to keep the battery charged. If the alternator is not working, the battery will quickly drain. Once the battery is drained, the electrical components will begin to fail. Since many electrical items, like the fuel pump and ignition system, are critical to the engine running, the car will not run with a bad alternator.
How long does it take to replace an alternator?
A mechanic should be able to replace most alternators in less than two hours. If you decide to do the job yourself, the amount of time it takes will depend on your level of expertise. Most amateur mechanics should be able to do the job in two to three hours. However, if your vehicle has an alternator that is not easily accessible, it could take you four hours or more to complete the work. Even experienced mechanics require more time on those vehicles because of the amount of work it takes to remove and reinstall the alternator.
How often does an alternator need to be replaced?
Alternators do not need to be replaced very frequently, and most alternators last more than 100,000 miles without any issues. Unfortunately, alternators sometimes fail without any warning. So, if your vehicle is more than ten years old or has more than 100,000 miles, know that your alternator could go bad. Watch and listen for any warning signs so that you can be proactive in testing the alternator, if possible. You want to do everything you can to avoid being stranded on the roadside!