Virtually everyone knows that their car contains a battery that provides electrical power to the engine.  Indeed, nearly every car owner has experienced a dead battery and required a jump start or, worse, a two to their local mechanic.  But what exactly is an alternator and what function does it perform in your car’s performance?

An alternator is the power center of your entire engine.  The term “alternator” is actually a shortened expression for “Alternating Current Generator.”  The alternator is the component of your engine that produces the electrical energy that is essential for powering your vehicle’s engine.  The excess electrical energy created by the alternator is stored in your vehicle’s battery.  In fact, without an alternator, your car battery would be useless and without any electrical energy for use by your engine in a very short period of time!

Very often, car owners mistakenly believe that their electrical problems are the result of a dying battery.  However, there are other signs that might indicate that the power problems you are experiencing are not due to battery problems, but rather a result of a faulty alternator.  For example, you may have noticed that an error display message indicating “ALT” or a similar indicator is now visible on your dashboard.  While you may not initially notice a power problem beyond such warning indicator on your dashboard, it is a clear sign that your alternator is failing and must be serviced promptly.

The longer a vehicle owner waits to repair or service a failing alternator, the more damage to the alternator can be expected.  As time progresses during which you are demanding the same electrical output from your alternator while it is on the decline, the more likely it will completely fail and require replacement.  And, as with nearly all engine performance issues, part replacement is generally more costly than servicing.

So what will a mechanic do if he or she suspects that my alternator is going bad?  A qualified, competent mechanic will likely perform one or more of the following diagnostic reviews to determine the presence or extent of your alternator’s failure.

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