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How do I know if my car battery is going bad?

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It all starts with a few seemingly minor problems. A warning light may flash on your dashboard, your headlights may seem dimmer, or your gauges may flicker. Maybe you notice an odd smell or even a growling noise from your engine. It may sound like your car is possessed, but most likely it is just a problem with the alternator. Without attention, alternator problems can cause you trouble ranging from slower starts to a dead car.

Although alternators are relatively simple and contain only a few parts, they play a critical role in vehicle operation. Alternators are essentially responsible for turning the mechanical energy of the engine’s rotating crankshaft into electricity, which is used to power your car’s accessories ranging from headlights to radio. It also keeps the battery fully charged to provide power needed to start the car. Alternator failure most likely will not cause any major damage, but it can be a huge inconvenience if you need your car and it isn’t starting.

There are five common signs of alternator trouble that you can look out for:

Warning lights

Most late model cars – within the last decade or so – have a warning light specifically for alternator trouble. This light can be shaped like a battery or read “ALT” or “GEN” (alternator or generator). Most people will see this light and assume that it means they have a battery problem, but in most cases it is the alternator. If the alternator’s output goes beyond a preset limit, then the warning light will come on. Because of this, at the beginning, this light may flicker, turning on only for a second then off again, or only when you turn on your accessories. As more power is demanded by the headlights, windshield wipers, radio, climate control, etc., the alternator will need to work harder to maintain necessary voltage, and as its voltage diminishes, the warning light will turn on.

2. Dim headlights

Since the alternator is in charge of supplying the vehicle’s electrical needs, as it gets weaker so will your car’s accessories. This is why your headlights or instrument panel lights, or even power windows, may be getting less power and not operating to their full potential. In newer cars, there is often a preset list of which accessories will lose power first based on which are most necessary – headlights usually will usually lose power last because they are the most necessary accessory to vehicle safety.

3. Sounds and smells

There are some other, less concrete signs that you can watch out for to notice alternator trouble. There may be a growling or whining noise before an alternator failure. This is because the pulley or belt that drives the alternator may have fallen out of alignment. There may also be the scent of burning rubber or hot wires due to the pulley or belt being out of alignment and creating friction.

4. Dead battery

If you leave your alternator problem unattended for long enough, the car’s battery may die, even if you didn’t leave your lights on overnight. Car batteries are not designed for long-term power use; they are meant to provide the vehicle with enough power to start by powering the starter motor and getting the entire system to move. To see if your alternator is dead, jump start the car and then remove the cables as quickly as possible. If your alternator is failing to charge the system, the car will die again soon. If the car runs and continues to run, then the problem most likely is with the battery.

5. Broken or Loose Connections

If everything else seems fine – there are no belt issues, strange noises or smells, but your car battery is still dead, then the alternator most likely is still functioning but there is a loose or broken connection. Alternators put their electricity through cables and wires. Any loose or broken wires could cause problems with your alternator.

If you are experiencing problems with your vehicle or have questions regarding your car battery visit Orozco’s Auto Service Orozco’s Auto Service at any of our convenient locations in Long Beach, Bellflower, Garden Grove or Fullerton!

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