Signs of Trouble: Weak Alternator

Winter time can be especially stressful on your car as cold temperatures and icy conditions can make the going rough during that time of the year. Hazardous road conditions, blinding snow and sub zero temperatures can put your car at risk, even leaving you stranded if you are not careful.

There is one component inside of your car that can contribute to dimming headlights, a battery unable to hold its charge and just plain difficulty starting your car on a cold winter morning. That part would be your alternator, an essential component to ensuring that your car is running right under all conditions.

“The alternator, which supplies power to your vehicle’s electrical system, works a lot harder today than it did in the past,” said Fred Padgett, Group Product Manager, Starting and Charging Products for Bosch, the world’s largest supplier of automotive parts to the automotive industry and the aftermarket.

When alternators were first developed, the only tasks they were responsible for was to power the horn and the headlights. Today, car’s are much more technologically sophisticated and include a number of features that weren’t available a generation ago including navigation systems, dual zone air conditioning, entertainment systems, rear window defrosters, in-car television, refrigeration and more. Initially a 50 to 60 amp alternator would have been sufficient but today’s cars require a much more power unit, one with 130 amps or more.

According to Padgett, alternators contain diodes and built-in voltage regulators that may allow enough output to keep the “ALT” or “Check Engine” light from coming on. But output may be compromised enough that the alternator is unable to keep up with demand and is actually draining the battery to operate the vehicle. The result? Dim lights, slow wipers and turn signals, possibly a slow start condition — and ultimately, a dead battery.

Fortunately, a repair shop can check alternator output and replace it if necessary. Bosch, Padgett said, offers both new and remanufactured alternators and both carry Bosch’s free two-year emergency roadside assistance.

So before winter’s fury sidelines your car, make sure that your car is in top shape before venturing out on the road. Make sure that your vehicle’s alternator is part of that check up, something your mechanic can easily examine the next time you take your car in for service.

Matthew C. Keegan is a freelance writer who resides in Cary, North Carolina. Matt is a contributing writer for Andy’s Auto Sport an aftermarket supplier of quality parts including Volvo 850 hub adaptor and Isuzu Hombre roll pans.