Home TroubleshootingElectrical Alternator Cost – How Much Does It Cost For A Replacement?

Alternator Cost – How Much Does It Cost For A Replacement?

by Kelvin Yates

Electricity is a mightily powerful resource in every car. A spark is needed to burst an engine to life, power the air-conditioning, turn on the lights, and enable you to listen to your magical Spotify tunes. So, it’s perhaps not a surprise then, that electrical faults within your car can be one of the most annoying problems to have to deal with. Among them is the case of your car’s battery not being recharged, prompting us to wonder about the fixes, replacements, and alternator cost.

Just as important as the source of all that electricity surging through a car, is the way in which the battery itself is being topped-up. The alternator is responsible for this, ensuring that your battery’s charge is continually being kept in its most optimal capacity. It does this quietly, unobtrusively, and tirelessly in the background, as you’re driving along. But as with every component in a car, the alternator is a hard worker, and undergoes an immense amount of strain.

Consequently, it’ll eventually approach its intended lifespan, and will wear out. At this point, your car’s battery will slowly wither away its charge, and then die. If you’re facing faulty alternator issues right now, then no doubt your wallet will surely be crying over having to cover for the alternator cost. We’ve heard enough horror stories about how expensive alternators can be to fix, or replace. Are they really that bad? Well, come along and read our alternator cost guide to find out more.

Alternator Cost – What Is An Alternator, And How Does It Work?

Before we can start breaking down the necessary alternator cost for fixes, it might be prudent to understand more about what it is. What exactly is an alternator, and what role does it play within a car? Simply, the alternator can easily be described as a generator for maintaining your car’s electrical supply. While a battery is the electrical storage medium in your car, the alternator is responsible for its supply. Hence, we can say that an alternator is one of the most important components in any car.

The alternator is often found attached near, or onto the engine. It works by drawing some of the engine’s power, which in turn operates the alternator. Just like a generator, this then creates a steady supply of electricity. Without an alternator, even a fully charged battery won’t be able to last more than two hours on its own. There are several key components to note within the alternator that aids in its functions. It will help us to understand the alternator cost a bit better later on.

1. Rotor & Stator

The rotor can be described as the heart of any alternator. As the name suggests, it’s this rotating device that generates electricity for your car. Its construction is practically an iron core, with copper wires in a coil around the rotor. Meanwhile, a stator is the stationary part of the rotor, hence the name. Made up of copper wires, it is crucial in functioning alongside the rotor to help create electricity. The stator also helps to bring support and protection to the rotor’s construction.

As the car’s engine starts up, this will start to spin the rotor. This is done often with a belt, to provide mechanical energy to the alternator. At the same time, a small current is sent from the battery, and runs through the rotor’s copper coils. This then creates an electromagnet. With this now rotating magnet, the magnetic fields will cut through to the stator’s copper wiring. This will create an electrical current through electromagnetic induction, which is then sent to the battery.

2. Diodes

We now know that the rotor and stator work in conjunction as the main generating force of electricity within an alternator. Next, we’ll need to better understand how the electricity is being sent to your car’s battery. This is done thanks to the diodes within an automotive alternator. The diodes work to transform the alternating current that was just generated, into direct current. This charges up the battery, and ensures that electrical current can only flow one way – towards the battery.

3. Voltage regulator

It’s also important to note before going ahead in studying alternator cost, is how the electric current is being managed. Within an alternator, there is the voltage regulator, which helps to both monitor and regulate the electrical current being sent to the battery. It makes sure that the voltage of the electrical current stays in its most optimal range. If the current generated is too high, then it might cause damage to certain parts of a car. If the current is too low, then certain components won’t work right.

Alternator Cost - Works by using the engine's mechanical energy to generate electricity.

Symptoms Of A Failing Alternator That You Need To Look Out For

By now in our alternator cost guide, it’s a good time to look into some of the symptoms that might be exhibited if and when your alternator is showing signs of failure. Being one of the most important parts within a car’s daily function, alternators are often designed to last a long time. By default, most alternators could comfortably last for 10 or more years. However, as we’ll learn later on, there are causes that could bring an alternator to its premature end.

It’s important to be wary of these symptoms, as clear tell-tale signs that your alternator is about to fail. It’s never recommended to drive a car with faulty parts, including the alternator. If the alternator isn’t working as intended, it will fail to charge up the battery. This will require the battery to be recharged manually, or it might cause even more damage to it. In order to make sure you resolve these problems as early on as possible, here are some symptoms for our alternator cost guide.

1. Dim, or flickering lights

Notice the lights on your car the next time you start it up, especially the headlights. If they are running a bit dim, it might point out to some electrical failure. Commonly, it can be a sign that your alternator is about to fail. This is caused by the malfunctioning alternator providing either too much, or too little voltage. This inconsistency will also cause your car’s electrics to run erratically, such as the lights flickering, or sometimes turning from dim to overly bright.

2. Dead battery

As the alternator is the primary generator to supply electricity to the battery, the former’s failure can cause the battery to drain flat. This will cause the car to not start. Oftentimes, this could just point out to a fault with your battery. It might be due to its age, and a quick jump-start might help. However, a dead battery could also indicate a faulty alternator. If the alternator is not working optimally, it won’t be able to provide enough charge to the battery.

Alternator Cost - A dead battery is a good sign of alternator failure.

3. Engine stalling

Another potential symptom noted for our alternator cost guide is your engine stalling. In an alternative scenario to a completely dead battery, your battery’s charge might run weak if the alternator is showing signs of damage or wear. Your car might be able to start fairly normally. However, it could stall while driving. This is another sign of alternator failure. It’s due to the fact that your alternator is unable to provide enough charge for the spark plugs to work the combustion process as needed.

4. Electrics or electronic functions won’t work properly

Every car, especially those made in the recent years, has a myriad of different electronic accessories. From the instrument cluster, radio, infotainment system, heated seats, massage functions, sunroof, and more that require a steady and ample supply of electricity. Should they not be working properly, it might be a sign that your alternator is not generating properly. For instance, notice if the windows are taking a bit longer to wind, or if the heated seats aren’t as warm as they used to be.

5. ‘Battery’, or ‘Check Engine’ warning lights

Most cars have an array of sensors that monitor their wellbeing, and report back should anything crop up. It’s easy to mistaken the ‘battery’ warning light for problems related to your battery alone. However, this light could also indicate faults within your car’s electrical systems as a whole. Alternators are required to work at an appropriate voltage of around 14-volts. If the car detects that the electrical voltage has dropped below that threshold, the ‘battery’ warning light will come on.

You can known if your alternator is suffering problems by checking the battery warning lights.

6. Odd noises

Cars, by their nature, make a lot of different noises, thanks to the vast number of moving parts working together. However, some odd sounds can be a tell-tale sign that something is wrong. The alternator can emit some unpleasant sounds if it’s showing signs of failure. These can be categorized as growling, whining, squealing, or screeching noises. These sounds can indicate problems within the alternator, such as a misaligned belt, or bearings that are about to fail.

7. Odd smells

In contrast to unusual noises, unpleasant smells can also be a symptom of component failure within your car. In the context of our alternator cost guide, pay attention to any burning smells. The alternator is required to run under constant strain and friction. Moreover, the alternator itself is also placed near to the hot engine. The alternator’s drive belt might wear out, and cause an unpleasant ‘burnt rubber’ smell. Or, the wires might fray, and emit odor that is reminiscent of an electrical fire.

Causes Of Alternator Failure That You Need To Know

So far in our alternator cost guide, we’ve been able to understand with more depth into the symptoms that might be shown if your car’s alternator is failing. These should be taken more seriously, as fixing your alternator quickly can help to prevent bigger problems down the line. So, it’s now a good time to take a closer look into why these symptoms are showing up in the first place. What’s causing your alternator to fail?

As we’ve learned earlier in our alternator cost overview, we know that alternators are designed to last a long time. The average lifespan for most alternators is at least 7-years, and just under 100,000 miles. After this, alternators will naturally require some repairs or replacements, owing to regular wear and tear. However, there are some other gremlins within your car that could cause it to fail prematurely. Here are some of the causes of a malfunctioning alternator.

1. Dead battery

We’d just discussed earlier that a faulty alternator can cause a battery to die. On the flip side, a dead or weak battery can also cause the alternator to fail prematurely, too. The alternator undergoes an immense amount of strain to charge the battery, and maintain your car’s electrical system. If your battery dies or is running weak, it will cause the alternator to overwork itself just to keep the battery charged. This added strain will cause excessive wear and tear on your already stressed alternator.

2. Faulty drive belt or pulley

The alternator’s function is powered by the engine’s mechanical energy, as we now know. It takes this power through the drive belt, and a series of pulleys. This will then allow the alternator’s rotor to spin up, and create an electrical charge. However, those drive belts and pulleys can fail over time. The high temperatures can cause them to crack or break after a long while. If this happens, it can result in the alternator not working properly, and inflict excess wear in due course.

3. Problems with ECU

Most of the modern cars made in the last 20 years are equipped with ECUs. Otherwise known as the ‘engine control unit‘, this is your car’s electronic brain. The ECU will coordinate all your car’s various sensors and electronics to function together efficiently. This includes managing your car’s alternator, and how it charges the battery. If the ECU is facing a computer glitch, for instance, it might instruct the alternator from charging properly. This can happen, even if your alternator is in good shape.

An OBD sensor can diagnose faults within a car's ECU, and ensure everything works fine.

4. Wiring problems

As a major electrical component within your car, the alternator naturally has complex wiring. For example, the alternator needs a bit of charge from the battery for its electromagnetic induction. Alternatively, the alternator also houses your car’s negative ground wire. If any of these wires were to come loose, or short out, it can cause the alternator to not function properly. More seriously, the electrical current can surge uncontrollably, and cause even more damage to the alternator.

5. Faulty components

Your alternator’s function is dependent on a number of parts within itself, and the rest of the car. These parts, as per the usual wearing-out process over time, can fail. If they were to stop working properly, this will cause the alternator to work inefficiently, or not work at all. Examples include a blown fuse that will cause the alternator to not charge, or damaged rotating plates within the alternator. The rotor’s ball bearings can also wear out, which causes it to grind within the alternator.

Alternator Cost – Can You Fix A Faulty Alternator?

The simple answer, is ‘maybe’. If you’ve been able to diagnose alternator problems early on, some parts can be repaired, instead of needing to replace the entire alternator. For example, needing to replace only the alternator drive belt, or replacing the wiring and cables. By having swapped out these faulty parts at an instant, the damage to the alternator will be limited. This will also save you from having to bear the full alternator cost.

Otherwise, you’ll likely be required the replace the alternator in its entirety. Replacing the alternator is a very complex process. It’s also hazardous, as you’ll have to properly navigate around your car’s electrical systems. If you’re so inclined, you can find kits that help to rebuild parts of the alternator for around $50. But alternator repairs (as well as knowing how to fix an alternator) are not something we recommend that you do, even for the DIY-savvy among you. This is a fix that’s best reserved for experts to solve.

Alternator Cost – How Much Do You Need For A Replacement?

Now, we can move on to the painful part of this alternator cost guide. If there’s one thing we can learn from this, is that alternator replacement costs are not cheap (unless you learn how to change an alternator). It’s in fact one of the most expensive parts that you can ever spend on replacing within a car. The exact pricing will of course vary, depending on which make and model your car is, and where you’re sending it to. There are, thankfully, some sites that make it easier to find a quote for your exact vehicle.

Online services such as YourMechanic, AutoGuru, or Fixter can help to find quotes from hundreds, or thousands of garages near you. All you need to input is your car’s make and model, or just a registration number. This will let you find the best pricing for an alternator replacement. In our alternator cost guide here, however, we’ll show you the average prices that we’ve found. This should give you a rough idea of what to expect.

Average Alternator Replacement Costs, And Labour

We learned that the price of the alternator itself can vary from around $200 to $1,000. Sometimes, you can even find a fairly good, or refurbished alternator for between $100 to $150. Meanwhile, original OEM parts from the manufacturer can be hefty, costing upwards of $1,000 for luxury brands. It’s worth noting that not every alternator can be made compatible with your car. It will need to match your car’s electrical requirements, and assessing how much amperage needs to be supplied.

As we’ll learn later on, the alternator cost will vary greatly depending on your car’s make and model. Another worthy consideration is the labor costs, if you choose not to fix it yourself. These hourly rates are a big influence on the overall cost. It will vary depending on where you’re sending your car to, although the average should be around $100/hour. Now, take into account that alternator replacements can take as little as just over an hour to do, or sometimes more than five hours.

For most car owners, expect an alternator replacement to cost somewhere around $300 – $1,000+ (which you can try to cheap out on by learning how to change alternator). This is the average for most consumer cars, as we’ve discovered in this alternator cost guide. As for an overall average, a full alternator replacement would cost around $500, accounting for parts and labor. However, more expensive and complex cars, such as Mercedes models, can cost nearly $2,000 for the complete replacement.

Alternator costs for repairs and replacements are relatively expensive compared to other parts of a car.

Costs Breakdown

Just to give you a better understanding of the scope around a full replacement for our alternator cost guide, we’ve made a brief breakdown. This will compile the average prices for a complete replacement, based on online data. This includes both the cost of the alternator, and the labor required. Note, once more, that these are averages. Your exact replacement cost might vary. For more accurate quotes, you could use some of the sites that we linked above to find one for your car.

Here’s a short list of alternator replacements for some of the most popular vehicles sold in the US:

Facts on Car Alternators:

  • An alternator is a small yet powerful generating station that provides electricity for your car.
  • The cost to replace an alternator can range from $100 to $1,000, depending on factors such as the year, make, model, and engine size of the car, the amperage of the alternator, its mounting style, the types of electrical connections, and the new part’s warranty.
  • The alternator takes power from the battery and amplifies it as an electromagnet to provide enough electricity to maintain operations for all your car’s electrical needs while the engine is running.
  • Signs that you may need a new alternator include a dead battery, an illuminated battery light, burning smells, lighting issues, unusual electrical issues, availability of cores to rebuild, and a whirring under the hood.
  • It is generally safe to drive with an alternator problem for a short distance, but overcharging could cause damage to computer modules, the battery, and other electronics or wiring.
  • An alternator should last between 7 and 10 years, which may be between 100,000 and 150,000 miles.

Alternator Cost – Conclusion

Finally, we can come to the end of our alternator cost guide. In summary, we can say that alternators are highly complex devices. As being a critical part of your car, it will naturally be very expensive to fix once something goes wrong. Even at the lower end of the price spectrum, alternators can be bankrupting, just to have a simple repair. Suffice to say, it’s better to prevent that heartache from ever needing to happen, rather than having to deal with it.

Your alternator should be cared for in your car’s routine maintenance schedule. Good servicing and caring attention go a long way in ensuring your car’s alternator is kept in its most optimal state. Maintaining its wellbeing not only prolongs an alternator’s lifespan, but also ensures the rest of your car’s electrics to work well, too. So, be sure to have your car checked in by a technician every once in a while. A healthy alternator will lead to a very happy car, and an overall headache-free ownership.

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