Alternator or Car Battery: How to Tell Which Part Is the Problem

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When you need to go somewhere and your car won’t start, it’s not unreasonable to think that you could have a car charging problem. A jump start might fix it in the short term and get you to work on time, or to your appointment, but ultimately, you’re going to have to find the origin of the problem and have it corrected. The problem could be in the battery, or the alternator, or even somewhere else in the car electrical system.

You can check out a few things yourself before you get in touch with a mechanic.

  • First, take a look at the battery. Start with this because battery problems are very common, especially in cold weather.

  • Look at the dashboard battery gauge to make sure that the car is still getting a charge even when it’s switched off. If the light is dim and flickering, then likely there’s a problem with the car battery.

  • Turn off everything, and check your battery connections for corrosion. Sometimes the problem is simply that there’s not enough contact.

  • If it looks like corrosion is the problem, you can remove the battery cables and use a bit of steel wool to clean up the corrosion.

  • If a cleanup solves the problem, great, but if it doesn’t, you may have a dead battery, or a bad alternator.

  • You can check the alternator by simply starting your car and then disconnecting the negative battery cable. Be careful doing this, though, because there are a lot of moving parts in your engine compartment that could cause injury. If the car stops when the battery cable is disconnected, the alternator is the likely culprit.

If the alternator is faulty, you’ll need to contact YourMechanic. Sometimes alternators can be rebuilt, but more often, they need to be replaced. YourMechanic can also test your battery to find out if it’s the reason why your car won’t start.


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Eladio

8 years of experience
127 reviews
Eladio
8 years of experience
Honda Civic - Brake Pads Replacement (Rear) - Greensboro, North Carolina
Eladio arrived at the scheduled time and was great to work with. He was very professional and I am very satisfied with his work. This was my first time using YourMechanic and I am very pleased with how easy and convenient this service has been from start to finish. Definitely would recommend.
Nissan Altima - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Greensboro, North Carolina
Eladio was on time, expedient, and very professional. Very pleased with provided service (brake shoes replacement).

Willie

22 years of experience
7 reviews
Willie
22 years of experience
Dodge Avenger - Brake Pads Replacement (Front) - Long Beach, California
Willie is an amazing mechanic and person. He was very professional, helpful, knowledgeable and personable. I really appreciated all of his help!!

Richard

15 years of experience
52 reviews
Richard
15 years of experience
Mercedes-Benz C300 - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Pleasanton, California
Richard is very knowledgeable , he was prompt on arrival, change out of pads on my 2014 C300, was well done, and clean up was great. I would highly recommend Richard.

Simon

25 years of experience
16 reviews
Simon
25 years of experience
Infiniti G37 - Brake Pads Replacement (Front, Rear) - Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Simons was GREAT! Very easy to talk to and very knowledgeable on car repair. I hope to use him again very soon.

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