In this article I’ll discuss about the basic steps involved in finding out if your vehicle has a starting or charging problem, common items to inspect and where to go for additional help.
Since we’ll be working under the hood, it’s important to observe basic safety precautions.
Set the parking brake and be sure all transmissions are in park and manual transmissions are in neutral. When lifting your vehicle always use jack stands and chock the wheels to prevent rolling.
To avoid burns allow your vehicle to cool before doing any type of repair and don’t wear loose clothing or jewelry, that could get caught in moving parts or might bridge electrical connections.
Finally should always wear proper eye protection.
Before we start checking under the hood, let’s take a closer look at some of the common symptoms you might be experiencing.
You could be hearing strange noises like a rumbling sound, caused by damaged alternator bearings or squealing from a loose or worn drive belt.
Your vehicle’s battery could be dead or not holding a charge, which could be the result of a bad alternator.
The starter might not be functioning properly, it just makes a clicking noise or it doesn’t turn as strong as it should. There isn’t enough charge in the battery then the starter won’t be able to properly crank the engine.
Your headlamps and interior lights could appear dim. Sometimes they get brighter, when the engine speed increases. The alternator or charging warning light on your dash could be on or maybe it’s not coming on at all.
You could be hearing a clicking noise when you turn the key, this indicates that the starter is not getting enough electrical current to operate properly. That could mean a bad cable connection, a bad battery, or a bad starter.
You might hear a grinding noise when you turn the key, this is caused by the starter not engaging properly with the engine and could mean a bad starter or a problem with a flywheel.
Your starter might not turn as strong as it normally does.
Usually this is because the battery is under charge and can’t provide the power necessary to turn the motor over or when you turn the key might not do anything.
These are all signs that your electrical system needs to be checked.
Let’s take a look under the hood and review the basic procedures to find out if you need a new starter or alternator.
1. Check The Battery
First ensure that the battery is good and has a full charge. A bad battery could be the problem and not the starter. This is always the first thing to check.
If your battery isn’t fully charged, put it on a charger or take it to your local autozone store for free charging and testing.
1.1 Check the Dashboard
Next we need to check the dashboard.
You could have a warning light gauge or LED readout that might give you a clue to what’s going on. If you’ve got a warning light it should come on when you turn the key and go off when the car starts.
Most vehicles run voltage from the alternator to the battery through that bulb. If the bulbs burned out there’s a good chance it’s the problem not the alternator.
If you’ve got a gauge it should show a charge of around 12 volts, when the car is off and rise to over 14 volts when running. If it doesn’t there’s a problem with the charging system.
If you’ve got an LED readout, look for codes or warnings that show a problem. After you’ve replaced a bad unit you’ll have to clear that code or wait for the system to reset.
This might take up to 40 starts.
We’ll do a visual inspection.
1.2 Check the Fuses and Fusible Links
We’ll start by checking all of the fuses and fusible links.
A blown fuse interrupts the flow of electricity that could be causing a charging system problem. Locate the fuse box and make sure there are no blown fuses.
Most vehicles use fuses that look as shown in the picture. If it’s blown by looking for a gap or a break in the wire filament.
Some vehicles that fuses embedded in wires. These are called fusible links. If you have one of these, you should test it with a voltmeter to make sure it’s good.
Since resistance could be preventing the regular flow of electricity through your charging system, it’s important to check if that could be the problem.
1.3 Check the Battery Cables
Second check the battery cables.
If you see corrosion then remove the battery cables from the battery clean them well and reconnect them.
Always disconnect the negative terminal first and when reconnecting always reconnect the negative last. If the cables are worn, frayed or damaged they should be replaced.
1.4 Check the Connectors
Next check the connectors to the alternator, they’re loose make sure you tighten them so they’re snug and secure.
Again if the cables are damaged they should be replaced.
What are the cautions here?
Never disconnect one of the battery cables, while the engine is running, although this is sometimes suggested as a viable test. It can cause a surge that may burn out and damage other components.
You don’t want to cause problems in any other systems.
1.5 Inspect the Belt
Finally inspect the belt.
The belt is what drives the alternator pulley, if it’s not doing its job then the belt could be the problem.
Check for cracks are glazing on the belt as an indication the belt is failing.
Check the movement of the belt tensioner for rough spots, where it seems to hang if its spring has no tension.
Check the bearing inside for excessive wobble or noise.
2. Check The alternator
Now let’s take a look at the alternator and the starter for telltale signs of other issues, that might cause problems.
2.1 Look for contamination
These components can easily be damaged by fluids leaking into them.
Typically this is caused by things like coolant leaking from the water pump or from a bad hose motor oil from a leaking gasket or seal, or power steering fluid from a leaking pump or hose.
2.2 Signs of overheating
Now look for burnt areas or signs of overheating.
This can be caused by a charging system strained by aftermarket radios, lighting, or other electrical accessories.
Or there could be excessive resistance and cables or connection causes an extra burden on the system.
After you’ve checked these basics, repair anything suspicious and retest the vehicle.
Further investigation may be required and could result in replacing your battery, starter, alternator or cables to fix the problem.
To verify that your starter or alternator has gone bad take it to your local autozone store.
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