Your alternator is one of the hardest-working parts of your vehicle. It is a common misconception that the battery in your vehicle provides energy while the vehicle is moving. The alternator not only supplies electricity to all electrical components of your vehicle while driving but also charges your car battery at the same time.
Every time you use your headlights, radio, GPS, air conditioner, heater, defroster, power seats, turn signals, dome lights, or outlets, your alternator keeps everything working by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Needless to say, if your alternator dies, your car can’t function. That makes his replacement a pretty big priority. To prepare you for a possible alternator failure (an increasing likelihood as the vehicle ages), here’s a look at what it costs to replace one of these mini power plants.
How To Replace an Alternator?
Following are the step of Replace an Alternator
- Disconnect the Battery.
- Disconnect the Wires.
- Remove the Belt from the Pulley.
- Remove Bolts.
- Halfway There.
- Examine the Replacement.
- Reverse the Removal Steps.
Step 1: Disconnect the Battery
First and foremost: disconnect the battery. Your alternator may have multiple wires or just one wire, but rest assured one of them will be hot.
If you don’t disconnect the battery, you will most likely ground a live wire during the process. This causes all sorts of bad things to happen, not the least of which is getting you in quite a shock.
Step 2: Disconnect the Wires
Now that the battery is out of the way, disconnect the wire or wires from the back of the alternator. This is usually a very simple process, but if you’re not sure where they’re going, tag them when you loose them.
Step 3: Remove the Belt from the Pulley
Every project has a tricky spot, and this is the tricky spot when replacing an alternator: Remove the belt from the pulley. There is a tensioner pulley somewhere in your vehicle. You need to move it enough to slide the belt off the pulley. Our ’95 GMC has a standard GM spring-loaded tensioner that we had to pull back with a wrench.
On some vehicles, you will find screw or rod end tensioners that apply tension by turning a screw through threads to increase/decrease the length of a rod. If this happens, simply turn the bolt/rod end with a wrench or socket until enough tension is released to allow you to remove the belt.
In our case, we grabbed a Craftsman 17mm Cross Force wrench and pushed hard. Normally that would be a pretty painful experience, but the Cross Force was designed for just such a situation.
There is a 90-degree twist in the middle of the Cross Force wrenches, so you end up pressing on a flat surface. The result: We were able to push harder without any complaints. So we just lay down in it and the belt came free.
Step 4: Remove Bolts
Once the belt is off, simply remove all of the bolts connecting the alternator to the bracket and you’re good to go. On some models, three screws had to be removed: one at the front and two at the back.
Step 5: Halfway There
With the old alternator in hand, you’re halfway there. You’ll likely find that putting the new one back in is much quicker since you already know what size the bolt heads are and where everything is.
Step 6: Examine the Replacement
Examine the replacement unit before reassembly and make sure it will work for your application. Our replacement was a find from a junkyard, so it’s great to deal with dirtier, however, it has the benefit of actually performing as a significant upgrade over our previous broken unit.
Step 7: Reverse the Removal Steps
To complete the project, simply reverse the removal steps paying close attention to belt routing and tension. Hell, even if you bought the Cross Force wrench set for work, you’d still be hundreds ahead of the cost of what a store would charge, and you’re going to get some new tools. We can think of much worse results.
Alternator Replacement Cost
The average cost of replacing an alternator range from $573 to $742. Labor costs are estimated to be between $123 and $155, while parts prices range from $451 to $587. This range does not include taxes and fees and does not take into account your specific vehicle or unique location. Appropriate repairs may also be required.
When you start noticing certain problems, it’s time for an alternator replacement. You can go to your local car dealership to get this job done. But be prepared for a hefty bill.
- New alternator: $200 – $500
- Labor: $100 – $200
Your prices may vary depending on the make, model, and year of your vehicle. In addition, you may be able to save even more money by replacing the alternator yourself. But you should only do this if you are confident that you are capable of performing vehicle repairs.
Can I still drive with a bad alternator?
Although you can still technically drive with a bad alternator, it is not advisable. The alternator charges the battery. So when things go bad, the battery drains faster. In addition to a new alternator, you may also need to pay for a new battery.
Do You Have to Replace the Battery When Replacing the Alternator?
Your alternator is driven by your serpentine belt. On almost all newer vehicle models, a serpentine belt or drive belt is used to drive the main pulleys and this must be removed to remove the alternator.
If the belt hasn’t been replaced in a while or is showing signs of cracking or wear, now is the perfect time to replace it. It is already part of the job to remove the alternator so the only additional cost is the price of the belt.
On rare occasions, the wiring harness connector that connects to your alternator will also be replaced. This is only the case if the plastic stopper is damaged or even melted by excessive heat. The last element that may need to be replaced along with your alternator is your battery.
Starting your vehicle uses a lot of energy from your battery. If the alternator wasn’t constantly charging it, it would only last a few starts. If your alternator fails, your vehicle still requires power to function.
It will find that energy in your battery. Unfortunately, without your alternator working to charge, it can damage your battery’s cells. Sometimes you’re lucky and the battery survives the hardships. The technician usually finds this out with a quick test before the work even begins.
You don’t have much time when the battery is in reserve, a 12v battery will typically run for around 30 minutes to an hour after the alternator has stopped working. In this case, it is best to drive to the nearest car dealership immediately to have your alternator replaced.
Will insurance cover an alternator replacement?
Alternators usually die from normal wear and tear. As a result, insurance policies typically do not cover the cost of a new one. The only exception would be if the alternator was damaged in a car accident.
Your insurance policy can still help you immensely. If you have a roadside assistance policy, you can get towed to the nearest shop. This is useful if you are stranded on the side of the road because of a defective alternator. You never know when a bad alternator will go out, so it’s important to have an insurance policy you can rely on!
The alternator is a critical part of your vehicle that performs many important functions. Understanding the warning signs of a failed alternator and how much you will pay for a new alternator can help you prepare for when you need to replace the alternator on your vehicle.
(These repair prices may also vary based on geographic location and vehicle make and model; these numbers represent averages, not the actual prices offered at any given auto repair shop.)