Your car's alternator keeps your battery charged and powers every electrical item in your car while the engine is running. Without it, your battery will discharge very quickly and sooner or later your car will stop running.
Modern cars are heavily reliant of electricity to keep them going. The engine will keep running by itself, but as soon as there's not enough voltage to produce the electrical spark for each piston the engine will stop. Additionally, your car has power steering, anti-lock brakes and probably an engine management system; all require electrical power and cease to work when the battery goes dead.
Your car has a red ignition warning light. This illuminates when you first turn on the ignition and goes out once the engine starts. If the light stays on, or come on when driving, it means that there is a fault with the charging system and your battery isn't getting charged. However, it doesn't always mean that the alternator has failed, it may be something else.
Additionally, the red warning light is only a small LED bulb, and as with any other bulb, if can blow. If it does blow, you won't see the red warning light and therefore, if a fault occurs, you won't know until you find your battery goes dead. Another fact that you may find surprising is that the very small voltage that flows though to your warning light acts as an agitator; it basically tells the alternator to produce electricity and charge the battery. Amazingly, on some cars, if the warning bulb blows, the alternator doesn't work and so your battery goes dead.
Alternators can be expensive, so before you go to the expense of getting a replacement, its worth just testing to see if your alternator is faulty, or whether it's a blown warning light or other electrical problem. You can do this easily by using a voltmeter.
You will need to start your car's engine to test your alternator, so it's best if you get everything ready first and locate the alternator. On the back of the alternator are wires connected to push in plugs, although on older car's you may find the wires are connected by nuts. A couple of the wires are thick, one is usually red the other can vary in color; you can ignore these wires. However, you will also find a small thin wire; disconnect it from the alternator, this wires connects to the warning light and is the agitator.
Turn on your engine. Set the voltmeter in the range of 6 to 18 volts. Connect the two alligator clips on the end of the wires from the meter to the two terminals that have thick wires attached. The red voltmeter wire connects to the alternator terminals labeled 'B', Bat' or '+.' The black wire connects to the terminal labeled 'T', or '-.' Read the meter. It will read between 10 and 14 volts, depending on the speed of the engine, if it is working correctly. If it's below 10 volts rev the engine slightly to see if the voltage increases, if it does your alternator is fine. If it doesn't, or the reading is low or maybe no reading at all, then your alternator needs replacing.
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