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Stop Replacing Your Alternator

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Nobody

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Army


Along with Tshile's thread about wasting money on oil changes, I discovered something extremely valuable today. My Alternator died. I wasn't upset about changing it, because it only takes 10 minutes, I was upset because they run $150-$200 for most vehicles. I thought I hit the jackpot when I found one online for $125 and I was about to order it. But my brain kept saying think McFly, think.

So out of pure curiosity, I decided to research what it is that causes them to go bad. Apparently just inside, there are two spring loaded pieces of granite that ride along the copper rod inside the alternator. This piece is called an alternator brush set. After removing the alternator, you remove three screws and 4 star screws inside to take it off. It takes all of 5 minutes. That piece is the cause of 99% of alternator failures. The kicker? That piece is easily accessible, auto parts stores carry it in stock, and it's 8.......friggin......dollars.

I went and got one, and surprise, surprise, I saved $117 by replacing that instead of the alternator. And you don't even have to be mechanically inclined to remove an alternator, it takes the removal of 3 bolts and unplugging the 3 cables on it.

So please do yourself a favor and don't ever waste money on an alternator again. And in the 1% of cases that isn't the problem, the problem is the voltage regulator, which attaches to the brush set. That part is $25-$40. If you don't think you can do it, take off your alternator, mail it to me, and I will take it apart, rebuild it for you, and mail it back free of charge.

Just don't waste any more money than you have to. And if any of you actually pay the $300+ garages charge to replace one, please kick yourself in the nuts. You can take 10 minutes out of your day to save a few hundred bucks :)
 

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Army

There are a whole lot of symptoms that usually point you that way. For example, the majority of the time if your battery light comes on, your battery is dead because your bad alternator killed it. I personally have never had a battery light come on from a dead battery, it's always the alternator. Similarly if your ABS light comes on. For some reason an ABS light is almost always a bad alternator, even though the two have no relation, becaue the ABS sensor isn't getting enough power to it, because the alternator isn't generating enough current. This goes for a blinking airbag light too.

If you notice your battery gauge is lower than the midway point, your alternator is bad, if you were driving fine, but the next time you start your car it makes a rapid clicking noise, your alternator is almost always the culprit. If you're driving and your speedometer and other gauges aren't working, it's usually the alternator. If your power windows start working very slow or not at all, it's usually your alternator. If you are driving at night, and your headlights get dimmer or brighter when you hit the gas, or if you have power but no interior lights, your alternator is usually bad.

Basically if your vehicle acts like you have a dead or dying battery, but your battery isn't 3+ years old, it's usually always the alternator, and I'd say it's probably around 90-95% of the time. People spend a lot of money assuming it's a battery issue, and it actually usually isn't unless the battery is old. The good thing is, if you think your battery is going, take your car up to any auto parts store. They will take it out and test it free while you wait. If it's good, your alternator is bad.
 

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I had forgotten about this little troubleshooting feature for alternators. It's been about ten years since I had to do it. Thanks for the reminder.

Time for a car maintenance thread and merge? We could save each other a bunch of mullah.
 

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I had forgotten about this little troubleshooting feature for alternators. It's been about ten years since I had to do it. Thanks for the reminder.

Time for a car maintenance thread and merge? We could save each other a bunch of mullah.
No problem. And a general thread seemed like a good idea at first, but I think too much good info would get lost in the shuffle.

I have tons of mechanical knowledge and experience from beginner level stuff all the way up to stuff most people would never consider not going to a pro for. I have worked on cars and truck forever. The stuff I didn't know, I've learned in the last year.

At this point, other than replacing an engine or transmission, only because I would never want to learn, I can do just about anything as far as vehicle repair, and I have gotten pretty damn good at diagnostics too, except when it's something I've never encountered, like my recent bad hub problem. But now I know all there is to know about that too, so it made me better :D
 

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Similarly if your ABS light comes on. For some reason an ABS light is almost always a bad alternator, even though the two have no relation, becaue the ABS sensor isn't getting enough power to it, because the alternator isn't generating enough current.
First of all, thanks for starting the thread and the replies. Very helpful.

My ABS light goes on and off actually. That, along with my Brake light. But I happen to think it is actually my brakes, because they are acting up. Often, when I hit my brakes, the opposite of what I would expect from bad brakes happens - instead of them braking slower, they actually SLAM to an extreme sudden stop. I assume this is because the brake pads are probably worn down all the way to the metal, and thus the metal causing the more sudden stoppage. Another thing they do, is my tires squeal anytime I a) make an extreme turn, b) accelerate from a stop, even if it's not a sudden, hi-speed acceleration, c) come to a sudden stop. But the strange thing is, these symptoms are often signs of bad tire wear, but all tires are either brand new, or have plenty of tread on them. So, I am thinking it's the actual brakes. Do you think ?

If your power windows start working very slow or not at all, it's usually your alternator.
This could very easily be the power windows motor failing, when you consider how terribly often those mechanisms go bad. More often than not, it seems power windows fail, and I see people with car windows that are stuck open or stuck shut, or I see people trying to manuallly push up their window shut, with the palms of their hands, on NEWER model cars. :laugh: Or people at bank drive-thrus or toll boths, who have to open up their whole car door to deposit the money, since they can't open their window :laugh: Shows you another very good reason, among many other reasons, why older model cars are actually better than new ones !!

I will take an older model car, with manual window knobs, over a new one, anyday !
I'd much rather suffer through the torment (sarcasm) of having to open windows my my hands, than take the chance on the likely scenario, that the power windows will end up neither opening or closing.

So, perhaps a good idea for the next thread, would be "Stop replacing your power windows motor".....or...."Stop replacing your older model car, with a newer model" lol
 
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Dead Money

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Good tips Ex... Same story for a lot of rotary power tools with brushes. Nobody ever sames the little package that comes with the tool.

Similar results can be found with just about any type of water pump, parts are cheap you can rebuild most. Just have to have a parts source, time and a place to do it.

Anyone even slightly mechanically inclined can save thousands a year in repairs to their cars, toys, tools, appliances. At some point I discovered that the internet was actually better at supplying this type of information than it was at providing free porn. :paranoid:
 

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First of all, thanks for starting the thread and the replies. Very helpful.

My ABS light goes on and off actually. That, along with my Brake light. But I happen to think it is actually my brakes, because they are acting up. Often, when I hit my brakes, the opposite of what I would expect from bad brakes happens - instead of them braking slower, they actually SLAM to an extreme sudden stop. I assume this is because the brake pads are probably worn down all the way to the metal, and thus the metal causing the more sudden stoppage.
If you are even slightly mechanically inclined, let me know. The reason why, is because it is rarely worn pads doing this. When your pads are worn down to the metal, you know it, because it will make a sound that sounds like if you were to take a smooth rock and roll it along a flat rock. Not quite a grinding noise, but very noticeable, and your stopping distance would be a lot longer, not sudden.

Instead, what it sounds like you have is a build up of rust or brake dust on your pads. The cause? Buying the cheap pads (don't worry, we all do it). The good thing is, they are easy to clean. I mean, if you know how to use a jack and a socket wrench and a C-clamp, it's roughly a 15 minute job per wheel, and I'd say on a 1-10 difficulty scale, it's a 1. In fact, if you're inclined to clean them, I will do mine tomorrow and take step by step pictures for you. It's very easy, just make sure you use brake cleaner to do it. Whatever you do, do not take it to a mechanic. They will ask $100-$150 to do what you can do for a $3 bottle of brake cleaner, and anyone can do it. That will fix your problem too.

Another thing they do, is my tires squeal anytime I a) make an extreme turn, b) accelerate from a stop, even if it's not a sudden, hi-speed acceleration, c) come to a sudden stop. But the strange thing is, these symptoms are often signs of bad tire wear, but all tires are either brand new, or have plenty of tread on them. So, I am thinking it's the actual brakes. Do you think ?
If you are certain the noise is coming from the wheel area, it has nothing to do with the brakes. The only things that would cause that are under inflated tires making too much contact with the road, or your alignment is a little off. If you don't have a tire pressure gauge, you can get one for a couple of bucks just about anywhere. The best way to know what pressure you need is to ignore what the tire tells you, but instead open the driver door, and look for a rectangular manufacturer sticker. It will be white, black or silver. One of the things it tells you is what pressure to inflate your tires to, based on the weight of your car. That's the number you want to go for.

To check the alignment, just go driving on a straight road and let go of the wheel for a second or two. A properly aligned vehicle will always stay straight, but if it's off even a little bit, your car will gradually ease over to the side. That's something that is best leaving to a mechanic fixed, because it's a pain in the ass to get right, and most places only charge about $75. It's well worth it to avoid screwing with it and getting it wrong

I will take an older model car, with manual window knobs, over a new one, anyday !
I'd much rather suffer through the torment (sarcasm) of having to open windows my my hands, than take the chance on the likely scenario, that the power windows will end up neither opening or closing.

So, perhaps a good idea for the next thread, would be "Stop replacing your power windows motor".....or...."Stop replacing your older model car, with a newer model" lol
I hate power windows. They always fail eventually. The thing about manual windows, is the bottom sits in a metal track with a rod running from the handle to a hole in the track, and if it screws up, you remove the panel and put the glass back on the track. With power window, they have a metal piece attached to the glass with revolving gears, rods, wires, etc. and any one of those things can go bad. You can grind the gears (done it), separate the glass from the metal (done it), or more commonly the switch module just dies. I've had all of that happen with power windows, and none of them is worth the time or money it costs to fix them just for a convenience. It's a perfect example of technology not improving something.
 

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Good tips Ex... Same story for a lot of rotary power tools with brushes. Nobody ever sames the little package that comes with the tool.
Yep, lawnmowers too. You know how many people every year throw away a non working mower when all they have to do is remove the coil housing and sand off the brushes? It's crazy.

Anyone even slightly mechanically inclined can save thousands a year in repairs to their cars, toys, tools, appliances. At some point I discovered that the internet was actually better at supplying this type of information than it was at providing free porn. :paranoid:
So true. People who have never done it panic at the thought, but I do all my own fixes and I've never had any training for it. All of my knowledge of auto mechanics was born out of necessity, and I learned most of what I know from either figuring it out by deduction, or reading things online. Even nowadays, there are so many videos that can make the most difficult thing easy to do for anybody.
 

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Instead, what it sounds like you have is a build up of rust or brake dust on your pads. The cause? Buying the cheap pads (don't worry, we all do it). The good thing is, they are easy to clean. I mean, if you know how to use a jack and a socket wrench and a C-clamp, it's roughly a 15 minute job per wheel, and I'd say on a 1-10 difficulty scale, it's a 1. In fact, if you're inclined to clean them, I will do mine tomorrow and take step by step pictures for you. It's very easy, just make sure you use brake cleaner to do it. Whatever you do, do not take it to a mechanic. They will ask $100-$150 to do what you can do for a $3 bottle of brake cleaner, and anyone can do it. That will fix your problem too.
This is an interesting conclusion, because I can see that on the outside of both of my 2 front wheels, there is a huge amount of dirty debris or residue forming there. But it's only on my 2 front wheels, and not on my rear wheels. The rear ones are the complete opposite - squeaky clean. So, I assume the cause of this, is the cause you described above ?
 

Lanky Livingston

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Brought this up with a buddy who knows a lot more about cars than I do, and he said a lot of alternators are pressed together and don't come apart easily. Also, the rebuilt alternators are prone to catching on fire or failing, so taking it apart may not be the best idea.
 

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This is an interesting conclusion, because I can see that on the outside of both of my 2 front wheels, there is a huge amount of dirty debris or residue forming there. But it's only on my 2 front wheels, and not on my rear wheels. The rear ones are the complete opposite - squeaky clean. So, I assume the cause of this, is the cause you described above ?
Yep.

Brought this up with a buddy who knows a lot more about cars than I do, and he said a lot of alternators are pressed together and don't come apart easily. Also, the rebuilt alternators are prone to catching on fire or failing, so taking it apart may not be the best idea.
Alternators are assembled by hand, so if they are pressed together, they are pressed together by hand. You know what you do to take them apart? You take out the 3 bolts, stick a screwdriver in the gap that they leave exactly for this purpose, and you pry the pieces apart. Very easily I might add. Anyone who can't do that is too feeble to be working on their car in the first place. It's easier than pulling Legos apart.

These pieces are metal, they serve no purpose other than to house the internal components of the alternator, so even if you screw it up somehow, you won't screw it up. As far as rebuilt alternators being prone to catching fire and failing, there's no way that's true since 99% of alternators on the market are rebuilt. In fact, up until very recently you couldn't even purchase a new alternator. Regardless, whether you do or don't take them apart, it wouldn't increase or reduce the risk of anything. I don't know how to explain it to someone who doesn't know the inner workings of an alternator, but there is nothing you can screw up unless you screw it up on purpose, it's just not possible.
 

Lanky Livingston

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Yep.

Alternators are assembled by hand, so if they are pressed together, they are pressed together by hand. You know what you do to take them apart? You take out the 3 bolts, stick a screwdriver in the gap that they leave exactly for this purpose, and you pry the pieces apart. Very easily I might add. Anyone who can't do that is too feeble to be working on their car in the first place. It's easier than pulling Legos apart.

These pieces are metal, they serve no purpose other than to house the internal components of the alternator, so even if you screw it up somehow, you won't screw it up. As far as rebuilt alternators being prone to catching fire and failing, there's no way that's true since 99% of alternators on the market are rebuilt. In fact, up until very recently you couldn't even purchase a new alternator. Regardless, whether you do or don't take them apart, it wouldn't increase or reduce the risk of anything. I don't know how to explain it to someone who doesn't know the inner workings of an alternator, but there is nothing you can screw up unless you screw it up on purpose, it's just not possible.
Well, no offense, but I will take the word of my coworker on auto-maintenance over yours 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. I honestly can't speak on alternators, as I've never taken one apart, but I do know the "inner workings of an alternator," but thanks for the condescension.

Your alternator may be the kind that is easily disassembled and reassembled, you did say your car is older.
 

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Well, no offense, but I will take the word of my coworker on auto-maintenance over yours 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. I honestly can't speak on alternators, as I've never taken one apart, but I do know the "inner workings of an alternator," but thanks for the condescension.

Your alternator may be the kind that is easily disassembled and reassembled, you did say your car is older.
Lanky, I've asked you countless times over the past few months to basically leave me alone. You're acting like a stalker. Ownership sent me and you an email specifically saying to knock it off, get along with or avoid each other, and you still can't.

You came in here to discuss a topic you admittedly knew nothing about. You contributed nothing, and attempted to instead discredit the things I was doing to help people with a story about your "friend in the industry" that couldn't possibly be real since the things you said aren't true.

I don't know why you can't resist your urge to play Rick from Pawn Stars with your "I have a friend that's an expert in these things" routine, but I am that guy people call when they need to know these things. Please stop with your inaccurate information on a topic you acknowledge you have no knowledge in when I'm trying to offer help to people on a subject that I know a lot about. I know it's hard to control your affinity for riding my ass, but really try this time.

For the record, all alternators are easily disassembled and reassembled. They all have the same basic construction and do exactly the same thing. Not much room for variation. In fact, the alternator for a type 101 Bugatti is actually more simple than the one for my old truck.
 

Lanky Livingston

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Well, that didn't take long. Sorry, everyone; was just passing along the information I gleaned from a knowledgeable source. Take it or leave it. :)
 

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You're right it didn't take long. You came in here within minutes of me clarifying to you the difference between prescription and over the counter medication in the Rob Jackson thread. (You posted here for the first time 13 minutes after I posted in the other thread. Then after I clarified things in the other thread, you were here again 10 minutes later attempting to discredit me.) Sorry, didn't mean to hurt your feelings. The timing is more than just coincidental since this thread has existed for days without your input. Kinda makes your motive overly simplistic to pinpoint.

Fortunately for me, there are plenty of videos, how tos, etc. all over the internet validating what I'm saying, so you didn't contribute information, you tried to discredit me and you can't. Not on this. Please don't derail a good thread.

To illustrate how similar alternators are, here is a side by side comparison for reference for those interested. On the left, the alternator for a 2013 Mercedes GLK. On the right, an alternator from a 1998 Ford Explorer XLT, the truck I drive.

View attachment 546
 
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Thanks Ex, did you already do yours yet - is it too late for you to take pics of it ?
I did mine a while back, but it's so easy I will do it again and take pics so you can see how easy it is. It's currently freezing ass cold here though, so it'll be afternoon sometime. As soon as I get it done, I'll post the pics for you.
 

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As promised, here is how you clean your brakes......

Tools needed:
Tire iron or torque wrench with 19mm socket and extender
13mm socket wrench
White lithium grease spray
Brake cleaner
Jack
Jack stands if you have them
Zip ties or rope if you plan to tie off your caliper

(If putting in new pads, include new pads on this list and do not clean them)

When you remove the lugs, you can use your tire iron, but it's a lot easier if you have a torque wrench. With a torque wrench, the socket you'll need is 19mm unless you have a European car, in which case you will need a 17mm or 21mm depending on the manufacturer. All Asian and American cars use 19mm lugs. Loosen them most of the way while it's still on the ground.
View attachment 548


After you loosen the lugs, put your parking brake on and jack up your vehicle. If you have jack stands, use them. If not, there's no need to go spend $60 on a pair as long as you're on relatively level ground.


The arrow points to the brake caliper, which is the part you have to remove to get to the pads. There are two bolts on the back that you have to remove to do this. The rubber hose on the back of the caliper is your brake line. You do not want to break this or you'll be hating life. After you remove the bolts from the caliper and slip it off (sometimes it feels stuck, but it slips off fairly easily upward), either tie, zip tie, etc. the caliper to anything above it to hang it on, or sit it on top of the rotor like I do.
View attachment 549



This is one of the bolts you have to remove. As far as I know, 13mm is the standard socket size for this on all vehicles, although I am sure there is a rare exception somewhere.
View attachment 550



This is the other caliper bolt you need to remove. They both come out very easily, and both look exactly the same, so you don't have to worry about removing the wrong thing.
View attachment 551



Here is the pad (you also have one on the back) and the rotor that the pads push against. This is the source of your squeal. Oddly enough, before the government made manufacturers quit using asbestos as the sole material in brake pads, this was never an issue. As you can see in the picture, I have the caliper resting on top of the rotor. When you get to this point, the pads pull right out. You can't break or damage anything, so don't worry about that possibility. The easiest way to remove them is to slide them straight out.
View attachment 552

Since there is a limit on attachments in one post, see below for the rest......
 
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This is what you need to spray on the ends of the brake pads (just on the metal tabs) so that when you put them back in they move freely as they should, instead of locking up. Make sure you only spray the metal tabs.
View attachment 553



Here you can see where I've applied the lithium grease. You do this to both ends of both pads. The rotor side of the brake pad is the side you want to clean with the brake cleaner. When you reassemble everything, make sure you put this side against the rotor, and make sure you put the pads in the same slot (front or back) that you took them off of. One will have really obvious caliper marks, that one goes in the side closer to the engine. The one with just blcak circles is the one that face you.
View attachment 554



Before you reassemble everything, use a c-clamp to squeeze the caliper back so you can put it on easier. A good rule of thumb is to just keep tightening the c-clamp until the cylinders are flush with the face of their holes. The caliper spring in this picture will very likely pop out a few times. If it does, no big deal, it only fits back in one way.
View attachment 555



At this point, just put the pads back in as they go, put the caliper back on, insert and tighten the bolts until they stop turning, and put your tire back on. Afterwards, remove jack stands if you used them, lower your vehicle and remove the jack, and finish tightening your lugs. Then pop open your hood for the rest.


This is the master cylinder for the brakes with the brake fluid. You absolutely do not want even a grain of dust to get in here, so just loosen the cap but leave it on.
View attachment 556


After you do that, get in your vehicle and push the brakes 5 times. After you do that, keep your foot on the brakes and start the vehicle. Shift into neutral and push the brake 5 times, and repeat this fro reverse, drive, and any other gears you have. When you finish, put it back in park and do it 5 more times. Then release the parking brake and do it all again. It only takes about a minute to do, but it works out any kinks or air bubbles you might have gotten in your line taking the brakes apart.

After you finish this, tighten the master cylinder cap, close the hood, and you're finished. And you saved about $200 on your brakes.

Hope this helps you out. The first time I ever did this it took me under 30 minutes from the time I started until I was driving again, so it really is very simple for anyone to do.
 
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