It’s never fun when your car starts to break down. It can mean that expensive parts need to be replaced or repaired, but also that you could end up stranded somewhere. And if you’re like me, it’s easy to feel distressed and concerned about how much it will cost to get your car back running.
So if you notice dimmed headlights or if your car battery light comes on, it often means you have electrical issues with your charging system, and you may have been told it’s due to a bad alternator or battery issues.
In this article, we’ll focus on the alternator. So, how much does an alternator cost, and how much is an alternator replacement? We’ll answer all those questions and more for you here.
What Is an Alternator?
Before we dive into how much an alternator is and replacement costs, let’s take a short look at what an alternator actually does and why it’s an important part of your vehicle. But also what causes an alternator to fail.
The alternator is a key component in your vehicle’s charging and electrical system that works in conjunction with the battery. Without your alternator functioning properly, your vehicle will not be able to charge properly.
When the engine is off, your car’s battery provides the necessary power to start the engine and run electrical accessories.
And to avoid ending up with a dead battery, it’s the alternator’s job to recharge that battery, but also to generate the power needed for all electrical components and accessories, such as the car’s lights and radio, or to power windows while the vehicle’s engine is running.
So if you are dealing with alternator problems or when the alternator fails, the battery will eventually run out of power, which could actually cause your car to shut off while driving, leaving you and your car stranded.
What Causes an Alternator to Fail?
As with many other vehicle parts, alternators are exposed to wear and tear. Over time, dirt and high temperatures will eventually have their turn on the alternator’s moving parts.
However, there are other factors to consider too, such as manufacturing defects or other types of damage. But at some inevitable point, a vehicle will end up with a faulty alternator that requires replacement to generate power to the car battery and accessories properly.
How Much Does an Alternator Cost?
Alternators for most vehicle models usually cost between $160 and $270 but may cost up to $1000 or more for premium vehicles. The price often depends on if the alternator is new or remanufactured; the latter is usually cheaper. As a general guideline, the average cost of an alternator is about $200 to $300.
Note that the alternator price range is not the same everywhere. Depending on where you live, taxes, or for example, what shop you visit, the cost may differ from the estimates you see here.
Furthermore, when looking for alternators, an alternative to new or remanufactured alternators is to have your alternator repaired.
However, the alternator repair cost is hard to estimate since it often depends on the repair’s severity. It could go anywhere from $200 to $800 or more, and there’s a chance that the alternator is beyond saving. So, it’s usually better to replace the alternator entirely instead of spending a few hundred dollars on alternator repair costs.
Remember, buying a new alternator is only one part of the replacement cost. So if you’re thinking about having a mechanic replace it, you’ll need to account for labor costs.
Alternator Replacement Cost
On average, it takes 1 to 3 hours to replace an alternator on most vehicle models. So, if you’re taking your vehicle to a professional repair shop, expect to pay between $160 and $270 for a quality alternator and $120 to $200 for labor. For premium vehicles, you may have to pay a total of up to $1000 or more.
An alternator replacement usually comes down to an average cost of approximately $500. While the alternator cost is usually the same, some vehicles require removing several components to access the alternator, making it much longer to complete the job.
The good news is that you often don’t have to spend more than $160 to $270 if you don’t mind doing the work yourself, it might take some extra time, but savings are savings!
If you take your car to a mechanic, ask for an itemized quote and ensure you’re not being overcharged.
What Affects the Cost of Alternator Replacement?
As mentioned, the total cost may differ from the estimates you’ve seen above. And apart from taxes, where you live, or example, what shop you visit, we listed a few other things that can affect the cost of an alternator replacement.
Make, model, and year of your vehicle
The make and model of your vehicle will play a role in the cost, as some vehicles require more expensive parts than others. The age and type of your vehicle also affects the cost, as some alternators are more difficult to access and replace than others.
New or remanufactured/rebuilt alternator
When looking to buy a new car alternator, you will notice it says “remanufactured” or “rebuilt” on some of them. Remanufactured alternators have been completely inspected and repaired/rebuilt and are usually up to 30% cheaper than buying a new one. They also tend to come with a one-year warranty, sometimes even longer.
However, rebuilt alternator means it has had either broken parts repaired or is now sold as already used, and you could save up to about half the money and may get up to a 90-day warranty.
New alternator warranty
The warranty that comes with the alternator can play a role in the cost. As mentioned, most remanufactured alternators may come with a one-year warranty, while others offer a warranty of up to three years. And some new alternators even carry a lifetime warranty, but you’ll have to pay more.
OEM or aftermarket parts
OEM (original equipment manufacturer) alternators will likely be more expensive than aftermarket ones. However, OEM alternators are made specifically for your vehicle and may be a better option to fit your car.
Brand & product quality
Like all parts, the brand and quality also plays a role in the cost. Higher quality alternators have a higher price tag. However, they usually last longer and may be worth the investment in the long run.
The average cost for labor is between $50 and $100 per hour. Most alternator replacements typically take around one to three hours to complete, depending on the technician performing the job.
One way to cut costs and save money is to replace the alternator yourself. Although, if you don’t know how to replace an alternator, I recommend leaving it to a professional.
How Long Do Alternators Last?
Many factors go into this, but you can expect an alternator to last around 7 to 10 years or between 80,000 and 150,000 miles. Of course, this is just a general guideline, and some alternators may last much longer while others may need to be replaced sooner.
If you’re concerned about the longevity of your alternator, the best thing to do is to have it checked by a qualified mechanic.
With regular maintenance and care, your alternator should last for many years to come.
How do You Know When to Replace the Alternator?
If you’re experiencing problems with your car’s electrical system, such as your battery not charging or flickering headlights, or if you have noticed growling or whining noises from your engine bay, it could mean it’s time to replace a failing alternator.
First, you need to determine if you’re dealing with a bad alternator or not. It’s not always easy to determine what is causing the problems by simply popping your hood and looking at your car’s engine.
Here are a few signs to keep an eye on that could indicate a failing alternator.
- Dim or Flickering Lights
- Dead Battery
- Growling or Whining Noises
- Car Stalls or Trouble Starting
- Dashboard Warning Lights
- The Smell of Burning Rubber
You may want to test the alternator if you notice one or more of these symptoms. A professional technician can do this for a small diagnostic fee.
Although, some auto repair shops may test it for free; since they would love for you to buy an alternator from them. However, with some knowledge, you might pull this off yourself.
How to Test An Alternator
Here’s how to test an alternator without disconnecting your vehicle’s battery.
- Get a cheap voltmeter or multimeter.
- Make sure the engine is off.
- Connect the voltmeter to the battery. Place the black cable on the negative terminal and the red one on the positive terminal.
- Read the voltmeter. The battery should read above 12.2 volts.
- Start the vehicle.
- Retest the battery with the voltmeter. With the engine running, you should get a reading between 13.5 and 14.7 volts.
- Repeat the process with the radio, lights, fans, and other electronic devices turned on. Make sure that the voltage reading isn’t lower than 13.
Some people may recommend testing the alternator by starting the car, then loosening the negative battery cable while the engine is running to see if the engine dies or not. Do not attempt this method; this “simple test” can fry the alternator, voltage regulator, and/or other electrical components.
Can I Replace the Alternator Myself?
If you’re comfortable working on cars, you might be able to replace the alternator yourself. While this will undoubtedly save you money, it’s important to make sure that you have the necessary skills and knowledge before attempting this task.
To perform an alternator replacement, you’ll need to know how to…
- Disconnect the negative battery cable.
- Locate the alternator
- Inspect related components
- Inspect belt tensioners
- Remove the drive belt
- Remove the car’s alternator
- Install the new alternator
- Replace the drive belt.
- Check that the belt’s tension is set correctly.
- Reconnect the negative battery cable.
- Make sure nothing has been overlooked
- Make sure your battery is fully charged
- Use a multimeter to test the new alternator’s outputs
If you think you can replace it yourself, then check out this guide on how to replace an alternator from AutoZone!
Alternators are an essential part of your car’s electrical system, so it’s important to be aware of the signs that indicate it’s time for a replacement. If you think your alternator might be failing, don’t hesitate to get it checked by a professional mechanic.
You can expect to pay around $200 for a new alternator and $150 in labor costs. However, this is just an estimated cost and may vary depending on your situation.
If you take your car to a mechanic, ask for an itemized quote and make sure you’re not being overcharged.
What Happens When Alternator Goes Bad?
An alternator is responsible for converting the mechanical energy of the engine into electrical energy, which is used to power the vehicle’s electrical system. When it goes bad, it can’t produce the necessary voltage to run the car’s electrical components. This can cause a number of problems, including a dead battery, dim lights, and trouble starting the car.
Is Replacing an Alternator Worth It?
If your alternator is starting to fail, it’s worth getting it replaced as soon as possible since it’s essential for your vehicle’s charging system and electrical components. With a faulty alternator, you may end up stranded at the side of the road.
Can I Drive With a Bad Alternator?
Whether or not you can drive with a bad alternator is hard to say. You’ll likely be able to drive if it’s only making weird noises but still charging the battery. On the other hand, if it has completely failed, you may only be able to drive for a shorter distance.
How Much Should It Cost to Replace an Alternator?
The cost to replace an alternator usually varies depending on the make and model of the vehicle. But for most vehicles, you should expect to pay around $500 for an alternator replacement. Although, for luxury cars or sports cars, you may have to pay up to $1000 or more.
Can AutoZone Replace Alternator?
AutoZone does not replace alternators. However, they do sell alternators with warranties and affordable hand tools required, and they can help you with advice on the job. If the job appears too big, they’ll gladly refer you to a qualified repair shop you can trust through their shop referral program.
Does Car Insurance Cover Alternators?
Car insurance usually doesn’t cover alternators. It’s not very often that an alternator breaks due to accidents or vandalism, which means it probably won’t be covered by auto insurance. However, it’s always best to check with your specific insurance company to be sure. It may include the alternator if you have an extended car warranty covering your electrical system.
Do You Have to Replace the Battery When Replacing the Alternator?
You don’t have to replace the battery when replacing an alternator, but if it’s old or showing signs of wear, it’s usually a good idea to replace the battery at the same time.