Is It the Battery or Alternator?

We’ve all had those days where you hop in the car, insert your key in the ignition, turn it over, and… nothing. Your car decided to relieve itself of normal duties and take the day off. While a simple jump start might help whip it into shape, it’s often difficult to pin down the cause of the issue, with many people turning to two components: the battery and the alternator.

Your vehicle’s battery and alternator are a equal parts of the charging system—You cannot have one without the other. Don’t let its size fool you, since an automotive battery puts in a lot of work to keep you moving from point A to point B. Not only does it produce the burst of electricity needed to start your vehicle, it also stabilizes the electric current, allowing your vehicle to continue running smoothly. Luckily, the battery has all the support it needs as the alternator keep it charging while the car’s running.

Though these parts are so closely related, you should be able to identify which one is the source of the issue by knowing the key indicators for each. Below are ways you can answer age-old question — Is it the battery or the alternator? — before stepping foot in a repair shop.

Is it the battery?

There are a few warning signs that may help you get in front of a battery-related issue. The most obvious one is the check engine light, but other indicators include slow engine crank, a “ticking” sound when trying to start the engine, or even leakage or swelling around the battery case.

It could also be that your battery is just too old to perform like it used to. As a rule of thumb, you should check your battery after three years of use, then once for every following year. While it could last up to five or six years, several factors could have an effect on the longevity of your battery, such as weather, frequency of cold starts, and even the amount of short trips (below 20 minutes).

You should be able to tell whether your battery isn’t working simply by testing the connections of certain automatic or electrical components. If your windshield wipers, brake lights, and automatic windows aren’t working, then the battery is likely dead. If they are working, however, the problem likely lies with the alternator.

Is it the Alternator?

A quick jump should shed some light on the shape of your alternator and battery. Since the alternator charges the battery, you should be able to tell whether the alternator is the issue simply by how long the battery holds a charge. If your vehicle will start immediately after the jump, but the engine cuts out shortly after, the alternator may not be doing its due diligence in charging the battery. A failing alternator may also cause a growling sound, flickering headlights, or dimming dash lights. Lastly, if you catch a whiff of burning rubber, the alternator might be overheating.

It’s important to remember that a vehicle engine involves many moving parts, and can be affected by numerous external factors. If you can’t start your vehicle, your trusted team here at Atlantic Tire & Service will get it up and running in jiff.