Cost of an alternator replacement
Expect to spend at least $500 for a direct replacement
Having a vehicle that isn’t operating properly — or not operating at all — can be frustrating, especially when it’s difficult to figure out what the issue is and what it might cost to fix. If you’re dealing with a faulty alternator, the cost to replace it with a brand-new part from your vehicle’s manufacturer ranges from about $500 to $2,500, depending on your vehicle.
- Alternators are a pretty standard piece of equipment in most vehicles, although some hybrid models don’t have one.
- The signs of a faulty alternator are similar to those of a bad car battery (dead battery, trouble starting, etc.).
- In most cases, it makes sense to replace a bad alternator rather than repair it — the labor involved in repairing one can get pretty costly.
What is an alternator?
Almost all vehicles, aside from some hybrids, have an alternator. Your car's alternator generates most of the electricity in your vehicle, powering everything from the radio to the taillights. Here’s how it works:
- Your vehicle’s engine spins a belt that’s attached to the alternator via a pulley system.
- This pulley rotates the alternator’s rotor shaft and a surrounding set of magnets that pass around a coil, generating a current.
- This alternating current (AC) is channeled into the rectifier, which converts it to the direct current (DC) needed to run your vehicle’s electrical systems and recharge your car battery.
Your car battery stores the excess electricity created and saves it for when you need power while your engine isn’t running, like at startup.
How much does it cost to fix an alternator?
Repairing your vehicle's alternator generally isn’t a viable option compared with replacing one. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that repairing something can cost a lot more in terms of labor than replacing it.
- An alternator repair can require a diagnosis, removing and disassembling the existing alternator, installing new components, testing them, and reinstalling the alternator.
- An alternator replacement is as simple as buying a new or rebuilt alternator, taking out the faulty unit and putting in the new or rebuilt one.
In theory, an alternator repair could be cheaper, especially for high-end vehicles, but it’s uncommon. If you want to explore all your options, ask your mechanic for an itemized repair quote and compare it with the cost of replacement. An itemized quote lets you see exactly what you’re paying for and how much of it’s for labor and how much is for parts.
How much does it cost to replace an alternator?
We gathered estimates for replacing an alternator in three sample vehicles in Austin, Texas, to give you examples of what this service might cost. The cost of replacing an alternator in these sample cars ranges from roughly $530 to $2,660.
|Vehicle||Parts cost||Labor cost||Total cost|
|2016 Honda Civic||$427.01-$733.92||$164.27-$223.24||$591.28-$957.16|
|2016 Ford F-150||$447.09-$768.44||$82.13-$111.62||$529.23-$880.06|
|2018 BMW 7 Series||$1,227.88-$2,110.42||$401.54-$545.69||$1,629.42-$2,656.10|
Your vehicle’s make, model and age affect the cost of repairs. Newer, higher-end vehicles tend to have more expensive components, while less expensive vehicles are usually cheaper to fix.
"The make and model of the vehicle can change the price considerably," Devin Purcell, an automotive instructor, told us. "There are replacement alternators that cost $100 and there are also some that cost $900 to purchase. These are just the parts; labor is another component. Labor ranges from one to eight hours, depending on the model."
It’s worth pointing out that our parts estimates are in line with prices for components from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), but you can potentially save a lot of money by using aftermarket parts. Just be aware that this may affect whatever warranty is left on your vehicle.
» LEARN: Best Extended Car Warranty Companies of 2023
Labor costs vary less across our sample cars, but these still differ from vehicle to vehicle. Some cars and trucks have more compact or complicated setups under the hood that make it harder to get to the alternator, and the more time it takes to replace your alternator, the more you’ll pay.
Signs of a bad alternator
A broken alternator — not to be confused with a failing alternator belt (also called the serpentine belt) — can be hard to diagnose because many of the symptoms of a bad one are the same as the symptoms of a faulty battery, and both can be debilitating enough that diagnostic tests are impossible to run right away.
Put simply: It’s hard to know what’s wrong with your car’s electrical system when there’s no power.
Here are a few common symptoms of a bad alternator:
- Battery light on dash: If your dashboard is showing the word “CHARGE” or a battery symbol after the battery is turned on, that means there’s a problem with your charging system, not necessarily your actual battery.
- Dead battery: A faulty alternator won’t properly charge your battery while the engine is running, so a dead battery could be a sign of an alternator problem. The best way to tell if it's your battery or alternator is to install a new battery. If it dies shortly after the installation, your alternator is most likely to blame.
- Difficulty starting: If your car has a hard time starting, it might be caused by your alternator. If the alternator is bad, your battery won’t have the necessary power to start your car.
- Grinding or whirring: If you’re hearing some unexpected noises, like grinding or whirring, it might be due to broken pieces within an alternator. For example, if the bearings in your alternator are starting to fail, the noise produced is usually pretty hard to miss.
- Weakened power supply: Because your electrical components are powered by your alternator, a weakened power supply could be a sign of a bad alternator. Look for things like slow-rolling windows, dimmed headlights or slow windshield wipers.
Regardless of the cause, if you’re experiencing issues with your vehicle, it’s important to schedule an inspection with a licensed mechanic. They can test different components of your vehicle and use OBD-II readings to determine what the issue is. You may have to pay for these tests, but they should help you avoid paying for a repair that’s not needed.
Can I drive with a bad alternator?
You can potentially drive a short distance with a faulty alternator, but we don’t recommend it. Because this component powers so many different parts of your vehicle, driving with a bad alternator can impact various functions. A faulty alternator often leads to a dead battery, and if left unfixed, it could permanently ruin your battery, too.
In short, you and your wallet are probably better off getting a bad alternator replaced before it leads to more extensive issues. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not the worst car problem you can have. If you’re having problems with your car’s charging system:
Technically, it’s possible to drive with a bad alternator, but it’s not a good idea. Driving for too long this way can leave you with a bad battery and other issues.
- Take it to a mechanic.
- Get the problem diagnosed.
- Ask for an itemized quote.
- Make sure you’re not being overcharged.
The cost to replace your alternator will depend on what car you drive and what shop you go to, but you can potentially save money by using aftermarket or remanufactured parts. Once your alternator is replaced, you’re good to go.
However, if you want to avoid paying to replace your alternator again in the future, an extended auto warranty may be a good call.
Extended warranties, also called vehicle service contracts, cover the cost of unexpected repairs due to malfunctions or broken parts. As long as your plan covers your alternator, the next time it malfunctions, you’ll only have to pay your deductible. Your warranty provider will cover the rest.
A reviewer from Georgia told us their alternator went out, and thanks to their extended auto warranty, they were back on the road the same day.
How long is an alternator supposed to last?
An alternator should last around six to 10 years, depending on how much you drive and what kind of car you have. If your vehicle has extra electrical components that are used regularly, your alternator’s life span can be even shorter, though.
What do you do after replacing the alternator?
After an alternator is replaced, there are tests you can run to see if it’s working correctly, but the simplest way is often to drive your vehicle normally and see if you encounter any problems.
Alternators don’t usually need any maintenance, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it again for some time.
Do extended car warranties cover alternators?
It depends. Base-level coverage might not cover your alternator, but if the extended auto warranty covers your car’s electrical system, the alternator is usually included.
Does car insurance cover alternators?
Not usually. Alternators don’t often break due to accidents or vandalism, which means the cost to replace this component probably won’t be covered by auto insurance.
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page.
- AAA, “Estimate Car Repair Costs.” Accessed Aug. 17, 2021.
- Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, “What Is an Alternator and How Does it Work?” Accessed Aug. 20, 2021.
- Firestone Complete Auto Care, “WHAT DOES AN ALTERNATOR DO?” Accessed Aug. 20, 2021.
- The Drive, “What Is the Average Lifespan of An Alternator?” Accessed Aug. 20, 2021.
- Auto Service Costs, “Alternator Replacement Cost.” Accessed Aug. 20, 2021.
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