How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator?

My alternator seems to be malfunctioning. How far can I drive with a bad alternator. This innocuous sounding question can have big ramifications, because driving with a bad alternator can be really costly to you. Read on to know more

The alternator is the device that charges the battery continuously so that the car can start no matter how long it has been driven. If the alternator fails to charge the battery, the battery may die. The battery will then not be able to start the vehicle until it can be charged again.

Is the alternator preventing you from driving your car long distances because it is damaged? You can either jump-start it or charge it with electricity. This article will attempt to answer this and other questions.

The battery can become progressively depleted as you drive your car, primarily if driven for an extended period. This could eventually cause irreparable damage. 

You should not drive your vehicle more than what is necessary to reach the nearest mechanic shop or service center so that the alternator can be repaired or replaced as required.

A car with a defective alternator should not run more than a few hundred meters. This is just enough distance to reach help. You are putting your battery’s life at risk by refusing to do so.


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

What Happens When The Alternator Dies?

The alternator will stop charging your battery as you drive. Failure to charge your battery can cause it to drain your battery so severely that it could damage your car beyond repair. This can lead to your vehicle not starting if you turn off the engine.

A damaged alternator can also cause dimmed headlights that may become brighter as you accelerate. Dimming your headlights can lead to reduced visibility, resulting in accidents or other serious consequences. Bad alternators can also cause dimming of interior lights and poor performance of the AC or radio.


You might like to read: How Long Does an Alternator Last?


What Are The Symptoms Of A Bad Alternator?

You can tell a poor alternator by observing the decrease in brightness of the interior and headlights. Sometimes the car’s headlights may become brighter when you accelerate and dim when you decrease your speed. This is because the battery isn’t in full charge.

A bad alternator can also cause growling sounds in the engine cavity. This is a sign that the alternator is failing. Bad alternators can also generate excessive heat, giving off the stench of burned rubber or wire.

Check the Indicator Lights

New and advanced cars come with lights that warn you of alternator trouble. Several indicator lights display ALT (for alternator) or GEN (for generator). 

You can find these indicator lights on the dashboard. The icon for these lights can also be a battery. If there is a decrease in the output levels of your car alternator, the lights will start blinking. 


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

Inspect the Headlights

The alternator powers the headlights. So if you notice that the headlights are malfunctioning, the alternator needs to be changed. 

However, your headlights don’t have to completely stop working for you to understand that the alternator has gone bad. They may be pulsating or flickering. The intensity of the lights may also dim. These are also signs of a bad alternator. 

Check for Electrical Issues

The electrical systems in your car work because of the alternator. It provides the necessary power. If your alternator is going bad, you will notice that various systems are slowing down or failing. 

For example, if you have power windows, they may start to work slower than usual. The internal lights may stop working altogether. You might also face issues with the radio. 

Unusual Smells or Noises

The alternator works with several belts. These belts move in specific directions. If these directions change, it results in excess friction, causing heating issues with the belts. If this happens, it might lead to a burning rubber smell. 

Sometimes, belts slip, and this is when you will smell electrical burning. The smell of electrical or rubber burning is a telltale sign of a bad alternator. There might be noises coming from the engine. 

You might hear rattling or whining sounds along with a smell or any other symptoms. Such sounds usually indicate that the alternator is malfunctioning.


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator


Car Not Starting Easily

For the car to start, spark plugs need to ignite the gas in the engine. The alternator is responsible for powering the spark plugs. If the alternator cannot provide power, the spark plugs will not be able to ignite the gas. 

So if you face any difficulty in starting the car, then the alternator may be failing. Check for other issues due to which the engine might be stalling. However, if you find no other issues, the problem likely lies with the alternator. 

If you notice any of these warning signs, you should take precautions. Ideally, with a good battery, you can drive a certain distance. When your alternator stops functioning, the car draws power from the battery. 

So as long as your battery can provide the necessary energy, you can drive your vehicle. Several well-maintained cars with powerful batteries can go for more than 60 miles with a bad alternator. 

Can I Drive With A Faulty Alternator?

You can drive with a defective alternator, but you should think twice about it unless you want to buy a new one, which I doubt you are. A faulty alternator doesn’t charge the battery while you drive, which can eventually cause severe, or even fatal battery failure.

The battery can be irreparably damaged if this happens. You should not drive with a faulty battery for more than 30 minutes.

Jump Starting Your Battery

If you drive for a long time with a bad alternator, the car will drain the battery. You might also not be able to recharge it. When this happens, you can jump-start your vehicle. To jump-start a car with a bad alternator, you will have to provide voltage directly to the battery. 

Then you need to remove the jumper cables. Keep an eye on how far you’re able to go before the battery dies. 

Now, you shouldn’t drive a car with a lousy alternator for too long. If you notice any of the symptoms, immediately look for the nearest garage. Keep jumper cables ready if the distance is too much. 

But do not jump-start your car more than a couple of times. Before driving long distances, take your vehicle in for a thorough inspection so that you know the condition of each part. If your alternator goes bad in the middle of a trip, call roadside assistance. 


You might like to read: Where To Connect Parking Brake Wire? 3 Ways To Bypass a Parking Brake on Stereo


How Do You Drive a Car With a Bad Alternator?

While a bad alternator can cause issues, you can continue to drive the car for a short distance. But the car will not speed up. To safely operate a vehicle with a bad alternator, you can follow these three steps.  

Step 1

Turn off all unnecessary systems like the air conditioner, windshield wipers, or the radio. Also, try to switch off the lights. These auxiliary parts draw a lot of power. With a bad alternator, you need to conserve as much energy as possible. When you turn them off, your car will be able to go a little further. 

Step 2

Check what your nearest garage is. If you can change the alternator on your own, look for a store that sells automobile parts. Change your course, and drive to the store or service station. 

If you are planning a road trip, make a list of all the garages or stores selling automobile parts along your route. Do this even if your alternator is in good condition. The list will help in case of an emergency. 


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

Step 3

While driving to the shop or the garage, look for areas that are not very congested. The battery will drain faster if you have to stop and start your car frequently due to traffic. 

To avoid traffic, you can wait in a parking lot till the roads have cleared and then start driving. You can also look for a service station or store near the parking lot. If one is nearby, lock your car and walk to get a new alternator or ask if they can tow your vehicle. 

Step 4

When you reach the mechanic’s or the store, make sure to get a powerful alternator. Recharge your battery before driving again. 

You should recharge your vehicle’s battery, especially if the alternator has just been repaired and not replaced. Suppose the mechanic hasn’t done an excellent job repairing. 

In that case, the alternator will malfunction again, and then you will have to rely on the battery. So it is better to get it charged. 

Are There Risks Of Driving With A Bad Alternator?

There are some risks involved in driving with a bad alternator. First, and most importantly, your battery could be damaged beyond repair depending on how long you drive with it. A bad alternator can make the car’s headlights dim.

Poor visibility can lead to accidents, especially when this happens at night. Bad alternators can cause overheating, leading to the smell of burning rubber and heat. This could be a potential cause of car fires.

The dashboard light and the interior lights can dim and vary in brightness. Bad alternators can cause the interior lights to be dim, making it difficult for drivers or their companions to read or write. It may not be easy to read the numerous meters and gauges on your dashboard.


You might like to read: Popping Noise When Backing Up And Turning Wheel – What Does it Mean?


How Long Will A Car Run Without Alternator?

A car with a lousy alternator shouldn’t be driven for long distances to avoid irreparable damage to the battery. To be able to seek help, limit the distance you drive your car to a few hundred meters.

Will A Bad Alternator Kill A New Battery?

No matter how old the battery is, a bad alternator will kill it. The reason is that the battery may initially start the car correctly, but it will gradually drain the battery’s power until it stops working.

This is it. You should only drive with a defective alternator if you need it to fix your problem. The battery could be damaged if it is drained too often, making any repairs futile.


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

What Are Some Of The Signs Of A Bad Battery?

It is terrible to discover that your car won’t start to run due to a dead battery. This can cause significant disruptions to your plans and even set you back. It is essential to spot signs of a bad battery and prevent any disappointments.

Check the dashboard battery gauge first to determine any battery problems. Your battery could be at fault if the dashboard lights dim. Next, turn on the windshield wipers, lights, and automatic windows. Turn them off, then try to start the car again. If the vehicle does not start, you know it is dead.

Battery Corrosion

Corrosion of the battery could be why your car won’t turn on when you try to start it. Use a rag or paper towel to clean off corrosion and try to jump-start the vehicle. It should start if it does. If it starts, you can turn the engine off and restart it. If the engine won’t start, the alternator is working correctly, but the battery isn’t retaining a charge.

Old Battery

Older batteries retain less charge than new ones. This is because the metals within them have corroded, which causes the charge to decrease so that the alternator can’t give the battery enough power to start the car. Learn how to prolong the life of your battery.


You might like to read: Popping Noise When Backing Up And Turning Wheel – What Does it Mean?


What Happens When the Alternator Goes Out While Driving?

Failing Electronics

Suppose the alternator goes out while driving, you will notice that all electronics will start slowing down. Some systems may even malfunction. If you have the heater or the AC on, you will see that the car is not as cold or warm as you want it to be. 

The radio might stop working. While driving a can with a bad alternator for a short distance is not too unsafe, driving at night can be dangerous. When the alternator stops working while still driving, your car’s headlights will dim or start flickering. If you are going on a particularly dark road, it will be highly unsafe. 


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator


Drained Battery

Since these electronics fail due to a malfunctioning alternator, the battery needs to compensate for the power deficiency. So if you are driving with a bad alternator, there is a chance that the battery will die out soon. 

You should always recharge your car’s battery before starting a journey, especially if it is a long one. To avoid issues, you can carry a spare battery or a new alternator.

If you are skilled in changing automobile parts, you will quickly rectify the problem and continue driving. 

What Are The Common Habits That Destroy Your Car?

It is a huge investment to purchase the car you want, especially if it is your first. You will fight any attempts to stop it from running smoothly. Sometimes we are unaware that our cars may suffer from damage. We will now look at some of the most common and innocent ways our vehicles can be damaged.

Ignoring The Parking Brake

The parking brake must always be used no matter what surface you park your car on. The parking brake reduces the vehicle’s weight, making the transmission components last longer. If you don’t do this, the entire weight of your car will rest on the parking brake, which can eventually wear down and break.


How Far Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator


Keeping The Gas Tank Low

By filling your gas tank with sufficient fuel, you effectively protect your car’s fuel system. The fuel pump keeps cool by staying submerged in fuel. If your tank is always low in fuel, premature fuel pump replacement can lead to early replacement. This will cause you to waste precious resources.

Sudden Shifts From Reverse To Drive Modes

Your drivetrain is at risk if you do it in any other way. It is best to stop the car entirely before reversing or moving forward. You should also be careful not to rev your engine when it is too warm, but not when it’s cold. Also, you should never push the pedal to the limit, even if it seems tempting.


You might like to read: How Long Can I Drive With A Bubble In My Tire?


A Few Final Words

We have spent enough time discussing how to distinguish between battery and alternator problems. Each vehicle part has its unique issues. You may need to use the substitution process to find your problem.

The maintenance of the alternator and battery and the vehicle itself has not been done with any levity. You can avoid common motor vehicle problems by carefully reading the manual.

Thank you for reading the article, we hope we covered all your queries about alternators. If you have further doubts, please write to us in the comments section.

Photo of author

Sean Mendez

Hi, I am Sean, a self-confessed petrolhead. I live in Boise, Idaho with a busy family of four and our energetic Labrador retriever. Thank you for visiting my website. You can find my email on the contact page.

Leave a Comment