How Long Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

Driving with a bad alternator can be challenging. So how long can I drive with a bad alternator? Not very long. Let’s find out more.


The alternator is one of the essential parts of your car. It is responsible for powering almost every system that helps your vehicle to function correctly. 

But it does fail at times due to various reasons. Your car will give several warnings to alert you, and you can have your alternator changed.

How far can I drive with a bad alternator? If this is a concern that bothers you, keep reading! 


How Long Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

How Long Can You Go With a Bad Alternator?

The alternator in your car can go bad at times, and you might not notice till it’s too late. But there is no need to panic if the battery of your car is in good condition. You can drive your vehicle with a bad alternator as long as the battery stays functional. 

Suppose you are an amateur driver or a first-time car owner. In that case, you might be wondering how to understand that your car alternator is not working. Here are a few ways to recognize a bad alternator. 

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. 


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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. 


How Long Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

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. 

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. 


How Long Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

Jump Starting Your Battery

However, if you drive for a long time, 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. 


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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. 

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. 


How Long Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

Will a Car Still Run With a Bad Alternator?

A car can run with a lousy alternator because of its battery. If you have the battery charged before driving, you can continue for a certain distance, even if the alternator fails. However, you might not be able to do so for a very long distance. 

The car will automatically slow down when the alternator fails, and all systems will draw excess power from the battery. It will lead to battery drainage. So, even though the car can run with a bad alternator, don’t take unnecessary risks. Drive to a safe spot and change the alternator or have the vehicle towed to a mechanic’s. 

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. 


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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. 


How Long Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator

Wrap Up

A malfunctioning alternator will slow down your vehicle, but you can still drive to the nearest service station. Take precautions to ensure that your car’s battery will not die out too soon and get your alternator changed. If you’ve done this before, write about the experience in the comments below! You can also share this article with others who need assistance.