How Much an Alternator Repair Costs And How to Pay for It
Your car’s alternator is one of the key components of the electrical system of your vehicle. It’s vital in getting the car running and keeping it running. When your alternator goes, it can be a costly headache to repair.
A new alternator can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000 to replace depending on the year, make, and model of your vehicle, and where you are getting it fixed. Our pricing reflects costs found on O’Reilly Auto Parts and Angie’s List.
Before you head to the mechanic though, there are a few things you should know about repairing a car’s alternator. We’ll also discuss your funding options.
- What is an alternator?
- How to tell if your car’s alternator is failing
- 4 tips to maintain your car’s alternator
- What is an alternator’s cost for repair?
- Comparison shopping car repair shops
- How to pay for an alternator repair or replacement
- Bottom line
What is an alternator?
An alternator functions like a generator, converting energy from the gas engine into electricity. You might think that the battery provides the power for your vehicle, but in fact, it’s the alternator that does that while the car is running. It’s an essential part of your car’s electrical system, and if your alternator is failing, your car can’t stay running.
The alternator in a car is generally attached to the engine. While it recharges the battery, it also helps power additional electrical systems like your headlights, infotainment system, air conditioning and other items in your car.
How to tell if your car’s alternator is failing
Squeals or whining sounds, burning rubber smells, dimming lights and failing electrical equipment are a sign your alternator is on its way out and you’re going to incur car repair costs. There may also be warning lights on your dashboard. They could be the battery light, or indicators reading “GEN” or “ALT” — a sure sign that there’s something wrong.
You won’t get too far in a car with a bad alternator. It’s one of those essential parts that’s going to require your attention. While we found that an alternator costs around $200, your research may reveal different prices based on factors, such as your car model, location and where you’re shopping. You’ll also need to pay for labor costs if you’re not able to replace the alternator yourself.
If you suspect your alternator is on the fritz, you’ll need to start looking for a dependable mechanic and for ways to pay for it.
4 tips to maintain your car’s alternator
Maintaining your car’s alternator can help prevent costly repairs or replacements down the road. There are a few simple things you can do to keep your alternator running in top form.
- Be sure to keep the alternator clear of any debris, dirt or dust: Excessive heat can cause your alternator to fail early and keeping it clean will help keep it cool and running longer.
- Check for alternator oil leaks or misalignment: Your alternator shouldn’t be leaking any oil and it shouldn’t appear to be out of alignment. Do a visual check and see if you notice anything strange. If you do, take the car to a repair shop to have it looked at.
- Check the serpentine belt: The alternator is often connected to your engine via a rubber belt. Replace the belt when it shows signs of aging or cracking, usually around 40,000 to 70,000 miles.
- Keep up on regular maintenance: Whether you do it yourself, bring it to a certified and trusted mechanic, or have your local dealership check it out, be sure to keep up with regularly scheduled maintenance to keep your entire vehicle in running condition. Regular maintenance ensures that you will be able to stay ahead of any potential problems that might arise and can considerably cut the costs of repairs down the road.
What is an alternator’s cost for repair?
As we mentioned before, labor and part costs will vary greatly depending on the make and model of your vehicle, as well as your location and where you’re getting service. In general, the more expensive your vehicle was the higher the maintenance costs may be. YourMechanic, a mobile auto repair service, reports that the two most expensive brands to maintain are BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Alternator repair costs can also vary based on whether you take your vehicle to a local mechanic or a dealership for repairs. Local mechanics tend to have more affordable prices while dealerships tend to cost more.
Here are a few common vehicles and what their costs are for a new alternator. (We’re using YourMechanic’s estimation tool to estimate these repairs if you were getting the work done in Seattle.)
Comparison shopping car repair shops
Now that you know what to expect in terms of costs, it’s time to start shopping around for mechanics to do the work. The best place to start is by asking family and friends for recommendations in your area. If that’s not available to you, social media is a great way to see reviews and get more information about the shop. To further vet a potential shop, try these tips:
- Give them a try with a maintenance job: If you’ve got the time, taking your car in for an oil change, tire rotation and balance, or for brakes can give you an experience with the shop. Red flags include constantly telling you that there’s something urgent that needs to be repaired.
- Check that common tests, repairs and labor rates are posted: An honest shop is more than willing to share with you their labor rates and costs. Posting it in a highly visible place should ensure this.
- Find a certified mechanic: The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certifies technicians and shops and gives them an ASE certification. A blue seal will be visible if they’re certified, and diplomas for their employees should also be visible.
How to pay for an alternator repair or replacement
Cash is typically the best way to pay for repairs. But sometimes, it’s not as simple as visiting the ATM. If you need a little extra help paying for your repair, you’re certainly not alone: AAA estimates that 1 in 3 American drivers can’t afford an unexpected car repair bill. And our study on Americans’ savings found that over 50% couldn’t pay for a $1,000 emergency.
If you need some options on affording car repairs, here are a few ideas.
Personal loans are used for everything from weddings to other large purchases. It could work for your auto repair, too. Traditional personal loans come with fixed interest rates and set repayment timelines, which may be preferable to a credit card with variable rates.
Many banks, credit unions and online lenders offer personal loans. Online lenders may have lower rates than traditional banks, thanks to lower overhead costs.
Perfect credit isn’t required to qualify, but those with poor credit history may see up to triple-digit interest rates, if they’re approved at all. Although our study on credit scores found that the average personal loan rate in Q1 2019 was 33.38%, borrowers with a credit score over 720 saw an average APR of 7.27%.
Let’s face it: personal loans aren’t for everyone. Luckily, it’s possible to use your credit card to pay for those repairs. But that said, there’s a catch: some credit cards carry sky-high interest rates, which would quickly add to the cost of your repairs over the course of your repayment.
If paying with credit is your choice, check out the APRs associated with your cards, or consider opening one that offers an introductory 0% APR offer for a set period. If you can pay it back within that period, this card could save you lots in interest.
A HELOC is only an option for homeowners with equity in their home. This loan opens a line of credit for you to borrow against the value of your home. While it’s generally used for home repairs or other large expenses, it could be an option for an auto repair. With this type of loan, expect to be able to borrow up to 85% of your home’s equity, which is the current value of the home minus what you owe on it.
This option generally offers a lower interest rate than many personal loans or credit cards. You’ll have a certain period of time from which you’re allowed to borrow. Then, you’ll pay it back as you would with any other loan. However, use this loan responsibly; remember that the collateral here is your home.
If you think you might struggle to pay your repair bills, speak with the shop doing the work and see if they might offer a payment plan. You’ll need to negotiate the terms and the duration of the payment plan but, most shops will be more than happy to work with you.
You won’t be getting very far with a broken alternator. If this part is causing problems, you’re going to need to get it replaced. Find a mechanic you can trust, find your best option to finance it and get it taken care of. Consider consulting our guide to the costs of car ownership, and try setting up an emergency fund to help lessen the financial impact of future repairs and maintenance.