Personal Loans

How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Car’s 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.

Squeals or whining sounds, burning rubber smells, dimming lights and failing electrical equipment are a sign your alternator is on its way out. There are also warning lights in your dashboard 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 the part itself hovers around the $200 range, your research may find differently 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 fix the part yourself.

If you suspect your radiator is on the fritz, you’ll need to start looking for dependable mechanics and for ways to pay for it. Here’s what to know if your alternator needs to be replaced.

What will it cost to repair a car’s alternator?

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 originally, the higher maintenance costs may be. YourMechanic, a mobile auto repair service, reports that the two most expensive brands to maintain are BMW and Mercedes-Benz. You’ll also find variations between different types of mechanics, as private shops tend to run lower prices, and dealerships tend to be higher cost.

If you’re facing alternator repairs in the near future, here are a few common vehicles and what their alternators will cost to replace. We’re using YourMechanic’s estimation tool to value these repairs, based in Seattle.

Vehicle Replacement cost (low) Replacement cost (high)
2013 Ford Focus $467 $586
2013 BMW 3-Series $771 $989
2013 Ford Escape $527 $660
2013 BMW X3 $782 $1,002

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.
  • ASE certification: The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certifies technicians and shops. Their 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 one in three American drivers can’t afford an unexpected car repair bill. If you need some options on affording car repairs, here are a few ideas.

Funding option What is it? Who is this good for?
Personal loan A multipurpose loan, likely unsecured. Those with OK-to-good credit who need to borrow a set amount of money.
Credit card A card issued by a financial institution that allows you to make purchases using credit. Those who need fast access to funds but can repay their debt quickly to avoid high interest costs.
Home equity line of credit (HELOC) A loan that allows you to borrow against the value of your home. Only available to homeowners but best for those who may need funds on a rolling basis and who are comfortable taking on secured debt.

Personal loan

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 timeline, 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 2018 was 33.52%, borrowers with a credit score of 720 saw an average APR of 7.09%.

Credit card

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 applying for one that offers an introductory 0% APR offer for a set period. If you can pay it back within that period you could save paying interest.

HELOC

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.

Bottom line

You won’t be getting very far with a broken alternator. If this part is causing problems with your vehicle, you’re going to need to get it replaced. Find a mechanic you can trust, find your preferred way 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.

 

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