Is it the Battery or the Alternator?

You’re getting in the car to head to work, but when you trying turning your engine over all you hear is that dreaded clicking sound and your vehicle drags as it starts (if it starts at all). Now the big question is: is it the battery or the alternator? There are a few tricks to help you diagnose the problem.

The Battery

Determining if your problem is with the battery is generally easier than determining if it’s your alternator. One clue that it’s your battery is going dead is that your vehicle will start normally, but will struggle when using extra energy, such as your vehicle’s headlights.

A second simple way to check your battery is by checking your alternator. Start your vehicle and remove the ground cable from the battery. If your car dies immediately, it’s not the battery. While this is a safe process, if you feel uncomfortable trying it, you should take it to an auto shop. Safety first!

Your car’s battery can also be easily tested at any car repair shop to quickly and accurately determine whether or not your battery needs to be replaced.

The Alternator

While trying to determine the source of your problem, you’ll also want to check your vehicle’s alternator. The alternator is designed to keep your battery charged while in use. There are two basic tests to determine if the problem is your alternator. The first test was described above, by starting your vehicle and removing its ground cable from the battery.

The second test is often referred to as the “headlight test” and only requires the help of one other person. To begin the test, start your vehicle and turn on the headlights. Keep the vehicle in park and press the accelerator. If your headlights brighten or dim, chances are it’s your alternator. If the light levels remain the same, it’s probably not your alternator.

Again, most vehicle repair shops can test your alternator and help you determine where the problem lies and can help you replace it.

So the next time you’re having a hard time starting your vehicle, you can perform a few simple tests to determine if it’s your battery or alternator. While these tests are simple, you’ll always want to have your battery and alternator  replaced, by a professional to prevent any future safety or performance problems.