With a few simple steps, you can endeavor the upcoming winter months, with assurance you wont be roadside with a pair of jumper cables and a hope of someone pulling over to your rescue. I intend to keep most of this post very basic, so as not to encounter any “Don’t try this at home” fears.
I have provided at the end, a video blog, to walk you through the steps, but you’ll want to read through the detailed steps first.
It all starts under the hood. Without overwhelming or boring you with what goes on under there, we will focus on the battery, the belts and the noises.
For around $30 you could stop in at any of our Vision or Transitowne stores for a computer aided diagnostics check of your charging system. It’s important to understand that the functions of each individual part of the charging system can pass these tests as a whole, but in some cases any one of the components can malfunction independently and require further diagnostics. Following these simple steps will simply allow you to do all that you can with little to no experience or tools.
The Battery: In most cases it will be located under the hood. You should look for 3 things.
- Visual inspection… It has 2 cables attached to it, are they corroded? If they look textured or powdery, they need cleaned. Before going any further, battery acid and residue will destroy what ever it touches, so dress accordingly. Proper fix: remove terminal and clean post and cable with a wire brush or terminal cleaning tool. Real world fix: pour a can of coke on it and hose it off after 5 minutes. Note: Some batteries have a sight glass (peep-hole) on the top that should appear green inside, but I don’t condemn a battery based on that inspection.
- Wiggle it… now that they are clean, grab hold of the red and the black and try to wiggle them. If they move at all, that’s not good. If you are unsure what to do about it, leave a comment and I will address it for you. If you own a socket or wrench set and know how to use them, have at it.
- Bulges… In the event that you have a battery not enclosed in a case, you can inspect each of the sides. You are looking to see that there are no bulges. You want to see square flat sides. Bulges are caused from overheated batteries, and this would typically be a sign of needing replaced.
The Belts: You are looking at 2 things. You’ll have either 1 belt (Serpentine belt) or more than one belt (accessory belts) and look for the same things in either case.
- Belt condition: On the side that runs along the pulley’s, you are looking for any cracks (dry rotting), which can be common in older belts. Depending on its location, you may have to find a spot on it where you can “turn it inside out” enough to see the inside surface. Any spot will do, if you can examine a section of 3-4 inches or more you have found the right spot. Flexing it backwards will expose any surface cracks, and if you see them, its time to consider a replacement. 30,000-45,000 miles is the low-end of a life expectancy of a belt.
- Belt tension: If you can find a spot in between pulleys, 6-8 inches of free belt, you want to tug on it. It should be quite stiff with 1-2 inches of play. (see video for normal travel) Excessive travel with no cracks in the belt could be a worn belt, but could also be a result of a bad tensioner.
The Noises: This part can get tricky. I suggest checking out my video at the end, for a good explanation and visual, of whats going on here. There are 2 methods of listening;
- The ear: With an engine running, you’ll hear noise. What you are listening for is any high-pitched noise, or any groaning/moaning sounds. Typically, an engine at idle will only emit those noises if it has a bad pulley or other moving part. If it sounds sick, either see step #2 or consider one of our Dealerships for a service visit.
- The Doctor: What you’ll need to do is simulate a stethoscope. By way of an extended screwdriver or similar object. The combination of a steel shank and plastic handle will amplify the noise output when the handle is cupped next to your ear, and the opposing end placed at the “heart” of the source. Once you have located the alternator, you would place the end of the screwdriver on the aluminum casing, as close to the pulley as you can, without touching the pulley. If you get a great deal of noise feedback or vibration in the handle, this results in 2 things. The first being a worn bearing, and the 2nd, this creates excessive static electricity causing premature failure of internal parts such as Diodes and brushes.
That should do it. Upon completing those basic precautionary checks, you have done everything you can do without additional skills and equipment. If you still question the strength of your charging system, I would first start with a computer aided charging system test at a trusted service station. Your system will be tested for Voltage and Amperage output, among other things. Above and beyond that it would go through component bench testing if needed.
Please check out my video, and always feel free to visit it on YouTube “HeadlightsVlog”