Your alternator is one of the hardest working parts on your vehicle. It’s a common misconception that the battery in your vehicle is what supplies your power while the vehicle is running. In truth, the alternator not only supplies all of your electrical power while the vehicle is running, it is also recharging your battery at the same time. Every time you use your headlights, radio, GPS, air conditioner, heater, defroster, power seats, turn signal, dome lights, or power outlets, it is your alternator that’s making it all work. Needless to say, when it dies, so does your car. That makes its replacement a pretty big priority. Just so you’re prepared for the time when it comes (and it usually will at least once in every vehicle), here’s a look at what it costs to replace one of these miniature power plants.
Is Anything Else Replaced?
Your alternator is run by your serpentine belt (on nearly all late-model vehicles a serpentine belt is used to drive the main pulleys), and this must be removed in order to remove the alternator. If the belt hasn’t been replaced in some time, or is showing signs of cracking or wear, now is the perfect time to replace it. It will already be part of the labor to remove the alternator, so the only added cost is the price of the belt. In rare instances, the wiring harness plug which plugs into your alternator is also replaced. This is only the case when excessive heat has caused the plastic plug to misshapen or altogether melt. The last item which may require replacement along with your alternator is your battery. Starting your vehicle takes up a lot of your battery’s juice. If it didn’t have something recharging it constantly, it would only last for a couple of starts. If your alternator fails, your vehicle will still look for power to operate. It will find this power in your battery. Unfortunately, without your alternator working to recharge it, this could do some damage to your battery’s cells. Sometimes you get lucky and the battery survives the strain. The technician usually finds that out with a quick test before the work even begins. Other than the previous three items, your alternator should be the only other part being replaced.
So How Much Is It?
The average time for most alternator replacement is two-to-three hours. That gives you roughly $120- $200 in labor to start. The rest is going to depend on the price of your alternator. Most alternators can be purchased from auto parts stores for much less than the dealership, but the buyer must beware here. Certain discount auto parts stores carry a couple lines of electrical parts that have reputations for being of poor quality. Buying an alternator aftermarket is not inadvisable, tons of money can be saved that way; but, make sure you’re using a quality part. Alternators can average anywhere from $100 to $350 depending on make and model. Most vehicles will fall into the $350-400 range for the total job of alternator replacement with no other parts replaced. If the serpentine belt gets tacked on, add another $20 to $50 to your bill. If you decide to go with dealership parts and labor, expect the bill to climb over $500 in many cases.
Can I Save Some Money with a Used Alternator?
This is one of the most inadvisable things to do. When it comes to electrical parts on a car, you truly do get what you pay for. Any used electrical part is going to be a gamble, and will probably not come with a warranty. This can also be said for rebuilt alternators. Keep in mind that rebuilt and remanufactured are two different things. A rebuilt alternator is an alternator that has failed and then had the internal parts which failed replaced; everything else inside it stays. A remanufactured alternator is usually all new internal parts surrounded by a used casing. Everything gets replaced inside, no matter what failed. If you need to save a few bucks, go with reman over brand new, but steer clear of rebuilt and used.
(Please remember that these repair prices can also fluctuate based on geographic location, as well as vehicle make and model; and that these numbers represent averages, not actual prices offered at any specific repair facilities.)