The alternator is undoubtedly a critical part of your car’s electrical system. It’s powered by a running engine using a belt, and its purpose is to generate electricity. That power is necessary to recharge the battery and help power the car’s accessories.
A new alternator can make a clicking noise if it has a manufacturing defect. However, a new one can also suffer damage from a fluid leak in the engine bay or if you did not install it correctly. Indirectly, the alternator can cause clicking elsewhere (namely the starter) if the electrical system is already overloaded to begin with.
You must troubleshoot alternator clicking quickly, and this guide will show you how. You’ll learn the likely causes and how you can fix each of them.
What Causes Alternator Clicking, And How Do You Fix It?
The relationship between alternators and clicking sounds is quite complex. Firstly, it’s possible for an alternator to click, though that tends to happen on defective or older units.
Still, you must remember that the alternator itself might not be the true source of that clicking sound. Instead, it can indirectly cause clicking at the starter.
That’s because the starter will try and fail to start the engine when it doesn’t have enough power. When that happens, the clicking you hear is from the starter rapidly turning on and off again.
Whether the alternator itself is clicking or if it’s indirectly causing the starter to click, here are the most likely reasons it’s happening and how you can fix it.
1. Defective Alternator Bearings
When a clicking sound comes directly from your alternator, that means its bearings are worn out or damaged.
Those bearings are designed to help the alternator rotor spin freely without any friction and noise. However, they will cause clicking noises when worn out or damaged. The damage or wear causes them to hit each other rapidly and repeatedly, causing the clicking sound you hear.
However, your alternator is brand-new. That means you can rule out excess wear as the root cause of this problem.
Instead, your alternator bearings have somehow become damaged or came out of the factory defective even before you installed them in your vehicle.
How to fix it: You can solve this problem by dismantling the alternator and replacing the bearings.
But wait! Remember that your alternator is still new. That means its warranty should still be active, and you can get the alternator replaced.
You should contact the seller or bring it back to the mechanic that installed it in your car. Consult them and figure out what you’re entitled to under warranty.
2. Incorrect Installation
Unfortunately, a new alternator can also cause a clicking noise if installed incorrectly.
For example, the alternator’s mounting screws or bolts might be loose. As a result, the alternator will continuously shake while the engine is running, causing the clicking noise you hear inside the vehicle.
Besides, the alternator’s belt might be too tight around its pulley. That will cause the belt to pull too tightly on the alternator, causing the part to shake or wear out its bearing too quickly. Both of those cases can lead to clicking sounds.
How to fix it: You can fix this problem by reinstalling the alternator correctly. The most effective way to do that is to remove the alternator entirely.
Then, mount the alternator securely before wrapping the belt around correctly. It’s always best to follow a step-by-step process carefully and not rush the installation process.
3. Overloaded Electrical System
As you read earlier, the clicking noise that you hear might only be indirectly related to your new alternator. Perhaps your previous alternator was faulty, and you thought replacing it would solve the problem.
Unfortunately, the problems that you experienced before will happen again if the root cause is not the alternator to begin with.
For example, your car’s past problems could have been caused by an accessory overloading the electrical system. A typical example of that would be aftermarket audio systems that drain far too much power from the car’s electrical system than it can safely provide.
So, despite installing a new alternator, the existing overloading will still lead to the clicking noise you hear from the starter or any other component.
In other words, your alternator is new, but it did not solve the problem. That’s because the alternator that you replaced wasn’t the root cause of your car’s electrical problems.
How to fix it: Firstly, you must evaluate your car’s whole electrical system. The goal is to identify your accessories on that system to ensure that none of them is overloading it.
Once you find the accessory responsible for the overloading, you must remove or fix it. Only once you do that will your new alternator help the electrical system work correctly, and the clicking noise will stop.
4. Fluid Leak
Believe it or not, a fluid leak in your car’s engine bay can also lead to clicking noises. That can be fluids like engine oil, coolant, or power steering fluid.
The reason for that is straightforward: the leak can bathe your brand-new alternator in fluids, leading to extensive alternator damage. Aside from clicking, you might also hear grinding noises and notice a burning smell coming from the alternator.
The likelihood of a fluid leak damaging your alternator is higher depending on your vehicle model. All of it depends on how your car is designed and whether or not there are any potential leak sources close to the alternator.
How to fix it: Firstly, stop the fluid from leaking at its source. That will likely include replacing hoses and gaskets while ensuring all connections are sealed tightly.
You must ensure that the fluid leak is sorted first to ensure that any new alternator you install will not suffer the same damage.
Can I Drive My Car If The Alternator Is Not Working Correctly?
No matter why your new alternator is making a clicking noise, the bottom line is that the alternator isn’t working correctly. You might still be able to start the car and drive, but that won’t last for long.
That’s because your faulty alternator is likely not recharging your car battery as it should be. In other words, you might be able to start your car this time, but you probably won’t later.
The next time you try to start your car, the battery will be drained and won’t deliver enough power to the starter.
So, if your new alternator is clicking, but the car is still running, you must drive it to your trusted mechanic as soon as possible.
Overall, what you’ve seen here is that an alternator can, directly and indirectly, cause a clicking sound. Alternators will click loudly if their bearings are worn out or damaged. However, that’s more likely on older alternators.
If that happens on your brand-new alternator, that means it’s defective. So you should get it replaced under your warranty coverage.
Meanwhile, alternator clicking can also be caused by damage if there’s a fluid leak in the vehicle or if the part was not installed correctly. Lastly, an overloaded electrical system can also cause the same outcome.