For car owners, a dead battery or a faulty alternator is a rite of passage. It might happen at the most inconvenient of times, but it’s a minor problem that we all encounter at least once or twice. If it’s been more than a few years since you’ve had the battery replaced, it’s a good bet that it’s time to replace it, and an auto technician can determine a faulty battery with a simple test. The alternator is a component inside your electrical system that keeps your battery charged properly, and a faulty one means that the battery isn’t getting the charge it needs to run.

The good news for car owners, however, is that figuring out if you have an alternator that’s going bad before an inconvenience is simple if you know what to look for.

  • Have you noticed that your interior lights aren’t as bright as you remember? A gradual decrease in brightness might be an indicator that it’s time to have your alternator examined.
  • When you drive, do the headlights glow brighter and dim when you accelerate or come to a stop? It might mean that you have a fluctuation in battery charge, which could also be the alternator.
  • Can you smell burning or a hot, wire-like smell inside your car cabin? Your alternator could be overheating and causing charge issues.
  • Have you noticed other random electrical issues in your car? Power windows don’t work? Every dash light coming on at once, or your radio shorting out? These could also indicate fault in your alternator.

If you notice any of these symptoms, seek the help of your auto technician—the sooner, the better. Being preemptive about car care can be the difference between catching issues before they become issues, and being stranded with a car that won’t start.