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On my way to work this morning, the battery light came on. I would say it was about 2-3 minutes after I started the car. My drive to work is only a 10 minutes drive, and the light was on the whole time.

Of course it's Christmas Eve, I have to drive 10 hours to get home, and every auto shop is closed until Friday, I have to be home by Thursday at the latest.

How big of a problem is this? I'm planning on letting my car run for an hour or so after work to see if the battery drains out completely (Is that long enough to test if the alternator isn't working?). Is there anything I can do tonight too make sure the car doesn't fall apart? I know it's a terrible idea to drive it with the alternator probably busted, but I really don't have any options. I do have a portable battery pack to jump-start it if I need to.

The car is a 2000 Dodge Neon.

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Stupid question ... did you check to ensure it isn't just the serpentine belt which has gone away? I didn't see where you mention you checked it. –  Paulster2 Dec 24 '13 at 18:51
    
@Paulster2 Ah no. I don't have any experience with cars. What should I look for? –  Matt S. Dec 24 '13 at 19:33
    
Check this image link. While this is not your engine, you are looking for the long looping piece as shown in this example. –  Paulster2 Dec 24 '13 at 19:37
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I made it to the auto parts place, and the alternator is outputting 10 volts. –  Matt S. Dec 24 '13 at 20:15
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Did you get it changed in time for your trip? –  Larry Dec 25 '13 at 6:13

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It will have to be fixed before you drive it very far. If the battery light is on the alternator is not charging, your not going to make it very far before the battery goes dead. Your local parts store will be able to test the alternator on the car, most if not all will do it for free. Based on the battery light I am confident it's the alternator, but checking it never hurts.

If you can change the alternator yourself you may still be able to get one if you act fast. Most part stores here are open until 6 tonight. If you can't change it yourself I am not sure you will get it repaired before Thursday. You can try some of the Towing companies that have garages as well. Because of the towing running 24/7 most usually have someone that can repair cars available even on holidays.

You can also check the wires going to the alternator, you will have to jack up the car because it's on the back side of the engine on the bottom. Make sure the small wire is connected to the alternator, I recently had one of these cars that the wire fell off so the alternator wasn't getting the charge signal from the PCM. It takes about an hour to change the alternator with the car on a lift, so maybe 1.5 - 2 hours if your doing it with jack stands and don't have the best assortment of tools. It might be a pain but you should be able to do it with a basic tool assortment.

  1. Disconnect the negative battery cable
  2. Loosen the jam nut and the adjustment bolt. Regular wrenches will work for this but a 1/4 inch drive or a stubby 3/8 drive ratchet will make it easier.
  3. Raise the vehicle and support it on jack stands. You can get away with only jacking up the passenger side.
  4. Remove the accessory drive splash shield, ratchet works best.
  5. Loosen the lower mounting bolt
  6. Remove the belt, I would usually tell you to replace the belt while you are there but it's behind another belt so it will add extra time you may not have.
  7. Disconnect the small wire going the the alternator. This is the wire to initially check to make sure it's hooked up.
  8. Disconnect the big wire on the back of the alternator. Make sure you did step one before doing this!
  9. Remove the upper and lower mounting bolt and move the alternator off the pivot bracket
  10. Remove the pivot bracket
  11. Remove the alternator through the wheel well, it can be tricking to get it turned the correct way to get it out but you can get it out without taking anything else off.
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I'm not sure I have the right tools to be able to change the alternator myself; I've been meaning to get stands. The towing companies are a good idea, unfortunately they aren't open 24/7 where I live, I needed one once just a few minutes after 5pm and they were all unwilling to send anyone out. –  Matt S. Dec 24 '13 at 17:33
    
I will try to look for the wire, that's a good idea! –  Matt S. Dec 24 '13 at 17:34
    
@MattS. Wow we have maybe 5 or 6 right off the top of my head that would tow you on Christmas if you called them –  Larry Dec 24 '13 at 17:34
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@MattS. The parts store will be able to check the alternator for you for free. while it's still on the car –  Larry Dec 24 '13 at 17:46
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If you are going to drive it to the autoparts store, use as little of the battery power as possible. Start it the fewest number of times, shut off the radio, don't turn on the heater or defroster or lights unless you need them for safety reasons. –  mikes Dec 24 '13 at 21:38

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