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Neither of us knows too much about cars, we had this Civic for about a month and a half without problems, except we needed the fuel line and some brake lines replaced.

A couple of months after that, the ABS light came on, then the tachometer and speedometer weren't working, the radio volume went up and down and the car died. The car started back up, we parked it and a friend looked at it and had her mechanic friend look at it, he said a wire was loose and he tightened it.

Anyway, it started and ran for a week, then same thing happened. I got an estimate of 550$ to replace the alternator and 200$ more if I need a new battery too. What is wrong with my car is it the alternator, battery, or a loose wire in the electrical system?

Also I was under the assumption that Honda Civics were inexpensive to fix but then I get an estimate of over 700$ to get an alternator and a battery, two very common everyday repairs on a very popular inexpensive car.

Am I getting scammed?

  • Which model year is the Civic? Which trim-level is it? – tlhIngan Feb 26 '17 at 16:26
  • You can look at your car on a site like autozone, rockauto, napa, oreillys, etc to see what aftermarket parts cost for your car. – finleyarcher Feb 22 '18 at 2:25
  • Also, what wire was loose? IF it was a loose ground for the battery, that is the first place you should look at again. If you have those cheap aftermarket battery terminals, I would verify you are getting a good steady connection. – finleyarcher Feb 22 '18 at 2:26
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There's 2 things in your question: the cause of the trouble and the cost of the repair.

For the cause of the trouble, a defective alternator or battery are unlikely to be causing the ABS light to come on, your instruments to turn off and the radio volume to change. The most likely cause of all this would be the ECU (Engine Control Unit, sometimes called the PCM, the Powertrain Control Module), or some bad electrical wires (they wouldn't be loose, they would be corroded, or have the insulator cracked).

Have your mechanic friend inspect all your wiring:

  • the wiring under the hood
  • the wiring in the central console
  • the wiring behind your instrument cluster
  • the wiring near your ECU and ABS controller

You may want to try a replacing your ECU by a used one from the junkyard. Some junkyards have the components sitting on a shelf, some junkyards have you going out to the car and removing whatever components you need. I personally trust these do-it-yourself junkyards more, because I can know for sure WHICH make and model the component came from.

Whichever junkyard you get the component from, your mechanic friend can swap it easily. If it resolves your issue, then you can choose between using the junkyard ECU or looking into whether your old ECU is still under warranty (ECU's often have an extended separate warranty longer than the car's, mandated by the government).

If you still suspect the alternator and battery, get a multi-meter ($15-$20 at WalMart) and do the following test (no tools or expertise are required, so you can do this yourself):

  1. With the engine off, open the hood and prop-it up securely
  2. Make sure your leads (your 2 wires) are connected in the appropriate ports (do not use the "10 Amp" port for this test, use the common port. Your multimeter should have instructions on which port to use for a voltage test)
  3. Turn your multi-meter to "20 VDC"
  4. Find your battery and touch the metal part of your red wire to the battery connector marked "+" (it often has some red plastic near it) and touch your black wire to the battery connector labelled "-" (it often has black plastic near it)
  5. While each of your wires is touching it's battery connector, read the number on the screen. 12.6 or higher is a healthy battery that is fully charged.
  6. Put your multimeter down someplace away from metal, make sure the leads aren't touching anything and go start the car.
  7. Repeat this test with the engine running, now a voltage reading of about 14.0 is for a healthy alternator that is providing a full-charge.
  8. Put your multimeter down safely and go into the car and turn everything electrical on: the rear defrost, the headlights and the heater fan.
  9. Go back and redo your voltage test (still with the engine on), a voltage reading of 13.0 or higher indicates your alternator is still supplying a full charge while under heavy load.

For more details about this test, see here.

As for the cost of the repair, we're not really supposed to comment on that here, but going to a mechanic shop or the dealership will always balloon your repair bill: they are not only charging you for the parts, they are charging you for the labour too. In my experience, the cost of the parts is usually between 1/3 to 1/2 of the total bill, the rest is labour. Find an auto parts store near you, give them your make and model and they will tell you how much an alternator and battery cost, then ask your mechanic friend how much he wants for installing these for you. As you said, these are simple repairs.

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