I have a 2010 Honda Odyssey that was recently involved in a low-speed front-end collision. My vehicle was stopped at the time and it was struck by another that was accelerating from a stop (so I'm guessing < 10 mph at the time of impact). I initially thought that the damage was cosmetic and that my van was driveable. However, about 10-20 minutes after the collision, the van lost electrical power and the engine stopped.

With the vehicle disabled, I had to have it towed to a repair shop. After looking it over, the mechanic reported that he could only find cosmetic damage to my vehicle (i.e. it needs a new bumper and/or some other minor body work). The electrical failure, he says, is due to an alternator failure; he reported that he couldn't find any outwardly visible damage to the alternator or associated wiring to support that the alternator was damaged in the accident. He proposed that I'm just the victim of a poorly-timed coincidence; perhaps the alternator failed in the days leading up to the accident, and it wasn't noticed until after the collision occurred. It's definitely possible that it could have failed (at ~8 years old and ~110k miles of use), but I would expect the probability of failure during that short period of time to be small.

The distinction is important to me; the other driver's insurance company has already stated that they will assume full liability for the collision. If it follows that the alternator was damaged in the accident, then it would be covered; if the conclusion is that it was just unlucky timing, I'm on the hook for that part of the repair. I know that the insurance company has their own adjuster who will do their own examination (so this is perhaps a moot point), but I want to get my facts straight ahead of time.

This brings me to my actual question:

Is it plausible that an alternator could suffer internal damage just from the shock of a low-speed collision? If so, how should I approach the situation moving forward?

  • While there's no way to be sure, the proximity to the accident means it likely was caused by it.
    – GdD
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 7:58
  • If it worked before and now it doesn't, odds are it was the impact which caused the issue. Assume the insurance company will pay for it. Don't give them any reason to believe it's anything but up to them to get it fixed. Let their adjuster tell you they won't, then argue the point with them until they either concede and allow it to be fixed or don't. You're basically only out your time. Ensure you check the battery as an impact can damage it, as well. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 11:10

4 Answers 4


I would say its a 50/50 chance it was caused by the impact. The impact could've caused a winding inside the alt to break. Not sure if possible, but one of the brushes could have become misaligned and stuck. I would try and get the insurance to pay for it. The worst thing they could say is no.

  • 1
    I guarantee that the ONLY thing they will say is NO
    – zipzit
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 16:02

Possible, but not likely. Alternators are quite robust; being mounted directly to the engine, they are designed to withstand constant vibration. Also, I would expect the battery to keep you running longer than 10-20 minutes, unless it's on its last legs or was also damaged in the collision. Both alternator and battery can easily be tested.

  • It's also a good question whether the collision was just the straw that broke the camel's back. It could be the alternator was already failing and the collision just caused the eventual failure to occur a bit early. So I wouldn't be disappointed to find if the insurance company doesn't pay for it.
    – juhist
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 14:46
  • Thanks for the insight. I wouldn't expect the battery to have been an issue; it was replaced around 6-8 months ago. As you said, though, I would have expected the battery to keep it running longer than it did; perhaps there's yet another undiagnosed issue at play.
    – Jason R
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 14:51
  • @user28910: Can you clarify your comment that "both alternator and battery can easily be tested?" The mechanic claims that the alternator, in its current state, is non-functional. What's important to me is how it came to that non-functional state; was it related to the shock of the impact or just a "standard" end-of-life failure? Do you propose that there is some inspection/test that might be performed to diagnose the alternator's failure mode?
    – Jason R
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 18:13

I had a situation where I hit a very deep sharp pothole on the right side of my car where the alternator was located and with in a few minutes my car was dead, alternator was shot and had an electronic burning smell when running( not the belt burning) and I do attributed to the impact of the pot hole. It was a mini cooper which relies heavily on the battery and alternator For power steering since it is electric and the stiffness of the suspension adds to the shock of a car. Car had 104k on original alternator.


No I have an 2008 Honda Odyssey which had the same problem. It is from the Vech spooling gasket oil leak. Please report this to the highway Safety Adminiatration ‭(800) 969-9204‬. This is dangerous and could have been worse

  • 1
    Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! Are you suggesting that the gasket or oil leak is responsible for the loss of power described in the OP? Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 21:45

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