The Occasional Alternator

courtesy of Bob, The Auto Answer Man

Hi Bob,
I make a four-hour drive to and from college when I go back home. When I came back from Labor Day, my car was running fine, but when I stopped at a store for about an hour, my car would not start. The lights came on when I turned the key, but it didn't turn over. I eventually got someone to jump-start my car and it ran fine. However, a couple of weeks later, it did the same thing. I had someone else jump my car. After telling them the car's history, the person suggested that my alternator is dying. Before I left home, I had everything in my car checked. The mechanic said that everything looked fine. Does it sound like I need a new alternator? If I do, how do I get a cheap one for my car? I have a Pontiac Grand Am (1992) with a 2.3 liter and it's a 4 quad. I have found some estimates, but they are around $300, which is a lot for a college student.

I would first check to make sure that the ground cables are clean and free of corrosion. It seems like your alternator is working at times. If not, you would not last a day or two without it. My guess is that there is corrosion somewhere, and when everything gets warm, it insulates the cable preventing current flow. Check around the battery. Also, if you feel up to it, disconnect the negative cable from the battery and brush the cable and the battery terminal clean.
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man

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