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2002 Celica GTS alternator failed on long trip, big hassle


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The car had 320K miles, with high speeds, aggressive driving, 3 times overheating on the road, lots of abuses over the year, with all original electrical accessories, except a few ignition coils and batteries, had never failed and stranded me.

This time I was on the freeway for a day time 100-mile weekend trip.  About half way into it, the Battery light lit up and started flickering intermittently.  We had a discussion and decided it was an alternator, not a Battery fault. We decided we had enough Battery juice to reach the destination and buy another Battery, or have AAA quick charge the Battery to get home.

Got to Costco at the destination.  It did not have that size Battery, even if it had the Battery, it would be only partially, not fully charged by the factory. Went to a familiar repair shop.  The guy tested the Battery and said it was the alternator failing, but he had no replacement part.

We had no other option but to drive back at night with a bad alternator, hoping the Battery would last long enough to get home, and if run out of juice, AAA would quick charge the Battery. About half way back, the head and tail lights got very dim then just died out; accessories' lights on dash board all lit up.  I knew the head lights drew about 15A or more and drained the Battery out of charge, so pulled off the freeway into a gas station.  AAA truck arrived in about half hour.  The guy jumped the Battery and engine immediately started, but he said he had no way of quick charging the Battery, and offer to sell me a Battery for $150, again he said it may not have enough charge and the  engine would die again.

It was after midnight, weather was cold, the gas station was closed, all repairs shops and car rentals agencies were closed. AAA driver said that was all he could do for the service call and the only option left was to call AAA for a tow.  AAA said the member policy only cover toes up to 7 miles; the balance 53 miles would cost me $550.  Damn.  We were really stuck.  We should have aborted the trip when that Battery light started lighting. We asked the gas station guy to leave the car, the windows were all down with no Battery to roll up. He said car should be OK, nobody would mess with it.  He was shooing away a few homeless people all night. We decided to call UBER for $150 ride home and took the Battery with us. 

At home, the Battery took all night to charge to near full at .6A I took a Battery from another car along to retrieve the disabled car. A friend drove me down. I installed the battery; car fired right up.  Unfortunately the freeway had a haz mat spill on the way back in front of us, only 1 lane was open, traffic was backed up for about 15 miles. Damn. I decided to take an alternate route, drove into town towards the alternate freeway about 10 miles further East with my friend's car following.  After half hour drive, the roads were jammed up in heavy commuting traffic, GOOGLE MAP said alternate freeway was also jammed up in a few places, the original freeway would take less time. We decided to cross town to return to the original freeway. GOOGLE MAP was still steering me on surface streets back to the alternate freeway, got me really lost in that  town, finally decided to override MAP and navigate by sunlight, headed West towards the original freeway, costing another 1.5 hours hard driving in town with my poor wingman following me.

The freeway was jammed with traffic backed up about 15 miles, moving 1-2 MPH.  I knew the Battery would run out after about 2 hours of driving, even in the daytime without headlights draining current. After about 1 hour inching in traffic, the Battery gave out.  I pulled off to the side and swapped in the other Battery. Inching along in the freeway traffic jam for about 4 hours after restarting the car at the gas station, we finally cleared the spill site and throttled up, swearing at stupid drivers who spill their loads and get into accidents, my wingman following me just in case the second Battery gave out.  About 15 miles from home I told the wingman to head straight home, I would take the chance of having enough charge to get home. If it ran out i could call UBER without a big fee.

Had more than enough charge to get home.  Order a genuine DENSO alternator for replacement, but this alternator failure is a far worse hassle than a dead Battery on a long trip. It would have been a very simple problem if it acted up near home and not on a long trip 100 miles away.. the Celica GTS is a very reliable car that I rely on to keep me from being stranded on long trips. This time I was in a big hassle.  I searched but could not find any device in the market that can add enough charge to a low but good Battery to get home in case of alternator failure.

Short of always carrying a fully charged spare Battery in the trunk, would appreciate any suggestion to deal with alternator failure on long trips away from home. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Quick health test alternator in car:

Two of the easiest methods to determine if your alternator is dying are the headlight test and the Battery test. The headlight test is quick and easy, and should be performed outdoors to ensure that you don't have a carbon monoxide buildup inside your garage. To perform the headlight test, start your car and turn on your headlights. With the vehicle in park, press on the accelerator while a second person observes the headlights. If the headlights flicker, dim or get brighter when the accelerator is pressed down, your alternator may be bad. No change in headlight brightness indicates that your alternator is likely fine.

A Battery test is easy to perform and can be done at home. First, open the hood and start the car. While the engine is running, remove the negative cable from the Battery. If the vehicle stalls or dies, the alternator is likely bad. This happens because the alternator is not generating enough electricity to keep the engine running on its own. If the car continues to the run, the problem may lie with the Battery.

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Never disconnect the Battery from a running engine. This risks damage to the alternator and any electronics within the car through the generation of high voltage transients caused by the unloaded alternator. The Battery, even a fully charged and good one (which is actually the worst case for transient suppression) still provides a very significant 'dampening' to any such transients. 

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Yes there is, however the regulator control loop is not fast enough to deal with high rise time high voltage transients caused by running the alternator with no load. Those transients can damage the alternator and also damage vehicle electronics as the process of disconnecting and (if you also attempted this) reconnecting the spinning alternator to the Battery.

Even a very light current draw such as fully charged Battery might take is sufficient to damp those high voltage spikes which only last for milliseconds in duration and so prevent damage.

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Took the failed alt home and opened it up.  After 320K miles, the 2 brushes had worn down to minimum, not even touching the commutator.  It  should not even charge at all.

I am betting the regulator is still good.  Ordered a $6 brush rebuild kit from Starting n Charging in TX via eBay. Will rebuild and test the alt for a spare, just in case it fails again in another 320K miles.  

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Its a pretty intense mileage is that... it doesn't really owe you anything after that all that usage 🙂 

As long as the bearings are OK it will probably be fine.

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On 4/5/2021 at 2:03 AM, Mooly said:

Never disconnect the battery from a running engine. This risks damage to the alternator and any electronics within the car through the generation of high voltage transients caused by the unloaded alternator. The battery, even a fully charged and good one (which is actually the worst case for transient suppression) still provides a very significant 'dampening' to any such transients. 

 

Sorry for any misinformation. That information came from CARSDIRECT.COM.  I tried to edit it out but could not.

Apparently they are not technically inclined, suggesting charging voltage should be 12 to 12.5 V.  Should be 13.5 - 14.5 V to charge the 12.5V Battery.

In another article they also suggest  disconnecting the battery's positive cable while engine idles to check the alternator. That does not make sense.

 

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2 hours ago, Mooly said:

Its a pretty intense mileage is that... it doesn't really owe you anything after that all that usage 🙂 

As long as the bearings are OK it will probably be fine.

Car is in Southern California, warm and dry year round. The alternator inside looks nice, clean, making no noise, so the bearing should be OK. 

DENSO components last very long time. 2 out of 4 original ignition coils are still working strong after 320K miles.  The Bosch and DELPHI coils are still working after 40K miles. The cheap Chinese knock offs sold in eBay and Amazon usually last less than 20K miles.

I buy all electrical parts direct from DENSOAUTOPARTS.COM, authentic parts, reliable, low prices.  Would never buy them from eBay or Amazon.

Car is running strong and smooth but I will be looking for ways to clean or replace the old fuel injectors.

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No problem 🙂 

Any 'inductive' components (so that means wound parts like coils which includes alternators, ignition coils starter motors etc) can generate very high voltages if the current flowing in them is stopped quickly... it is an intrinsic property of a wound coil.     

As to ignition coils... I've heard that incorrectly gapped plugs can cause coil failure... which actually makes sense because the voltage needed to jump a larger gap is higher and that higher voltage stresses the coil insulation more. So that is something to always check  and be aware of.

Denso have always been a top manufacturer going back decades.

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It's logical.

I had a 1989 Camry I4 with distributor cap and rotor, supposed to use resistive plugs, but I put in 4 Platinum plugs so I did not have to replace them often.  Apparently Platinum plugs draw higher current so ignition module was stressed and eventually burned out.

I ran a set of Iridium plugs in the Celica 2002 GTS for about 200K miles, engine ran smooth and strong, so I never took them out to look at. Recently I investigated a slight hesitation in first start acceleration, found the plugs' wells inundated with Oil due to the mechanic forgetting to tighten the 10 bolts on the valve cover.  There were no leaks out of the gasket but Oil got into the plugs wells. When I took the plugs out 2 out of 4 plugs had electrodes badly worn out, gapping like 1.5 to 2 mm versus 1.1 mm per spec. Damn.  I cleaned out the Oil in the wells, replace with new plugs, tightened down the 10 bolts, only 8 ft-lbs torque into the aluminum block. 

Engine runs the same, still has the slight hesitation on first cold start, but smooth and strong after. Wonder if the old fuel injectors are clogged up. But it only hesitates on first start, smooth and strong after, so not sure fuel injectors are the problem. I have never taken the fuel injectors out and have a habit of breaking things, so I will research the hesitation issue and fuel injectors more carefully.   

I broke a couple AL bolts into the engine block and brake calipers, so I bought a torque wrench and do everything carefully to specs.

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Its hard to say. I used to have  Corolla TSport and that always had slight hesitancy accelerating from cold. It was all OK after less than a mile. A bit like an old car with the choke pushed in. The Auris I have now also has that trait but our old 1.4L Corolla does not and pulls like a train.

 

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7 hours ago, Mooly said:

Its hard to say. I used to have  Corolla TSport and that always had slight hesitancy accelerating from cold. It was all OK after less than a mile. A bit like an old car with the choke pushed in. The Auris I have now also has that trait but our old 1.4L Corolla does not and pulls like a train.

 

It idles fine to 2000 RPM on cold starts. Strange it only hesitates on the first acceleration in cold starts.  After that first time,  it zooms smoothly and strongly. It's not normal because I have other GTSes that zoom strong every time  I step on the pedal.

New plugs did not solve the problem so I will look into and clean the MAF and the throttle body.  If that does not improve I will look into cleaning the fuel injectors.  The car has high mileage, so the fuel pump is probably close to giving out. 

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