Vandog Traveller

Breaking down and fixing it – how I changed the alternator in a carpark

Breaking down. It’s the main thing I worry about. I don’t have breakdown cover, I can’t speak any other language, a mechanic is expensive and, well, this is where I live.

After 15 months on the road the van finally broke down in the Czech countryside. It turned out to be a faulty alternator – nothing too serious but enough to make the engine not run. In this post I’ll go through what happened and how I sorted it out.

The problem

The red battery light came on the dashboard which usually means there is a low voltage on the battery. This shouldn’t happen whilst the engine is running because the alternator should be providing enough power for the engine and to charge the battery.

I stopped to test the Alternator

I used my volt meter to test the voltage on the battery terminals. It should be around 13V with the engine off and at least 14V when the engine is running. Mine just stayed at 12.3V which means that the battery is not getting charged whilst the engine is running – instead it’s just going flat. I probably had about half an hour of driving before the engine would cut out completely.

The alternator was dead

I did some extra checks of the wiring and connections from the alternator to the battery (this would be an easy fix). But that was all OK. Now I was fairly certain that it was the alternator that was the problem – not giving any power. I camped by the river for a couple of days to figure out what I’d do. Here’s what I did:

Step 1: Find a new alternator

I found the OEM number (This should be recognised by all car part suppliers) of an LDV Convoy alternator on ebay. I had to find this number myself because no one has a clue what an LDV Convoy is. I biked to a car parts shop and ordered a new alternator. He got it the next morning.

Step 2: Find a good place to fix

I used the last bit of battery to drive to the car parts shop. I’d never changed an alternator before so I thought I should do it somewhere where I could easily get more parts, tools or help if I needed. I used the carpark.

Step 3: Remove belt

This was a bit tricky. You have to pull back the spring loaded tensioner wheel to get the belt off. The old belt was worn down to the wire so I bought a new one whilst I was at it.

Step 4: Remove the old alternator

First I disconnected the battery to avoid a short circuit when removing the alternator. I removed the 3 mounting bolts, one wire harness and one positive wire on the alternator. It’s nothing difficult but the bolts were tight and a bit awkward to get to. I used a tube over the spanner to get more leverage.

Step 5: Double check they are the right parts

I took the old belt and alternator into the shop before I paid and got the guy to double check that they were the right parts. All good.

Step 6: Fit new alternator

I put the 3 mounting bolts back in and connected the alternator wires back before reconnecting the starter battery.

Step 7: Fit new belt

I looked at the diagram of my engine to see how the belt goes back. I triple checked it before starting the engine.

Step 7: Start the engine

It works! That’s a nice feeling

Step 8: wash

The guy told me to come in and wash my hands. Nice one

Back on the road

The total cost was 260 euros (£185) for a new alternator and a new drive belt. I guess £185 after 15 months on the road is not too bad. This is the first time I’ve fixed an engine on the spot like this and It’s given me a bit of confidence – car parts are everywhere and just a tiny bit of engine knowledge can go far. You might remember before I set off I spent quite a while studying my engine (this post)

I’m going to say this again: if you bought my ebook, thank you! Without the blog and without you reading it I just wouldn’t be able to go and easily buy new parts like this to stay on the road.

But maybe I should still get breakdown cover?