Alternator problems

Tiny
STEPHIERN
  • MEMBER
  • 2004 FORD FOCUS
  • 2.3L
  • 4 CYL
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 112,000 MILES
Hello and thank you in advance. Please help I'm at my wits end!
I purchased my 04 Ford Focus a year ago, it ran great and checked out good with a Goodyear shop. About 2 months later the key wouldn't turn. I quickly figured out if I lightly tapped it with something it would turn and started perfectly. I ordered a new key assembly and keyed it myself so that I wouldn't have to purchase new chip keys. I couldn't find anyone that would replace it for me so I kept a little hammer in my car and did that for about 4 months until I found someone. During that time, I noticed my lights started flickering and I had some power problems. When the mechanic replaced the key assembly, he also said that the alternator was going bad so he replaced it. The driving problems got better but the lights never stopped flickering. 3 months later, the driving problems (weakness, jerking) returned and I stopped at auto zone to have them check the codes if any. They tested the battery and said it's perfect but the alternator is going bad again. So I purchased my own alternator amd had a new mechanic replace it. I also bought the pigtail wires for it but returned them because the mechanic said he tested the wires and they were fine. After the 2nd alternator, it again had power and drive great- FOR 3 MONTHS. I again had it tested. Alternator bad again. After the 3rd alternator, I checked all grounding wires I could find (looked good) and I had him replace a broken purge value that we noticed. Exactly e months later, alternator bad again. Battery checking out fine. I also have turned the test mode on and it shows the battery around 13-14 while I drive. When the alternator goes bad I know it's about to act up by a constant clicking sound in the dashboard, and if I turn the car off and back on, sometimes it's fine again for the entire ride. Also during this entire time, the lights have never stopped flickering and the radio will randomly turn off/on.
Do you have any ideas as to why my alternator will only last 3 months? I've asked so many shops yo look at it and none of them want to diagnose electrical issues. Ive spent over $2000 trying to fix this and nobody hss the answer. The reason I mentioned the key issue is, could the tapping have damaged something that would cause this problem?
Any input is greatly appreciated.
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Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 AT 11:51 PM

8 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Your description of the symptoms match exactly what happens to every 1987 and newer GM product and may have the same cause. That is your perfectly fine battery. Your voltage regulator works the same way as on almost all other vehicles, but for some reason this is a major problem on GM cars and trucks. This is the first time I've heard about it on a different brand.

The issue is voltage regulators use a "switch mode" power supply similar to what's in vcrs. That allows a big current of up to three amps to be switched on and off up to 400 times per second by a little, inexpensive transistor. That current is feeding the field winding inside the generator where it makes a magnetic field, but turning off a current in a coil is exactly how an ignition coil is able to create a huge voltage spike to fire spark plugs. The field winding in your generator is doing the same thing, and every time that current is switched off, voltage spikes are produced. The battery is the key component in absorbing those spikes and is why it must never ever be disconnected while the engine is running.

As batteries age, lead flakes off the plates and it loses its ability to dampen and absorb those voltage spikes. Under testing, it may still be able to deliver its design current capacity, just not for very long. It takes time for a spike in voltage to be absorbed into the plates, and when there's less material to do that, the spikes occur and can destroy the generator's internal diodes, voltage regulator, and interfere with computer sensor signals. On GM vehicles those spikes from the generator are responsible for a lot of elusive running problems. It is also real common to go through four to six replacement generators in the life of the vehicle.

Your flickering lights are likely the result of the voltage regulator trying to keep up with the rapidly-occurring voltage spikes and trying to respond to them. This is real common on GM vehicles but it is partially due to the design of the internal parts of the generator, and they have no desire to fix it. I haven't run into this yet on Fords, but I'd at least try a new battery first before you go looking for some other cause that may not exist.
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Friday, October 24th, 2014 AT 1:52 AM
Tiny
STEPHIERN
  • MEMBER
WoW this will be incredible if it's the answer because 1) I've asked probably 20 times 'are you sure I shouldn't replace the battery?' And 2) that is EXACTLY the code that was thrown off in the very beginning- faulty voltage regulator. I will change the battery ASAP and let you know if anything changes. If this is it I will be doubling my donation to you
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Friday, October 24th, 2014 AT 6:18 AM
Tiny
STEPHIERN
  • MEMBER
Before I replace the battery I want to add something. Half of my dashboard lights are extremely dim. As if one side of it has a bulb out, and the only light keeping it visible is the residual light from the other half that is bright. Could an out bulb be causing this issue?
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Friday, October 24th, 2014 AT 6:37 AM
Tiny
STEPHIERN
  • MEMBER
Okay sorry last thing. These are a few random. Things that may be related.
1) the car had obviously been in some kind of collision involving the driver side door, because the side mirror is attached a little weird like it was replaced, and I can't have the window down when opening the door or I will hear glass grinding glass like the window is misaligned in there and will break.
2) I've never had a horn. It just clicks when I push it.
3) I've checked all fuses and they appear intact and normal.
4) the symptoms are no different with the radio off or car charger unplugged, lights still flicker and engine weakness.
5) the fuel filter has been replaced.
6) SOMETIMES it won't start without me giving it a little tap of gas. But not often.
7) the stereo is an alpine and the person before me had an amp but it no longer has that
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Friday, October 24th, 2014 AT 7:27 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
The dash bulb is its own problem and is not related to anything else.

For the horn, the clicking you're hearing is the relay if what you're hearing is inside the car. That would be dandy news because the insane engineers at Ford have incorporated two computers in blowing the horn so normally the repair costs around $800.00. The instrument cluster is one of those computers. Since the relay is working, most likely you just have two dead horns. That can be verified by measuring the voltage at one of the horn's connectors while a helper presses the horn button. You should find 12 volts there when the button is pressed.
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Friday, October 24th, 2014 AT 5:01 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Thank you for the information. The author added another dimension to the generator problem. (The "alternator" was developed by Chrysler for 1960 models and they copyrighted the term). He said the connector terminals were the cause of the problems. The story I got from a Ford trainer is they put the very high-current output wire through a pair of mating connector terminals, something no other manufacturer ever tried to do, for obvious reasons, then when they figured out little terminals can't handle that much current, they used two of them side by side to share the stress. That reduced the number of burned-up connectors, but then we were not allowed to unplug that connector, ever. Doing so would reduce their tension and lead to poor contact, some electrical resistance which translates into heat, which leads to weaker connections and more resistance, and more heat. We were told to not even remove that plug when replacing the generator. We are supposed to cut the wires. The replacement generator will come with that new connector already plugged in, and we are supposed to splice, solder, and seal the wires to the car's harness. Amazing the engineers can be so dense, but what do you expect from a group of insane designers who insist that we all want an unnecessary, unreliable, expensive computer hung onto every conceivable part of their cars.
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Friday, March 13th, 2015 AT 8:27 PM
Tiny
TESS2U
  • MEMBER
Just came upon your post, not sure if the problem was ever found. But I own a 2004 focus, and it sounds like the kind of things I just started to experience. Thought rats got into wiring harness. No, nothing found. Was told I need to have the whole dash replace. Guess the focus is one known to have that problem.
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Friday, June 2nd, 2017 AT 12:10 PM
Tiny
KEN
  • ADMIN
Hello,

They replaced the voltage regulator and it looks like the problem is fixed. Do you have a battery light on?

Please let us know.

Cheers, Ken
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Monday, June 5th, 2017 AT 2:28 PM

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