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Suspicious bad alternator day after servicing


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2012 Toyota RAV4 a/t

My sister brought in her RAV4 to the dealership yesterday for 60k service and general inspection in preparation for her roadtrip for Thanksgiving. In addition to the 60k service, they did a number of repairs/"recommended services" (see below). Today she started her roadtrip and the car suddenly just completely died - all the lights on the dash panel came on and the car would not turn on - zero power. She had it towed back to the dealership and they diagnosed it as a bad alternator and battery. They said their multi-point inspection yesterday would not have identified a bad alternator and because it was driving fine then, they didn't see this issue as having anything to do with yesterday's service. My sister had to get back on the road, so she basically had no choice but to agree to the immediate alternator and battery replacement.

Here is all the work they claimed to have done yesterday according to the records my sister showed me:

  • 60k service: oil change, rotate tires, inspect brakes, top up fluids, replace air filters, test battery, multi-point inspection
  • Identified/repaired major coolant leak - replaced hoses and coolant pipe
  • Replaced rear brake pads and machined rotors
  • Replaced spark plugs
  • Brake fluid change
  • Fuel system service: cleaned throttle body and cleaning additive

Any suspicions? I'm sure they gouged her with some services she probably didn't need, but what about the claimed alternator issue? To my knowledge, doesn't a failing alternator usually produce some noticeable symptoms before it completely fails? My sister said she hadn't noticed anything unusual. None of the above work would seem to potentially directly cause alternator damage. Could stray coolant from the leak/repairs have gotten onto and damaged the alternator? It just seems way too coincidental that this happened the day after a lot of work was done.

This topic was modified 2 days ago 2 times by nexus-7

EVERYTHING about a dealership is suspicious in my book.

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3 Answers

To my knowledge, doesn't a failing alternator usually produce some noticeable symptoms before it completely fails?

Usually, yes. But it is possible for it fail suddenly (broken commutator or winding for example).  The only way to find out for sure is to perform an autopsy on the alternator.


The one mistake that could have been prevented though. If you car breaks down after visiting a particular shop, do not go back to that shop! haha I don't know why you went back there. LoL The correct course of action, is to go to a different shop (who isn't going to hide their previous mistake). Get them to find out what's wrong, and if you find out it was the dealership, THEN you back there and serve them an official complaint and small claims court order. But you went back for seconds, that they had you over the barrel again.

You know how the saying goes ... "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

I agree, but she needed to get back on the road asap to make Thanksgiving, so I think the only way she was going to get her car looked at immediately was by going back to the same place since it was reasonable to suspect something might have happened from the previous day's service. She realizes she was in a prime position to be exploited, but didn't really have a choice if she wanted to make it in time. She will definitely be looking for a new mechanic. Expensive lesson!


You said in your post "test battery."  Anyone with a frontal cortex knows that testing a battery means a static test, a load test and a charging test.  Apparently, the dealership's idea of a battery test is to see if the car has one, at all.


To my mind, this kind of outcome is pure avarice and thievery. Take the rotors, for example.

Rotors have been engineered with thinner and thinner thicknesses, make machining unsafe. If you paid $100 to have the rotors trued or machined, well, that's the cost of two new OEM rotors ( 

So, the question is: Why does a dealership machine these rotors, even it's unsafe? Answer: High profit margin, no parts required. 

Take the alternator: It's VERY rare for a Denso alternator to quit at 60K miles, even though it's not entirely unheard of. (I have 154K miles and 14 years on my OEM Denso). And yes, the regulator or rectifier or even the brushes can be the problem, but it's rare.

Here's a question: Did your sister receive a new Denso alternator or a remanufactured Denso alternator from the dealer? (Here's what a new one costs, at McGeorge):

Denso also directly remanufactures these alternators, available from


So the new Denso unit is $465 and the remanufactured Denso is $213.00, from this particular Toyota dealer. The warranty is the same for the new and reman alternator. 

See, there's a $252 (plus tax) difference between these two alternators from this dealer. 


Parenthetically, remanufactured Toyota parts are same as the new parts, in terms of the stock number, with the suffix 84 at the end of the number. 

In future, you might find significantly better prices by going to or and looking for the "84" versions of the parts that you're interested in.   (The carcarenut has a video explaining how all of this works) 

And then have an ethical independent mechanic install them.


What to do about this dealership: 

1. A narrative with supporting documentation should be sent to the appropriate Zone office. I've had a couple of interactions with unethical and dangerously negligent work (in the early 00s) by a dealership service department. The Zone office dropped the hammer on those folks, then. (As they say, mileage will vary).

Where are the Zone Offices?

2. In terms of the tone: Stick to the facts, unemotional, coherent and rational (as you have, in this post). Back it up with documentation. Offer to fax a letter and supporting materials. 

3. Write these folks up on Google Reviews, as well. At the very least, they're greedly, irresponsible and incompetent. 

4. As MountainManJoes says, don't step foot in the place, again. 

Thank you for the thoughtful/informative response. She realizes she was almost certainly exploited and was in a no-win situation considering she needed the car right away to make her trip. Expensive lesson. Fortunately she did make the 700mi trip in time without further issue. She will definitely be looking for a new mechanic.