Electrical systems on pick-up truck fading away ... costly repair, or does it depend?

/ sigh /

Well, my formerly trusty 1995 Nissan XE pickup (4 cyl) is starting to go wonky on me. Over the past 48 hours, the electrical components (radio, A/C, windshield wipers, headlights, etc.) have started to work less and less effectively. Tonight, during a 15-minute drive, all of these systems really began to conk out. They kept working, but barely – my headlights were especially dim and the radio sounded “shakey” on any station, AM or FM.

Now, for the past 48 hours, the charge warning light (looks like a little car battery) and the brake fluid light have been on intermitently – yet I’ve been able to start the car and brake as normal. Then tonight, as all the electrical components began to fade, the anti-lock brake warning light came on for the last minute or so of my drive. As I pulled up to my home, I felt the power steering completely fail as I parked.

OK. What might I be facing here? The manual says that the charge warning light can indicate a loose, broken, or missing alternator belt. I can perhaps check for that myself in the morning, provided I can find the alternator and alternator belt. I have no clue where they are and can’t tell from reading the manual.

What’s a likely price range for a repair like this if I bring it to a shop? I’m hoping it will be a simple alternator belt replacement, assuming that’s a cheap procedure. I’m also hoping that it’s merely an battery problem and that a new battery will make everthing OK … but I’m not holding my breath on that one. My biggest worry is that this repair will require a new alternator, which I understand is pricey.

BTW, batteries don’t die while driving and cause electrical failure, do they? Upon startup, yes, but not while driving, right? This assumption on my part is why I’m thinking “alternator”, not “battery”. But I’m hoping “battery”.

FWIW, the truck has 135,000 miles, and is on its second battery. The current battery was installed in December 2000.

Any ideas anyone can offer will me much appreciated. Thanks in advance!

IANAMechanic, but it does sound suspiciously like an alternator. Sorry, dude.

The charge warning light is telling you that the battery is not being charged.* The fading/dimming electrical devices are a symptom of this. While a belt problem is one possible cause, and perhaps the easiest to check, it’s not the most likely cause. That honor belongs to the alternator. I wouldn’t be surprised if relevant testing and alternator replacement were in the 300-400 range.

Appropriate steps include charging and testing the battery, inspecting the alternator belt, checking fuses (some Japanese cars have a fuse that powers the charging system), and testing the charging system (alternator, wiring to it, key electrical connections).

While battery failure is not out of the question, your symptoms are not typical of that, and the age of the battery doesn’t support the notion.

On many Japanese cars, the brake warning light comes on along with the charge warning light when the charging system isn’t working properly. The brake light will come on alone if the brake fluid is low or the handbrake is on.

As far as the power steering failing, my first thought is that the engine died at that point. Another possibility is a problem with the power steering belt, which might be the same as the alternator belt, though I doubt it. If you have belt problems, I’d expect repairs to be in the 100 or so range.

Have you noticed a squealing sound coming from underneath the hood? Sometimes a slipping belt will make a sound similiar to tires squealing on pavement.

You truck has seperate belts for AC, power steering, and alternator, but it seems odd to me that all of those would start going at the same time. There may a possibilty that something has leaked/splashed onto your crank pulley, causing them to start slipping. If something has contaminated the belts, they may slip without making any kind of noise.

When I worked at the parts store, every once in a while we would have someone come in with all their belts slipping because they had a small cooling system leak spraying coolant onto a belt/pulley somewhere.

No, I have not – not at all. That’s something to think about.

Upon reading the OP over again, I see a slight error in the way I reported the problems. The electrical components have not, in fact, been going wonky for 48 hours. They were all apparently fine until last night’s 15-minute drive. That means they actually degraded fairly rapidly.

The warning lights have really been on and off for 2 days, though.

Thanks for the advice, all! Much appreciated.

These are similar to the symptoms I experienced when the alternator on my Nissan Sentra went bad a few years ago. I suggest that’s probably the cause. It was a few hundred bucks to have the dealer replace, including diagnosis.