When I start the car, the charging voltage is nearly 16 on the meter. It falls to around 15 after a while, but then goes up to nearly 16 again. If I put on a load, such as wipers, lights and heater fan, it will drop to below 15, but doesn't linger at around 14 the way it used to. The problem has started recently.
I imagine that this is the voltage regulator. On this model, can I replace the voltage regulator, or must I replace the entire alternator? I have an alternator from Autozone that is supposed to have a lifetime warranty, but one never knows with suppliers how well warranties are honored.
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Battery voltage is high, suspect alternator over charging and affecting the monitor. Connect an external volt meter across the battery and start engine 15volts or above will cause problems. If left charging high, it can shorten the life of the battery and damage electronics of the vehicle, things like abnormal amount of bulbs blowing. All electrical equipment is made to operate at around 13 volts with a percentage tolerance, constant running at a higher voltage will cause damage.
also could be a bad cell in battery, can have battery checked by a parts store for free, if you have a voltmeter you can test power output at startup with someone turning the engine over while you hold pos+ and neg- side of meter on the appropriate side of battery if voltage is below 9.6 volts w/o a load, while starting, battery needs replacing.
It is possible that the extra demand placed upon the charging system finally blew the alternator. You need to have the charging system checked,,or check the output yourself with a volt meter (should be around 14-15 volts) test must be done with the car running. If the voltage reads up to 14 or 15 volts then it would indicated a short in the dash control circuit.
It sounds like the internal regulator is faulty. If you are charging your battery with 15.5 volts, the battery will gas extensively and suffer from overheating. The normal charge rate for a normal flooded battery is 14.2 volts. A vehicle designed to have a calcium battery will have a slightly higher charging voltage but not 15.5V. The regulator is generally in the back of the alternator (depending on make and model) and can be replaced particularly if you you remove it from the engine. Smacking it with a hammer will not mend it.