2001 Toyota Camry whines, shuts down, resets my radio, and then acts like nothing ever happened

So here’s the deal, fellas (and ladies):

For about a week I have intermittently heard a high-pitched (but pretty quiet) whine. Now, this whine would stop when I turned the air conditioner off and it would change (in pitch) if I fiddled with the power windows or other electrical devices. I also noticed that the dashboard light alerting me to a bad light bulb (I know, I know) would get brighter and dimmer along with the change in pitch of the whine.

So, of course, I don’t do anything.

Now, today, I’m driving home with the air conditioner on when I hear the whine again. At a stop sign, I start playing with the power windows and whatnot, making the whine change pitch, and trying to figure out what is going on. Well, what happens? My car died… But it started back up just fine. The only damage seemed to be that it reset my clock and radio station presets.

I drove all the way home (with the windows down and air conditioner off) just fine.

So, guys, what’s goin’ on here? I figure I’ll take the thing down to a mechanic, but I’d like to have sort of a rough idea of what I’m looking at (I don’t want to get taken for a ride, you know).

A bright, shiny nickle to whoever can point me in the right direction. Thanks in advance everyone! Somehow I doubt the wisdom of turning my problems over to other people who listen to this show!

I believe that your alternator is in its last death throes.

Before you wind up stranded, I strongly suggest that you drive directly to a competent mechanic. (Note–That does NOT include Midas, Meineke, Monro, Sears, AAMCO, or other chain operations. Go to a trusted local independent mechanic.)

Well, I guess that’s actually sort of a relief… I mean, if something’s got to be busted, I guess it’s good to get a busted alternator.

…not if it happens in the left lane of the expressway, or while driving through the bad part of town, or during a torrential rainstorm, or…

Take it to your mechanic tomorrow if you want to avoid inconveniences.