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Trouble with (I think) Alternator--Just how bad is it?


I have a 2000 Jeep Cherokee 4.0L with about 180,000 miles on it. I’m currently in the middle of a road trip, and today my car’s been stuttering as I’ve started it up. After the car sits idle for a while, it stutters as I turn the key (“chug-chug-chug-chug-chu-chu-chu-chu-fail” is about how it goes). When I take the keys out and put them in again for another shot, it manages to start on the second or third try.

It runs OK once the engine gets going, and after I’ve been driving for a while I can turn it off and on again, without any problem. My main questions are: (1) Is this likely an issue with the starter, alternator, or something completely different? and (2) just how serious is it? If I can get the car running can I make it another ~1500 miles, or should I try to find a dealership before making it back home?

Thanks for your help.

I can’t tell what you’re describing as a symptom. Are you saying that the car cranks over a bunch of times, but gets weaker and weaker until it won’t turn over at all? After that you maybe just get some clicking or perhaps nothing?

If that’s the case then just drive into any nearby auto parts chain store and ask them to test the battery and charging system. Most do it for free and then install a new battery for free if that’s what you need.

Or are you saying that it cranks and cranks and cranks and cranks, but just won’t actually fire up and run? That’s a whole different story.

Why would you take an 11 year old car to a dealership? If you end up needing a mechanic, find the closest locally owned restaurant/diner you can find. Have a nice relaxing meal & ask the staff where you can find a good & honest local mechanic.

After the vehicle has sat for a while, instead of immediately trying to start the engine, turn the ignition switch to the run position so the dash lights come on for two seconds and then turn the ignition switch off. Repeat this a half dozen times and then try starting the engine. If the engine starts right up more than likely there’s a problem with the fuel pump check valve, where it’s allowing the fuel to drain back into the gas tank as the vehicle sits.


Just a guess, but it sounds like you might be ready for a tune-up. Spark plugs may be worn enough to be causing cold-start problems.

@Tester–I just tried what you suggested, and sure enough, it worked just fine. Is this something that usually costs a lot of money to fix? And is it absolutely urgent, or can I wait until I’m back home?

No. This isn’t an urgent repair. Now that you know what the problem is just cycle the ignition so the fuel pump can reprime the fuel system. However, this problem isn’t going to get any better so eventually the fuel pump in the gas tank will need replacing.

But you can make it home.