The alternator consists of a spinning set of electrical windings called a rotor, a stationary set of windings called a stator, a rectifier assembly, a set of brushes to maintain electrical contact with the rotor, and a pulley. All of these parts except the pulley are contained in a housing made of aluminum. Today’s alternators use compact, electronic voltage regulators that may be housed inside the alternator or the voltage regulator function may be handled by the vehicle’s powertrain control module (PCM).
The alternator generates direct current for recharging the battery and for powering vehicle electrical loads.
Have the alternator’s drive belt tension checked at every oil change. A loose belt can reduce alternator output and run down your vehicle’s battery. Each spring, prior to travel season, it’s wise to have your vehicle’s charging system tested as part of a comprehensive starting, charging and battery test. This test will determine whether your vehicle’s alternator is putting out the proper amount of current and voltage. Your vehicle’s alternator is designed to recharge the battery after slight discharging such as engine starting; the alternator is not designed for charging heavily discharged or dead batteries. Relying on the alternator to charge a heavily discharged or dead battery can overload the alternator and cause damage. In such cases, use a battery charger instead. An alternator problem can cause a discharged battery, poor accessory and light operation, frequent bulb replacement, repeat voltage regulator failures, erratic engine operation, or a dashboard warning light to illuminate. To pinpoint the cause, have your vehicle’s charging system checked out by a qualified service technician.
The battery is the backbone of the electrical system. Most vehicles use a lead-acid battery. The battery is made of a plastic case, containing an arrangement of positive and negative lead plates separated by synthetic plate separators. The plates are connected to a set of terminals, which provide connection to the vehicle. The battery is filled with electrolyte, a mixture of sulfuric acid and water. The electrolyte and lead plates provide the chemical action necessary to store and release energy.
The battery converts chemical energy into electrical energy and vise versa. Given this unique ability, the battery: 1) supplies power to the starter and ignition system, 2) delivers the extra power needed when the electrical load exceeds the alternator's supply, and 3) stabilizes voltage in the electrical system.
Your vehicle's battery and its connections should be checked at every oil change. The battery should be mounted securely, as vibration takes a toll on battery life. On batteries with removable filler caps, the electrolyte should be checked and topped off with distilled water. Battery connections should be clean, tight and corrosion-free. To clean the battery case and terminals, use a mixture of baking soda and water. As an added measure to fight terminal corrosion, chemically treated felt rings can be placed over the battery posts. Batteries don't always give warning signs before they fail. If your vehicle's battery is three years old or more, it's wise to replace it. When choosing a replacement, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all battery. Make sure the new one has adequate capacity for your exact make, model and equipment. If you live in an extremely cold climate, consider upgrading to the largest capacity available for your vehicle. Battery efficiency drops off drastically in cold temperatures and the extra capacity can make the difference in starting on cold winter mornings. Avoid running your battery dead; deep-cycling (discharging and then charging) quickly takes its toll on battery life. For longest life, automotive batteries are intended to keep a relatively consistent charge. If you decide to change the battery yourself, be aware that many vehicles may need to "re-learn" certain electronic engine control habits, like idle speed. Disconnecting the battery may also erase the memory of radios and other creature comforts like memory mirrors and seats. Check your vehicle's owner's manual for more specifics on changing the battery. Never discard an old battery in the trash. Take the old battery to a recycling center that accepts automotive batteries.
The starter consists of an electric motor that powers a starter drive (a special pinion gear designed to engage with the ring gear of the flywheel or torque converter). Many of today’s starters also use a gear reduction to increase the torque output of the starter. The starter is usually mounted to the rear of the engine or the front of the transmission housing.
The starter cranks the engine when the ignition switch is turned to the start position. The starter drive uses an overrunning clutch that freewheels if the engine starts while the starter is still engaged, reducing the likelihood of damage to the starter drive and ring gear.
To ensure good starter performance, check your vehicle’s battery cables at every oil change. The cables should be tight and free from corrosion. Corroded or loose connections can cause slow cranking, arcing at cable connections, and other electrical system problems. Each spring, prior to travel season, it’s wise to have your vehicle's starter tested as part of a comprehensive starting, charging and battery test. This test will determine whether your vehicle's starter is drawing its normal amount of current. Excessive current draw usually means a worn starter and results in hard starting. Take your vehicle to D and R Car Care and Lube Center so a professional service technician to get to the heart of your vehicle's starting system problem.
The voltage regulator is an electronic device that regulates alternator output according to the battery’s state of charge and accessory loads. Today’s compact electronic voltage regulators may be housed inside the alternator or the voltage regulator function may be handled by the vehicle’s powertrain control module (PCM).
The voltage regulator manages the alternator’s output according to vehicle operating conditions. The voltage regulator must balance the needs of a fully charged battery, long battery life, accessory loads, and long light bulb life. For these reasons, voltage regulators must operate at specified voltages.
Each spring, it’s wise to have your vehicle's charging system tested as part of a comprehensive starting, charging and battery test at D and R Car Care and Lube Center. This test will determine whether your vehicle's alternator/voltage regulator team is doing its job as designed and only costs $24.95. Symptoms of a faulty voltage regulator may include a discharged battery, short battery life, poor accessory and lighting operation, frequent bulb replacement, lower than normal dashboard voltmeter readings, an illuminated charging system warning light, frequent topping off of the battery’s electrolyte, and diagnostic trouble codes stored in the vehicle’s PCM. Also, a bad alternator may cause repeat failures of the voltage regulator, so keep this in mind. Isolating the cause of your vehicle’s charging system woes is best left to the skills and experience of a qualified service technician at D and R Car Care and Lube Center. Since the functions of the alternator and voltage regulator are so closely interrelated, it takes the right combination of training and equipment to pinpoint the fault. D and R Car Care and Lube Center has the most up-to-date equipment and highly trained technicians in the area for these problems.
Cables are basically heavy-duty wires made of many strands of copper wire. An insulating jacket prevents contact with ground or other conductors. Cables have large terminals attached to their ends for connection to the battery, starter, starter relay, starter solenoid or main parts of the electrical system. Cables come in different sizes to match the electrical load of their circuit.
Because of their size, cables are able to handle the large amount of electrical flow (current) needed for the starter and other high-current demands.
Your vehicle’s cables should be checked periodically to ensure that they’re tight and free from corrosion. Corroded or loose connections can cause a wide range of electrical problems including a no-start, dead battery, and erratic electrical accessory operation. The most important cable connections are the battery terminals, which should be checked at every oil change. The connections should be tight and free from corrosion. The battery case and terminals can be cleaned using a mixture of baking soda and water. As an added measure to fight terminal corrosion, chemically treated felt rings can be placed over the battery posts. If neglected long enough, cables will need to be replaced. They should always be replaced with a cable of at least the same diameter to minimize the effects of electrical resistance. Changing a battery or other cable may disconnect power to certain memory circuits like radios and other creature comforts such as memory mirrors and seats. If the vehicle’s powertrain control module is disconnected, it may need to “re-learn” certain engine operating habits, like idle speed. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for more specifics on what may happen if power is disconnected. Because of the wide variety of technicalities and techniques needed to properly service the electrical system on today’s vehicles, it’s best to have your vehicle serviced by a qualified technician at D and R Car Care and Lube Center.
Switches are one of the key components of any electrical circuit. Switches are used in a multitude of locations for just about every conceivable vehicle accessory and feature. They range from the simple to the complex, some having just a few contacts while others have a complex arrangement for more sophisticated needs. An example of a simple switch is the one operated by the glove box door that turns on the light inside. On the other end of the spectrum, the turn signal switch is rather complex, as it must control the turn signals, while interrupting the brake light circuit. Some switches are operated manually, such as the switches for the power windows. Other switches activate automatically, such as the door switches that activate the interior lights. Some switches, such as the headlight switch, may also include a circuit breaker as part of the switch assembly.
Switches open and close the various circuits on your vehicles, providing control of those circuits. In circuits with higher current flow, a switch may be used indirectly for circuit control. That is, the switch activates a relay that actually handles current flow for the circuit.
The switches on your vehicle do not require regular maintenance and usually last the life of the car. Nevertheless, switches can fail over time after being activated thousands of times during their normal life. The symptoms of a bad switch usually include a circuit that won’t work at all or a circuit that may not work in certain modes. Like any circuit that doesn’t work, it’s always best to start with a check of the fuses. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for fuse locations and capacities. If the fuse is OK, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the switch is bad. There are many things that can go wrong with an electrical circuit, a switch being just one of them. To accurately pinpoint the cause, have your vehicle's electrical problem thoroughly diagnosed by a qualified service technician at D and R Car Care and Lube Center.
Older vehicles use cartridge type fuses that have a fuse element encased in a glass cylinder. The fuse capacity is marked on the end conductors of this type of fuse. The blade style fuse has become almost the universal standard for fuse applications today. The blade style fuse makes it much easier to visually determine whether a fuse is blown or not.
Fuses and circuit breakers are designed to protect circuits in the event of electrical overload.
Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for specifics on fuse panel locations, fuses and their capacities. Today’s electrical systems have more than one fuse panel that can be found in different locations throughout the vehicle. Common fuse panel locations include the engine compartment and under the dash. Some manufactures have even made life easier by labeling fuse access panels with “FUSES”. Circuit breakers are often located in fuse/relay panels, but some components like the headlight switch and power window motors have built-in circuit breakers. Blown fuses or a tripped circuit breaker usually indicate more serious electrical circuit problems such as a short circuit or an electrical consumer that is using more current than the circuit is designed for. In this event, it may be time for D and R Car Care and Lube Center to handle this problem for you. D and R Car Care and Lube Centers' technicians are highly trained in electrical repair. Mini fuses, standard auto fuses and the maxi fuse all have standard colors that reflect the fuse’s current-carrying capability.
Color and Current Ratings for Maxi Fuses
Color and Current Ratings for Mini and Standard Fuses