Today’s charging systems are pretty compact. In most cases, everything is in the alternator including the voltage regulator. That reduces the amount of wiring and connections, thereby reducing the opportunity for failures. The only thing external to the alternator is of course the drive belt.
Regardless of the belt type, Serpentine or V-Belt, the drive belt is critical to the charging system operation, as well as the other belt drive accessories like A/C and Power Steering. A good visual inspection by the trained eye can reveal potential belt problems before they leave you on the side of the road.
On the new serpentine or ribbed, flat belts, replacing the automatic tensioner and any idler pulleys is a great idea when they get a little age on them. I like 3 to 4 years depending upon operating conditions, or 50,000 plus miles as a good guideline for belt and tensioner replacement.
As mentioned in the preceding articles on batteries, the charging system relies heavily on good, solid electrical connections, and wires that are in good condition. That means not abraded, corroded, or otherwise damaged.
All electrical circuits require a complete loop to operate properly. The current that flows from the battery to any electrical component must find its way back to the battery. It does this through the “ground circuit”. Many of today’s new car ailments including the dreaded “Engine Light”, are diagnosed as having a bad ground circuit.
Electrically solid ground connections can deteriorate over time due to several causes. Corrosion plays a big part as vehicles age, but loose connections due to vibration allowing fasteners to become loose, are common. Your trained and experienced dealership technician can perform tests using a DVOM or digital Volt Ohmmeter to definitively test the ground circuit for excessive resistance. This is especially critical for all wiring to the on board computer. Many vehicles will have a ground junction at or near a coolant outlet, a place that is prone to corrosion from cooling system fumes or seepage.
This procedure is best done with the aid of the vehicle’s wiring diagram found in the factory service manual. It takes a trained eye, and lots of experience to utilize one of these schematics.
The alternator is an A C generator. It makes alternating current, much like in your home. Automobiles use DC or direct current, so a conversion has to take place. You have probably heard the term “Diodes” or “Rectifiers”. Those components reside inside your alternator and the convert or “Rectify” the A C to D C. Diodes are solid-state devices, and can be damaged by overheating, or by a voltage spike.
Both of these conditions can occur as a result of trying to charge up a dead battery using the vehicle’s alternator, or accidentally hooking up jumper cables to the wrong polarity. I described the correct procedures for both of these situations in my previous articles. If you miss one, you miss a lot
Remember that the battery and charging system are critical not only to getting started, but for proper operation of your entire vehicle. A low output from the charging system affects the ignition and fuel injection systems as well.
Follow these simple guidelines, and you can help to keep your vehicle’s cranking and charging system in great shape, making your car or light truck more dependable and enjoyable..
Watch for upcoming some money saving tips on keeping your fuel injection and fuel system in great shape.