What You need to know about Car alternator?
The alternator in your car is one of the most critical components in the electrical system of your vehicle, and you only know about it when something goes wrong. When it’s working properly, you might be forgiven for not even thinking about it at all when it comes time to service your vehicle.
What does an alternator do?
The alternator charges your battery whilst driving as well as provides the electrical power for the whole electrical system of your car as you drive. It is essentially an electrical generator that is belt driven by the engine during operation. All modern vehicles have an alternator, and they come in two main variations, fixed voltage, and smart alternators. Fixed alternators deliver a fixed voltage constantly regardless of conditions, and smart alternators, as in most modern cars, can reduce the voltage output to minimize strain on the engine. This helps with compliance with emission regulations and engine management.
Fixed Voltage vs. Smart Alternators
Fixed voltage alternators deliver a fixed voltage of around 14V to the electrical system of your vehicle. These units will provide a higher current after you start your car and once the battery is back up to charge, reduce the current whilst you are driving. This cycle will repeat when you start your vehicle again.
Smart alternators have sophisticated voltage regulators and electronics to enable it to vary the charging current and voltage according to your vehicle’s electrical needs. By monitoring the charge level of your car battery, the smart alternator in your vehicle will deliver a higher voltage and current immediately after you start your vehicle and systematically reduce it as you drive. The latest models can even increase the voltage output in deceleration and lower it again when you accelerate again, which lowers the power drain on the engine making it more emission friendly.
Checking if your alternator is healthy
Even with the most modern cars, the best way to monitor the health of your alternator is by the dashboard battery light and your headlights. If your alternator is failing and not charging the battery correctly, the warning light on your dashboard will light up. Another way of checking your alternator is when your headlights or interior lights are dim. You should also check your alternator if you find that your battery is not holding a charge. It could be a bad cell in the battery, or it could be a faulty voltage regulator in the alternator. Making sure that the belts are tensioned correctly will also ensure that your alternator works properly.
The lifespan of an alternator
Depending on the way you use your car, you might never have any issues with your alternator. The average lifespan of most alternators is upwards of 10 years depending on driving conditions. As your car ages, you should be aware that components like your alternator. It might need more attention and in some cases replacement. The best way to monitor the health of your alternator is by having your mechanic check it every time you have your vehicle serviced.
Replacing the alternator on your vehicle
If your alternator needs replacing, its best to leave it to the professionals unless you are a professional mechanic. The alternator in your car is often located in a hard to reach spot within the engine bay. Making sure that it is secured correctly and working properly is crucial to effect repairs.
Some models also are interconnected to other components via belts that run of the engine. These belts must be tensioned correctly, or you will have more problems in the future. Auto electricians have sophisticated equipment to test the voltage and current output of your alternator once they have replaced it.
The cost of replacement depends on the make and model of your vehicle. The average cost of replacing a 10-year-old car’s alternator is in the region of $1000,00. Of course, newer cars could cost more, and depending on the associated damage to your electrical system even more so.
Caring for your alternator
Being a component that works in the background, caring for your alternator is relatively simple. Conscientious driving and regular services are a great start to a healthy alternator. Regular checking of the belts driving your alternator will also ensure that you have a healthy electrical system. Paying close attention to any of the warning signs will ensure that in the event of a component failure, you will catch the problem.