Your car’s alternator ensures you have enough juice to keep going when you need to. But how does it work? And how can you tell if yours needs replacement? Find out in the following article.
What is an Alternator?
An alternator is an engine component that converts mechanical energy from the engine into electrical energy, much like a generator does. The alternator is a critical component of your car’s electrical system; without it, your car would not run.
What Does the Alternator Do?
The alternator converts the car engine’s mechanical energy into electrical power. When your engine is running, it generates electricity through a process called electromagnetic induction. The alternator uses the spinning motion from the serpentine belt to spin a rotor inside. This rotor has coils of wire that generate alternating current (AC) as they rotate past magnets on the stationary part of the alternator. The rectifier then converts this AC current to the DC current that your car’s electrical components need. The alternator also uses this electricity to charge the battery so you can turn the key and start your vehicle.
How Does the Alternator Regulate its Charge
When you start your car, the alternator kicks in and produces electrical current for the battery to use. The alternator is regulated by a sensor that communicates with the car’s Engine Control Module (ECM). A voltage regulator is also used by the alternator and monitors how much power is going into the battery. If too much or too little power goes into the battery, the regulator will adjust it accordingly so as not to overcharge or undercharge the battery.
What are the Signs of a Failing Alternator
One sign of a failing alternator is when your car’s engine dies. This happens because the alternator can’t keep up with the demand and cannot supply enough power to keep your engine running. If you notice that your lights dim while you’re driving, or if it takes longer than usual for them to brighten when you turn on the headlights, this could be a sign of a bad alternator.
Your car’s alternator will typically last the life of your vehicle, but as with any mechanical component, there are exceptions. If your car’s alternator is not working correctly, your mechanic will replace it rather than trying to repair it as repairing an alternator is a highly specialized task that is expensive.