- April 18, 2022

Understanding the Role of a Vehicle Alternator

The alternator of your vehicle is responsible for producing most of your vehicle’s electricity. It is a generator that distributes electricity throughout the car and recharges the car battery. The alternator is mounted to the front of the engine. Generally, all standard vehicles will have an alternator excluding some hybrid vehicles.

An alternator is there to provide the specific amount of power that the vehicle needs. There are many components of a vehicle charging system. The electricity-producing parts of a car alternator are the stator and the rotor. The rotor is cylindrically shaped and it is surrounded by magnets. It spins inside the stator. There is a lot of heat generated by the alternator and therefore it requires cooling. A cooling fan is built into this for this function. There are internal cooling fans in newer models. Previous models used to have external fans. The alternator is operated by the crankshaft of the engine. This is done via a serpentine belt.

The movement of the belt which is mechanical energy will cause the rotor of the alternator to spin at a high speed within the stator creating electricity. The stator has copper wiring. The magnets that surround the rotor pass over this wiring creating a magnetic field. This magnetic field gives rise to voltage that is collected by the stator. The power is then carried to the voltage regulator that distributes electricity to the car and monitors the voltage provided to the battery.

The power coming from the alternator is converted to a form that can be used by the battery. Vehicle batteries use direct current electricity while alternators provide alternating current electricity as output. There is a diode rectifier that will convert alternate current to direct current so the battery can recharge. Alternators can be hinge mounted or pad mounted.

The latter is the method that is widely used where the alternator is directly mounted to the engine block by four mounting pads.  Brushless alternators are best if you want to use them for a longer duration than 2 years. This is the expensive option. If you plan to use the alternator for less than two years, then you can go with a brush alternator. You need to consider the duty cycle of the vehicle when selecting the output of the alternator. There should be a greater output than the vehicle’s requirement produced by the alternator.

There are certain indications that can let you know the alternator has to be replaced. Sometimes a burning smell can come from the alternator and there may be a squealing sound coming from the engine. Check if your headlights are pulsating from dim to bright at night. You may notice some dashboard warning lights coming on suddenly. The electronics of the vehicle may show irregularities in their function such as the radio. If you notice any of these signs, it is best to get the vehicle checked by a mechanic.

There are some things that you can do to keep the alternator in good condition. Make sure that you exercise caution and get a professional to install aftermarket electronics to the vehicles. Improper installation can overload the alternator.