Today’s auto electrical systems are getting more intricate and are stressing the limits of current technology but they are basically the same design as 30 years ago. What can today’s do-it-yourselfer do to keep from being electrically-challenged in the middle of nowhere? A quick overview of your car’s electrical system would be a good start. The major components of your car’s electrical system are explained below, along with some troubleshooting tips.
Your auto’s electrical system should be completely checked and tested every two years by a certified mechanic or whenever serviced for any type of driveability problem. Many problems associated with day-to-day driveability are caused by voltage variations and must be the first step in troubleshooting any auto electrical problem. This is due to the use of computerized controls in most cars these days and even quite minor voltage changes can alter the controls.
Your car’s electrical system must be load tested to certain standards, which can be simulated by turning on all the accessories and lights for simple voltage drain but that is not an all-inclusive test. Measuring circuit loads with an ammeter, circuit voltage drops with a DVOM, variable circuit load testing, etc. is the only way to fully check function. With electrical systems operating at 80%-100% of capacity nowadays, it is crucial that it be up to standards for auto electrical efficiency.
The average do-it-yourselfer would have little need to purchase the more critical test equipment, so if voltmeter testing doesn’t pinpoint the problem, get a thorough checkup done from an auto electrical technician at Michael’s Auto Repair who knows your car manufacturer’s system.
A complete and thorough test involves much more than sticking a voltmeter on the battery and the average do-it-yourselfer does not have the test equipment nor does he/she need it. You should allow a professional to do this test on all your auto electrical components. Most early problems start from poor electrical connections due to loose connections and/or buildup of corrosion, especially at the battery posts. Keep that battery clean!
Your Alternator is an important part of the Auto Electrical System
The alternator produces electricity used to maintain battery storage charge and to help run all the electrical accessories, including the ignition and the engine control systems. It is belt-driven by the engine and produces an alternating current (AC), which is converted internally to 12 volts direct current (DC) by the diode bridge or rectifiers. AC current cannot be stored but is much more efficiently produced, which is why cars no longer use generators but use alternators and convert the electricity to DC. Most alternators now use internal voltage regulators to maintain the proper system voltage, from 12.6-14.5 volts. You should check your car’s repair manual or with Michael’s Auto Repair to obtain the exact proper voltage for your cars auto electrical system requirements.
Your Starter is vital to the Auto Electrical System
The other major auto electrical component in your car’s electrical system is used only a few times a day but is the single largest power user and most critical to your car’s operation – it’s the starter. The starter is simply a DC motor that turns the engine crankshaft through the flywheel, starting the combustion process by creating compression within the cylinders. Voltage to the starter is supplied directly from the battery and is controlled by a relay and/or solenoid operated from the key switch inside your car.
Starters can be of varying types and designs – gear-reduction types for higher torque, permanent-magnet types to reduce size and weight, or just plain, old-fashioned heavy starters. But whatever the type, they all function in the same basic way.
A slow cranking engine may be a sign of a bad starter and with age, that’s more and more likely. But on most cars today, it’s due to low battery voltage, poor electrical connections at the battery or a failed relay or fusible link.
Most starters will easily outlast a new vehicle warranty if it’s not overused, if good connections are maintained and if it’s not overheated through dirt and grime buildup.
Starting your car with the major components turned off (like the AC compressor, blower motor and high-powered stereos) will greatly ease the load on the starter. In fact, most new cars have “lock out” relays that will not allow the AC compressor and alternator to turn on until after the vehicle has been started. But turning these power-hogs off before shutting off your car is always a good precaution.
Although the starter drive as it was commonly referred to, can be replaced separately from the starter assembly, it’s rarely recommended anymore. Failure of any part is due to age, usage and heat stress, to which the entire starter has also been subjected, so that other parts are just as old and stressed. It’s quite common to replace the starter drive only to have to buy another starter in a few months because the brushes wore out, a magnet broke, the solenoid failed, among other common mishaps. Replace the starter as a unit and have the electrical system checked at the same time to prevent further auto electrical system problems.
A Few Important Things to Remember about your Auto Electrical System
Follow these tips and you’re well on your way to extending the life of your auto’s electrical system components:
Always keep your battery and its connections clean to avoid clogged battery cover vents and overtaxing your starter. This will also allow for proper ventilation of dangerous, explosive gases from your battery and keep your auto electrical system performing well.
When replacing your battery, always buy one of the same or higher CCA rating as the original battery and make sure it’s the same or compatible “group size” to fit your battery tray and cable connections.
Due to the varying nature of car electrical systems, never jump start your car using another car that is running. Use the other vehicle’s battery power alone to start it because a 14.5 volt running system can seriously damage a 12.6 volt system due to the overvoltage.
Start your car with the major electrical components turned off – A/C, stereo, Lights, etc. This will ease the load on your battery and starter and extend the life of your auto electrical system.
Have your car’s auto electrical system completely checked and tested every two years by a professional automotive electrical technician or whenever you have it serviced for any type of drive ability problem your car may be having.
Visit us at Michael’s Auto Repair or contact our Auto Electrical Repair shop in Arizona if you have any questions about your car’s auto electrical system. We have the know-how for all your auto electrical repair needs with our industry certified technicians in Arizona. We are conveniently located in Peoria, AZ and offer discount special offers on many auto electrical service repair needs.