Alternators work with the battery and engine, to generate power for the electrical components, in a vehicle. It provides power for components such as the interior and exterior lights, stereo system, electric windows, and the instrument panel. Alternators are typically located in front of the engine, where it is driven by the crankshaft, which converts the pistons energy, into circular energy. The crankshaft and alternator are connected, using a system of belts and pulleys. Older vehicles may use their own drive belt, to connect the crankshaft pulley, with the alternator pulley. Most modern cars use a serpentine belt, which allows for all of the components that rely on crankshafts power, to run off one belt.
Alternators are typically mounted with brackets that bolt to the engine. One of the brackets is typically a fixed point, while the others are adjustable,in order to make sure the belt is snug, which prevents it from slipping off the pulley. Alternators replaced generators, which were used in early vehicles to provide power, to the vehicle's electrical system and charge the battery. Alternators were able to produce greater amounts of power than most generators, while doing it in a more efficient way.
One of the main components of an alternator is the rotor. This part of the alternator is driven by a belt, which is connected to the engine. The rotor is composed of a solid iron core, which is tightly wound in wire. When the ignition is turned on, an electrical current is sent to the rotor. This current is controlled by the voltage regulator, to ensure that a constant voltage is delivered to the rotor. As the rotor spins, the current being supplied to the rotor creates a magnetic field, which surrounds the rotor. A piece of the alternator, called the stator, encases the rotor. The stator consists of three stationary sets of wire coiled conductors, which are known as phases. As the rotor spins inside the stator, the magnetic field surrounding the rotor sweeps across the stator's phases, which creates alternating current.
The AC current which was produced by the stator’s phases, is then directed though a series of diodes, called the rectifier. These diodes allow current to flow in one direction, while blocking flow in the opposite directions. This converts alternating current, to direct current, which is what the vehicle's battery supports. The rectifier uses three diodes to convert negative current, and three diodes to convert positive current.
The newly converted direct current,passes through the diode trio. The diode trio is located within the rectifier where it moves the current from the rectifier, to the voltage regulator, where it is monitored and regulated. Alternators work closely with the voltage regulator, to prevent overcharging and undercharging, of the battery. Not charging the battery correctly may strain the battery,and reduce its life.
Alternators are typically small and lightweight units. Most alternators found in cars and light trucks, are constructed using an aluminum outer housing. Aluminum is used because of its light weight, and its ability to not magnetize. Aluminum also dissipates the tremendous amounts of heat generated, by producing electrical energy, which is what an alternator does. Alternators also typically have vents on both the front and back,in order to allow heat to escape. Alternators are also cooled by small fans, which are attached to the rotor shaft. These fans are located on the inside of the aluminum housing on newer models, and on the outside of the aluminum housing, behind the pulley on older models.
One of the most common problems which causes an alternator to fail, is bearing failure. These bearings allow the rotor to spin freely inside the stator. Alternator bearings break down faster when exposed to dirt and heat, which is why cooling, and keeping the engine compartment clean is important. If the bearings fail, the rotor will not spin efficiently, which can cause it to seize up. An alternator with bearings failure often makes a loud grinding noise, which is a sign that the alternator is about to fail. An alternator that is not running efficiently can ruin a good battery, if its not fixed.
There are also high output alternators available, which are commonly used in custom car shops, and in high performance cars. These large alternators produce higher voltages when the engine is idling. It also makes more power for vehicles that draw an excessive amount of electricity. For example, cars may need a larger alternator if they carry a large stereo system or other electronic devices,which are powered by the car. Some custom shops are even installing multiple alternators, which can handle very large amounts of energy.
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