How Does an Alternator Work?

car-alternatorOur repair technicians at Dakota Ridge Auto in Littleton know that if you have a car, you will probably have alternator problems at some point. So it is important for you to ask, how does an alternator work?

Basically, the engine drive belt (serpentine belt) sends engine power to the alternator. The alternator then uses this power to create electricity and sends it to the battery, keeping it fully charged and running your car. That’s why our Dakota Ridge Auto technicians always check to make sure the engine drive belt is working.

Now, let’s talk about what it does. The alternator is your vehicle’s charging system and controls everything electrical. Its primary job is to maintain battery life. You most likely know, or may have had the unfortunate experience of having a battery that doesn’t work, which means your car won’t start.

Today’s vehicles also require a lot of electrical power. If your lights, radio and windshield wipers are all on, your vehicle is using a lot of electricity. If the battery was the car’s only source of power it would be quickly depleted. That’s why you need the alternator, to keep the car’s battery fully charged.

The most common things that will happen when you are having alternator problems is your car won’t start, the serpentine belt squeals, your battery dies, or the battery light goes on. But these warning signs can also be part of other problems, so you need the right diagnostic tools to find out if it really is an alternator problem.

At Dakota Ridge Auto, we will use a digital volt-ohmmeter or DVOM (aka voltmeter), to measure how much voltage your alternator is putting out and pinpoint if your alternator is the problem.

With your car off, we will put the voltmeter’s red lead on the positive side of the battery and the black lead on the negative post of the battery. We want the voltmeter to read above 12.65 volts, which means you have a fully charged battery. If it doesn’t, then we need to look at the battery or the alternator as the culprit for causing problems.

Next, we will remove the leads from the battery and start your car. We will put the leads back on and look at the voltage. It should now be around the 13.5-14.5 volt range. If it is in this range, then it’s probably not the alternator that’s causing the problem. Your most likely issue at this point is the battery. We will then test your battery just to be sure and replace it if needed.

Your car can’t run without a functioning alternator, so it’s important to get it fixed right away. At Dakota Ridge Auto in Littleton, there’s no question as to how does an alternator work. We know them inside and out, and we have the required diagnostic and repair information that is specific to your vehicle. If it comes down to replacing your alternator, we have you covered, too.

At the first sign of trouble, feel free to call or contact us to schedule your alternator diagnosis!

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