Merriam Webster defines an alternator as “an electric generator for producing alternating current”. Wikipedia describes an alternator as “an electromechanical device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy in the form of alternating current”.
How do Merriam Webster’s definition and Wikipedia’s description relate to cars? The alternator converts the engine’s rotating mechanical energy to electrical energy needed for all the electrical needs of the car, such as the ignition system, exterior lights, interior lights, instrument clusters, windshield wipers, air conditioning, heater, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, security systems, keyless entry system, power sliding doors, electric seats, heated seats, air bags, anti-lock brakes, electronic suspension, computerized engine components, computerized transmission, navigation systems, computerized body control systems, etc. So, the job of the alternator is very important.
The alternator is very reliable and, with proper care and maintenance, it should last a long time, especially in today’s vehicles. The alternator is located somewhere on the drive belt end or front of the engine. That is because the alternator is driven by a V-belt or serpentine belt, which in turn is driven by the engine crankshaft or harmonic balancer pulley. When the engine crankshaft pulley spins it drives the alternator belt causing the alternator to spin. This process converts the engine rotating mechanical energy to electrical energy through the alternator. Depending on the application, in other words vehicle make and model, accessing the alternator may be very easy or very difficult.
In future articles diagnosing, remove and re-install, repairing, wiring schematics, and purchasing an alternator will be discussed. The various ways of controlling the alternator will be covered. Also, alternator common variations and history will be addressed. The vintage generator will also be briefly reviewed. Safety and tool usage will also be covered.
As always, if any procedure in this series of articles appears to be beyond the capabilities of the vehicle owner or driver, then testing and servicing the alternator should be performed by a professional or ASE Master Certified mechanic. The vehicle would have to be taken to a repair shop that employs these types of mechanics such as A & M Alternator Services located at 2419 E. Jackson St. in Phoenix, Auto Electric Specialists located at 5216 W. Lamar Rd. in Glendale, Village Auto Electric Service located at 19 N. Miller St. in Mesa, All Start Electric located at 13501 E. Chandler Blvd. in Chandler, Jordan’s Automotive Specialists located at 8718 E. McDowell Rd. #3 in Scottsdale, Rob’s Quality Automotive located at 11801 N. Cave Creek Rd. in Phoenix, Scottsdale Pro Tech located at 8245 E. Butheruand Dr. #111 in Scottsdale, and Art’s Family Auto Repair located at 915 W. Hatcher Rd. in Phoenix.