Your car alternator, at its most basic, is what works along with your battery and the rest of your charging system to keep your car running. When you start your car, you’re running on battery power. Then the battery transfers power to the alternator to power the vehicle. The alternator is comprised of the following parts:

The alternator rotor

This is simply a coil of wire that is wrapped around an iron core. The wire delivers a magnetic field via DC (direct current) – in other words, a current that flows in only one direction. The current is delivered to the coil by means of slip rings and brushes, and the alternator pulley rotates when the engine runs.

The stator

There is another set of three coils around the rotor – together, they form the stator. The stator is attached to the alternator shell, and it does not rotate. The rotor turns inside the stator and creates an AC, or alternating current.

The output diodes

AC voltage is weak, so before it can be used, it has to be converted to DC. This happens in the output diodes. They convert the current so it moves in only one direction, and blocks the flow of the current in the opposite direction. Six output diodes form the bridge rectifier, which regulates the voltage output of the alternator. The DC current pulsates six times for each rotation of the rotor – it’s not a pure DC current, but for most automotive purposes, it’s good enough.

The diode trio

These three diodes provide the alternator regulator with field current.

The voltage regulator

The voltage regulator is the part of the alternator that senses any drop in the battery voltage, and delivers more field current to the rotor, increasing its voltage output. If the battery voltage goes up, then the voltage regulator sends less field current to the rotor, reducing the output.

The field current supply

Field current is supplied from the alternator by way of the diode trio, and from the battery by way of the alternator warning lamp. When you first start your car, voltage is supplied by the battery. Assuming that your charging system is working properly, the output shifts to the alternator.

The alternator or battery light

The alternator or battery light alerts you to problems with the alternator, or possibly with other parts of your car charging system. A mechanic can perform diagnostics that will identify the problem, which can then be corrected.

This article originally appeared on as How the Alternator Works in Your Car and was authored by Valerie Johnston.

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