To understand voltage and amperage, you must also know about resistance, which is measured in ohms. An easy way to picture this is to compare the movement of electricity to that of running water. Water flows through a pipe with a certain amount of pressure. The size diameter of the pipe dictates how much resistance there will be to the flowing water.
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The smaller the pipe, the more resistance. You can increase the pressure to get more water to flow through, or you can increase the size of the pipe to allow more water to flow using less pressure. Since too much pressure can burst the pipe, we should probably restrict the amount of pressure being used. You get the idea, but how is this related to the flow of electricity? Well, voltage is the same as water pressure.
Amperage is like the amount or volume of water flowing through, while resistance is the size of the wire transmitting the current. This is the job of the voltage regulator. Too much water pressure and things could start breaking. Too much voltage and things could start burning out.
Now, let's go a little deeper and see how these charging system components actually work to produce the electrical power that a modern automobile requires. The alternator uses the principle of electromagnetism to produce current. The way this works is simple. If you take a strong magnet and pass it across a wire, that wire will generate a small voltage. Take that same wire and loop it many times, than if you pass the same magnet across the bundle of loops, you create a more sizable voltage in that wire.
There are two main components that make up an alternator. They are the rotor and the stator. The rotor is connected directly to the alternator pulley. The drive belt spins the pulley, which in turn spins the rotor. The stator is mounted to the body of the alternator and remains stationary. There is just enough room in the center of the stator for the rotor to fit and be able to spin without making any contact.
The stator contains 3 sets of wires that have many loops each and are evenly distributed to form a three phase system. On some systems, the wires are connected to each other at one end and are connected to a rectifier assembly on the other end. On other systems, the wires are connected to each other end to end, and at each of the three connection points, there is also a connection to the rectifier. More on what a rectifier is later. The rotor contains the powerful magnet that passes close to the many wire loops that make up the stator.
The magnets in the rotor are actually electro magnets, not a permanent magnets. This is done so that we can control how much voltage the alternator produces by regulating the amount of current that creates the magnetic field in the rotor. In this way, we can control the output of the alternator to suit our needs, and protect the circuits in the automobile from excessive voltage. Now we know that every magnet has a north and a south pole and electro magnets are no exception.
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Our rotor has two interlocking sections of electro magnets that are arranged so that there are fingers of alternating north and south poles. When we spin the rotor inside the stator and apply current to the rotor through a pair of brushes that make constant contact with two slip rings on the rotor shaft. This causes the rotor to become magnetized. The alternating north and south pole magnets spin past the three sets of wire loops in the stator and produce a constantly reversing voltage in the three wires.
In other words, we are producing alternating current in the stator. Now, we have to convert this alternating current to direct current current.
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This is done by using a series of 6 diodes that are mounted in a rectifier assembly. A diode allows current to flow only in one direction. If voltage tries to flow in the other direction, it is blocked.
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The six diodes are arranged so that all the voltage coming from the alternator is aligned in one direction thereby converting AC current into DC current. There are 2 diodes for each of the three sets of windings in the stator. The two diodes are facing in opposite directions, one with its north pole facing the windings and the other with its south pole facing the windings.
This arrangement causes the AC current coming out of the windings to be converted to DC current before it leaves the alternator through the B terminal. Connected to the B terminal of the alternator is a fairly heavy wire that runs straight to the battery.
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Current to generate the magnetic field in the rotor comes from the ignition switch and passes through the voltage regulator. Since the rotor is spinning, we need a way to connect this current from the regulator to the spinning rotor. This is accomplished by wires connected to two spring loaded brushes that rub against two slip rings on the rotor's shaft.
The voltage regulator monitors the voltage coming out of the alternator and, when it reaches a threshold of about When the voltage drops below this threshold, the current to the rotor is increased. There is another circuit in the alternator to control the charging system warning lamp that is on the dash. Part of that circuit is another set of diodes mounted inside the alternator called the diode trio.
The diode trio takes current coming from the three stator windings and passes a small amount through three diodes so that only the positive voltage comes through. After the diodes, the wires are joined into one wire and sent out of the alternator at the L connection. It then goes to one side of the dash warning lamp that is used to tell you when there is a problem with the charging system.
The other side of the lamp is connected to the run side of the ignition switch. If both sides of the warning lamp have equal positive voltage, the lamp will not light. Remove voltage from one side and the lamp comes on to let you know there is a problem. This system is not very efficient. There are many types of malfunctions of the charging system that it cannot detect, so just because the lamp is not lit does not mean everything is ok.
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A volt meter is probably the best method of determining whether the charging system is working properly. The voltage regulator can be mounted inside or outside of the alternator housing. If the regulator is mounted outside common on some Ford products there will be a wiring harness connecting it to the alternator.
The voltage regulator controls the field current applied to the spinning rotor inside the alternator. When there is no current applied to the field, there is no voltage produced from the alternator. When voltage drops below When the voltage exceeds This is how voltage output from the alternator is regulated.
Amperage or current is regulated by the state of charge of the battery. When the battery is weak, the electromotive force voltage is not strong enough to hold back the current from the alternator trying to recharge the battery. As the battery reaches a state of full charge, the electromotive force becomes strong enough to oppose the current flow from the alternator, the amperage output from the alternator will drop to close to zero, while the voltage will remain at When more electrical power is used, the electromotive force will reduce and alternator amperage will increase.
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