Automotive Electrical System

In the early days of automobiles, electricity was not utilized within these machines. Car lights were powered by gas and engines were started by crank rather than a chemical battery.

The three major components within a car’s electrical system are the battery (12Vdc), the alternator and the starter. The battery is the backbone of the car’s electrical system, which is the main source of electrical current. The electrical system can be split into two main parts. The main feed goes from the battery’s positive terminal to the starter motor. This cable is attached to the battery are capable of carrying up to 400 Amperes of current. This is the high current part of the circuit. The other part of the electrical system is from the ignition switch and carries a lower current. When the ignition switch is turned all the way to the “engine start” position, the starter motor is powered which begins the engine process. What actually happens is the starter solenoid is engaged is that when a small current is received from the ignition switch, the solenoid closes a pair of contacts and sends a large current to the starter. The starter needs a huge amount of current to spin the engine, which most humans cannot physically do.

The starter motor rotates the flywheel, which turns the crankshaft on the engine. This allows the engine’s pistons to move and begin the process of internal combustion. Fuel is injected into the pistons and combined with air and spark, creates explosions which drive the engine.

The alternator uses the principle of electromagnetic induction to supply energy to the battery and other electrical components. It is important to note that although the alternator produces AC (this is always the case for inductions), this is rectified much like a Dynamo so the output is DC. The alternator is driven by a serpentine belt which causes the rotor to rotate and in the presence of a stator, induces a current. The stator is made of tightly wound copper and the rotor is made of a collection of magnets, which produces the familiar Faraday induction effect. Diodes are used to rectify the output and also to direct current from the alternator to the battery to charge it.


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