Cars. They’re so darn complicated, and like our bodies, the various systems work together and depend on each other. One particular system, the starting and charging system, is often overlooked. With modern vehicles utilizing separate computers for nearly every function on the vehicle, the starting and charging system plays a critical role in the proper operation of all other systems.
The basic system consists of a battery, starter, alternator, and all the wiring which connects the three. The battery is plays a critical role as all the various computers in the vehicle rely on a steady supply of voltage. In the last few weeks we’ve been selling batteries like cold beers at a baseball game. With the heat, more so than the cold, being the battery’s number one enemy, they’re dropping left and right. The battery is wired directly to the starter, as it provides the significant supply of amperage the starter requires to operate. Once the starter is energized, it spins the engine round and round until the car starts and runs on its own (that’s a different story). At that point the starter’s job is done, and the battery and alternator work together to power the needs of the vehicle. In today’s world those needs are high.
I’ve witnessed families using household power strips plugged into the “power outlet,” formerly known as a cigarette lighter. Keep in mind the modern outlet is enhanced to allow for more amperage to pass through the circuit without blowing fuses. This allows every kid to charge every device all at the same time, and mom and dad to fight over the remaining power outlet up front.
The positive and negative connections at the battery are critical. Without solid connections, the battery can’t properly supply the fuse block, and the alternator can’t properly charge the battery. Furthermore, the alternator, which is also wired to the battery, gets overworked as it continues its efforts to charge the battery when the connection is bad. This leads to premature failure. You can see how one simple thing, a battery connection, can lead to significant damage. Consider this: the newest technology offers computer-controlled charging systems (alternators). I’ve also seen liquid-cooled alternators. I don’t need to tell you these systems are expensive to repair. Here at the shop we’ve solved more wacky problems by cleaning suspect connections than we’d care to admit. Even the best technician has been tricked by a seemingly solid battery connection.
If your shop recommends you replace your battery with a new, high-quality battery, don’t hesitate. The headache, hassle, and money they will save you are well worth it.