Today, more than ever, cars are reliant on a car’s electrical system to run properly. It used to be that voltage swings in cars, or even a thrown alternator belt, were things that could be shrugged off temporarily, and you could still get to a service station or your destination with only mild discomfort. Now, an under or overvoltage condition can cause your car to go into limp mode or even shut down completely. The sensors and electronic modules in today’s cars are sensitive to a specific voltage range, and the wrong voltage can send a wrong signal to the ECU, causing problems. And with the tendency of many owners to add aftermarket accessories to their car, it’s more important than ever to look after this system.
Basic care for your car’s electrical system is actually easier than caring for the mechanical components in the car. This is because all you need to do is visually check for corrosion or unusual signs in the system’s components, of which there are but the battery and the alternator. The starter is also one component of the electrical system but it’s rare for it to be cause of an electrical fault.
The most obvious component to the electrical system is the battery. Often, it sits on a tray in the engine compartment. In sports cars or cars with sporting purposes, the battery can be located at the rear of the car, where it helps with weight distribution and is isolated from temperature extremes. Wherever their location, batteries should be securely held down as a loose battery is a dangerous component to have flying around inside the engine. Poorly secured batteries will also be subject to more vibration than necessary, which could damage the plates inside, thereby shortening its life, often drastically. Check the terminals every couple of months for corrosion or loosening. If you see a whitish residue on them, remove the terminals and clean them with soap and water. It helps to put an anti-corrosive coating on them to prevent the condition from returning. Plain grease works. Minimizing heavy loading will also help your battery’s life. Many owners start the engine with A/C switched on. Or a high-powered sound system or their HID lights for that matter. With these turned off, the load on the battery, as well as the starter, will be less when you start the car.
The alternator is driven by a belt connected to the engine. It generates electricity when the engine is running and tops up the battery to the proper voltage. Normally, you don’t need to do anything to an alternator. As with the battery, visually inspect the connections for signs of corrosion and clean them accordingly. Important note: Always disconnect the negative terminal of the battery when cleaning the electrical system. You may damage an expensive component if you short a circuit inadvertently. Unless you’ve made some changes to the engine compartment in terms of ducting or intake tract mods, you will not need to check for obstructions to the alternator’s airflow, the lack of which could cause overheating.
Lastly, check your belts for proper tension. A loose belt may cause slippage which can cause an undervoltage condition from the alternator. An overtightened belt on the other hand will stress your bearings shorten their life. Check the underside of the belts for cracks. If you see any, replace them as soon as possible.