How to Troubleshoot an Alternator and Their Charging System?

An alternator is a common form of electrical generator, capable of transforming mechanical energy into electrical energy in the form of alternating current. While such equipment may vary in design between models, most rely on a fixed armature and a rotating magnetic field for the means of producing power. Alternators find use in a diverse set of applications, commonly assisting the operations of power plants, aircraft, marine vessels, automobiles, and much more. For aircraft and other vehicles in particular, alternators typically serve for charging batteries and powering systems, making them extremely important for standard operations. When issues arise, it is important that one knows basic troubleshooting so that they may potentially identify and remedy situations.

When an alternator begins to face various issues, there are a few common indicators that one may look out for. Some common signs are dimming lights, voltmeter gauges reaching atypical values, squealing noises, and more. Generally, these issues can be attributed to the alternator charging system, and it is important to pinpoint the issue as soon as such symptoms are found. When issues arise, the first thing one will want to do is to inspect the AC alternator itself, ensuring that belt tension and condition is within an acceptable range. From there, the various electrical connections and cables should be looked over to see if there is any corrosion or looseness that may be affecting performance. Lastly, the alternator itself should be visually inspected to confirm whether or not mounting is optimal.

Once such steps are complete, the batteries may then be visually inspected and tested for their health. Generally, any signs of casing cracks, physical damage, leaking fluids, or loose terminals are signs of concern, and cleaning and replacement should be carried out as necessary. All batteries that are present within a single circuit should also match each other in terms of manufacturer, CCA rating, and age. Once all replacements and confirmations are made, a standard battery test may be carried out to finalize checks.

The next step of troubleshooting the alternator charging system is a system voltage measurement. While the engine is operating, a voltmeter may be used for measuring the voltage present at the battery. If values meet or exceed 13.8 volts, one may move on with their inspection. If values are less than 13.8 volts, then measurements should be conducted at the alternator case and the Alternator B+. Depending upon the values found at this step, the alternator itself may require full replacement.

Once voltage measurements are completed, the alternator output may be checked. At this stage, an automated tester or manual tester may be used for inspecting the output. If the alternator fails such a test, it will require replacement. Whenever one is conducting any testing on their alternator, adapter alternator accessories, or other such components, service manuals should be used to ensure proper procedures are carried out. If all systems pass but the issue persists, the issue is most likely something beyond the alternator itself.

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