Understanding your car’s electrical components

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Every vehicle has an electrical system with three critical electrical components: the battery, starter, and alternator. Because these systems operate cyclically, any electrical problem that begins in these electrical components will affect the rest of the system.

For example, the battery provides the power that the starter requires to function, and in turn, the alternator provides the energy the battery needs to run. This means that even if one of these three critical electrical components fails, the vehicle will not start or run correctly.

The battery

The battery in a vehicle is responsible for supplying all necessary electrical currents to the car before it starts. This includes powering the ignition system, fuel systems, and the starter itself. Therefore, a vehicle will not start if its battery is dead or weak.

The alternator

Once the vehicle runs, the alternator is the electrical component that powers the system. When the engine is started, the alternator takes over. It also charges the battery, which keeps the vehicle running.

The starter

The starter is the electrical component in charge of directly starting the engine. The battery provides the necessary power, but it cannot start the engine independently. Instead, it relies on the starter’s specialised function of rotating the flywheel and activating the crankshaft to start the engine’s pistons. This means that even if the battery works correctly, the vehicle cannot be started without a working starter.

How to spot electrical problems in a car

The best way to avoid electrical system failure is to take your car in for regular check-ups at an auto repair shop. Maintaining and monitoring a vehicle regularly is the best way to avoid the failure of its electrical components. In addition, older or high mileage vehicles are especially prone to starting problems, so it is critical to have them frequently checked out.

This way, any potential electrical component issues can be addressed quickly before they become a significant concern, avoiding situations where a driver is stranded and saving money on the cost of repairs and parts in the long run. However, drivers must also be alert for signs that electrical components are not functioning correctly.

Difficulty starting your car

When the starter is turned on, the battery sends a spark to supply the fuel required by the engine to start. However, when a vehicle’s engine isn’t cranking correctly, a driver will often hear a clicking noise instead of the usual sound of the car starting when they turn the key. This usually indicates insufficient current flowing from the alternator, starter, or battery to start the engine.

In most cases, the source is the battery or, in rare cases, the starter. On the other hand, a grinding noise when starting the vehicle is usually caused by a problem with the starter.

Your car is losing power

If the alternator fails, the battery will not receive the power required to stay charged, and the electrical systems will begin to lose power. If the alternator fails, the vehicle will frequently start but will not be able to run for an extended period. As a result, a dead battery could indicate an underlying alternator problem.

Remember that battery problems can also cause the vehicle to lose power or fail to start. Because batteries are only designed to last about five years, they commonly lose power over time. If this is the case, starting the vehicle may be difficult.

Your car’s lights are not working

Every light on the vehicle gets its power from the electrical system, so if the lights aren’t working, it’s usually a sign of a problem with the battery or alternator. Headlights and taillights are essential, but many other lights are critical to the driver’s safety, such as interior lighting and dashboard monitoring systems.

These lights keep drivers and other road users safe, so it’s critical to fix the problem as soon as possible if a driver notices that their lights are dim or aren’t turning on as they should.

Blown fuses

A fuse box is a built-in control system in vehicles that ensures the electrical components do not draw too much current or short circuit, putting people in danger. Fuses are designed to blow in the event of an electrical problem, but they can also blow out on their own. While a blown fuse is usually a minor inconvenience, multiple blown fuses, especially in quick succession, often indicate an underlying problem among the electrical components.

Strange odours

An unusual smell while the vehicle is running, is often one of the first symptoms of an electrical problem. Strange odours can indicate various issues, but a distinct whiff of burning plastic frequently accompanies electrical smells. Therefore, if you notice an unusual odour while driving, you should always pull over and identify the source, particularly if any of the above issues are present.

Contact AHK Motor Spares for details

AHK Motor Spares offers the highest quality car electrical components to solve our clients’ challenges. We have a network of branches across Gauteng and the Western Cape, which makes finding the right electrical components when you need them quickly. So get in touch with our team today for everything you need.


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