The alternator in your car is essentially a small power generator. It provides power to the battery to keep it charged, and it supplies the necessary voltage for your car's electrical components and accessories to run. In order for all of this to happen, that alternator must be precisely matched to the needs of the electrical system in your car. If the alternator isn't the right fit or it's malfunctioning, it can over-charge the system. This pushes excess voltage to the battery, which can be damaging. Here are a few common causes of overcharging as well as a look at why it is a concern.
What's the Big Deal?
You might wonder why an over-charging alternator is a big deal. After all, more power to the battery means a stronger battery system, right? The truth is, if your battery is getting too much charge, it can be devastating. In the best case scenario, the battery might just die and no longer hold a charge. In the worst case scenario, the battery can actually boil the distilled water and sulfuric acid solution inside. This can make the battery casing too hot to touch safely, and it may even lead to a buildup of hydrogen.
Hydrogen can seep through the small vents around the edges of the casing, and when exposed to oxygen, it becomes a potential explosive. Even a small electrical spark from the engine can lead to a serious explosion, causing the small components of the engine compartment to become shrapnel and spraying sulfuric acid. While this is a worst-case scenario, it is possible if you don't attend to an overcharging battery.
Causes of Overcharging
There are a few common things that can cause overcharging in your battery. Here are a couple of the things you should watch for.
- Improper Jump Starts – If you don't follow the proper procedures to jump start your car, the process can actually send a power surge to the battery. This can destroy some of the cells in the battery or potentially short out the battery completely. In some cases, it can even damage the wiring that runs to the alternator, which can damage the alternator itself and lead to persistent overcharging.
- Wrong Alternator – Your car's charging system relies on a specific balance of power provided by the alternator. If you install an alternator in your car that isn't the right one for your car's power system, you may inadvertently overcharge the system. For example, if you invest in a high-performance alternator for a passenger car, the alternator may produce more power than the car needs, overcharging the battery in the process.
- Failing Regulators – Every alternator is fitted with a regulator that controls how much power the system produces. When that regulator isn't working properly, it cannot limit the power production by the alternator. Without that regulator, the alternator doesn't receive the communication necessary to stop it from charging the battery. This can lead to overcharging in the battery and the electrical system. Most cars are fitted with either internal or external regulators. The external regulators mount to the fire wall or the fender well and distribute power to the coil inside the alternator. Electromagnetic switches engage and disengage the power flow. Internal regulators rely on the same type of switch, but these regulators are inside the alternator, not separate. They are a more compact alternative used in more modern cars.
If you see any power surges or electrical problems in your car or your battery feels warm when you touch the case, those are indications that the system might be overcharging. Schedule an appointment with the mechanic today to have the system tested and the appropriate auto services done.