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The Evolution of the Electrical System


Main-Story_620x385This is the next in a series of articles that survey the latest thoughts and trending topics within the realm of vehicle electrical and electronic service. One current that has run through each installment is how quickly and dramatically vehicle electrical systems are changing. In last month’s article, our guest author, Mr. Albin Moore, stressed the many changes in battery, starting system and charging system design that have occurred over the past 20 years. This month, we showcase several articles and videos that highlight those changes, as well as return to some key fundamentals that apply to all electrical service, whether working on newer, more complex vehicles or simpler vintage models.

Know Your Parts – The Electrical System

We’ll start with a basic overview of the electrical system, its components and common failure modes. Brought to us from the folks at AASA, this primer on rotating electric components addresses the likely causes of common component failures to starters and alternators. It also emphasizes the heavier loads being handled by today’s alternators due to the increased electrical demand of today’s vehicles.

Alternator and Starter

Alternator and Starter Diagnosis
Rotating electrical parts such as starters and alternators often have to be replaced on older, high-mileage vehicles. Fuel injection has helped prolong the service life of starters by allowing engines to start more quickly when they are cranked. Such is not the case with alternators. Higher electrical demands on charging systems have increased alternator failures. Read the rest of the article…


Breaking Down the Modern Fuse Box

From that basic start, we move into more complex territory. This in depth article on, by Dave Macholz, delves into recent changes in fuse box design and vehicle power distribution systems. To start, he covers such component innovations as ATL/Micro 3 Fuses and Integration Relays, providing practical tips on diagnosing and servicing these components. He then breaks down the power distribution systems deployed by several manufacturers, including Ford, Nissan and Chrysler. Finally, he wraps the article up with some useful diagnostic approaches, including his strategy for tackling our favorite electrical system challenge, pinpointing parasitic drains. This is a great read.

3prong fuse

Not just a Fuse Box
Vehicle manufacturers and engineers constantly are exploring ways of refining and improving on-board technology. In the search to make lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles, no stone can remain unturned. The home of vehicle power distribution, the “fuse box”, has undergone some significant changes as a result of these efforts. We’ll take a look at what’s new in the fuse box as well as some diagnostic approaches for some of the problems related to power distribution. Read the rest of the article…


Did Someone Say Voltage Drop Testing?

It seems there is an endless number of articles written and videos produced by the trade publications and other content providers that address the topic of parasitic drains. And, of all the approaches available to identify the source of parasitic drains, voltage drop testing is the cat’s pajamas, according to expert after expert. In this article, Jaime Lazarus breaks down the why, what and when of voltage drop testing: what it is, why it is useful and when it is most appropriate to utilize this method.

fuseboxJaime, I frequently hear the term “Voltage Drop Testing.” What is it?
In its simplest terms, voltage drop testing is the measuring of the voltage differences that may be present at various points in a circuit. The truth is, every circuit has some voltage drop. Even the best made wire (conductor) doesn’t have the same number of electrons available at its end as it has at its source. The difference is considered the “drop.” Read the rest of the article…



More Fun with Ohm’s Law

We rarely do a survey article like this without a trip to the land of Ohm’s Law. This time is no exception. In this instructive video, Dave Hobbs breaks down the basic elements of parallel and series circuits, noting the differences between the two. He also brings it back to vehicle electrical system design and how a greater understanding of each circuit can help you diagnose electrical issues more easily and efficiently.

Can’t see the Video? Click here.

Vehicle technology is changing at an ever-rapid pace and the electrical system is no exception, even on conventionally powered vehicles. It is not easy to keep up, but mastering techniques such as voltage drop testing can help you stay effective and efficient in your service operation. We’ll end with a quote from Dave Macholz’s article on “Constant changes in technology make our job as technicians challenging. Embracing new technology and accepting the challenge will help you make money instead of losing it when it comes to [electrical system] diagnosis.”

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