Question about 1988 Acura Legend

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2nd newly rebuilt alternator burning out.

Have Installed new battery before 2nd alternator installed. After driving a couple of days noticed a burning smell. Checked alternator was very hot to the touch and output of alternator approx. 40 amps almost half what it should be. Had charging system checked by a certified mechanic pointing to the alternator. Both rebuilds have been done with the original alternator by the same tech. Is there something else that can be causing the issue? The mechanic confirmed there was no indiction of burned or shorted wiring. Thanks

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  • Acura Master
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Due to the nature of the battery technology used with vehicles the alternator is mostly incapable of charging the battery. The car alternator is designed to keep a fully charged battery fully charged and to provide all the power for the car equipment.

The alternator charge rate is regulated by a voltage regulator. Because the alternator output is connected to the battery, the alternator and battery voltage will be the same and the voltage regulator monitors that voltage.

The lower the battery voltage the more output the alternator will produce in order to correct the situation but because a lead acid battery has a high internal resistance to accepting a charge the terminal voltage will quickly rise to the alternator regulated voltage and fool the alternator into thinking the battery is fully charged when the output will drop to the order of just a couple of amps.

Switch on the headlights or a similar load that will lower the battery voltage and the alternator will increase it's output again - but only by the amount of current the headlamps or other load is consuming.
It matters not what the alternator rated maximum output is, it is designed to provide only the necessary current and no more.

The only time an alternator should ever need to produce maximum output is when on a dedicated testbed and then only for a short duration to avoid damaging the unit. Testing the current output on a modern vehicle is not recommended except for the regulated voltage testing and a rule-of-thumb output test where all equipment is switched on and the engine speed raised while the battery voltage is monitored.

Most modern alternators use an internal voltage regulator but a few systems use a separate voltage regulator. No alternator rebuild would be complete without a regulator test and probably a new or replacement regulator, which is where the majority of charging system problems are, or the brush gear.
Assuming the wiring is ok, no alternator should suffer any harm if the voltage regulator and auxilliary diodes (if fitted) are in good order though fitting a defective or a discharged battery can cause it to overheat and be damaged.

The alternator usually just about stops producing an output when the battery voltage is in the region of 14.5/14.8 volts.
Your description indicates the voltage regulator is not working correctly - unless 40 amps was being consumed by the car equipment the alternator should not have been producing 40 amps.. I suggest you also have your battery tested

Posted on May 12, 2017

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Posted on Feb 02, 2011

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