Starting and Charging Systems

The starting and charging system provides support for starting a vehicle’s engine and provides power to features that need electricity to operate.

The basics

The starting system in an internal combustion engine vehicle is made up of the starter motor and the ignition switch. The starter motor is a high-torque electric motor that literally turns the engine until the cylinders can combust fuel, starting a chain reaction that keeps the engine running. The starter motor draws its power from the battery. It requires quite a bit of power, so if the vehicle’s battery is running low, the engine may not be able to be started.

The charging system is different for hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles since the drive motors are different than standard internal combustion engines.

The charging system

In an internal combustion engine vehicle, the charging system is made up of the battery and alternator. The alternator is connected to the engine by a belt that spins the alternator to generate electricity like a generator. This electricity recharges the battery and provides the power needed to run all of the electrical components in the car. The battery stores electricity for later use to operate the starter motor.

For hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles, the charging system includes regenerative braking systems that can reclaim energy from the wheels to be stored in the battery system and also features external charging systems that can interface with charging stations at home or on the go to replenish the energy in the batteries.

Normal wear

The charging system and starting system in internal combustion engines are designed to have a very long life in modern vehicles. Often a failure in either system is caused by an outside influence. For instance, the belt that drives the alternator is rubber and can wear out and stretch. If the belt tension is not set correctly, the belt will not drive the alternator properly and may prevent the battery from receiving the charge it needs to operate the starter motor from a cold start.

For hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles, the charging system consists of banks of batteries. These batteries have an estimated range of up to 500,000 miles with proper care and maintenance.

Care and maintenance

Manufacturers recommend routine inspection of the starting and charging system every 100,000 miles for internal combustion engine vehicles. The battery should be checked at least once per year because it requires maintenance and care. Some types of batteries require the water to be checked during the yearly maintenance cycle and the positive and negative terminals should always be kept free from corrosion. Corrosion could cause problems with the electrical circuit and keep the battery from delivering the full charge to the starter motor.

For hybrid electric and battery electric vehicles, routine maintenance is necessary to detect any issues in the battery systems to prevent a malfunction that could result in reduced life. If a hybrid electric or battery electric vehicle has been in an accident that could affect the battery system, it is vital to check this system to prevent a potential fire.