Do you have a red battery warning sign on your dashboard that stays illuminated after starting the car? Or maybe it would turn on while driving under certain conditions. This is a symbol that some call a winking robot, and it would suggest a battery related problem. However, because the charging system in modern cars is complex, the situation doesn’t have to be so straightforward. In this article, we will learn all about charging system components and how to tell if some of them are bad.

How does the charging system work?

The battery in your car is a storage device that holds a significant amount of electrical power, with only key purpose. When the driver turns the key, it powers the starter motor that cranks the engine until it starts. With the engine running, the alternator creates electricity and acts as a power source. In most cars, the alternator bolts to the engine block and runs off it using a serpentine belt. There are also a series of wires that connect it to the battery and different consumers, which include lights or ignition coils. The alternator also generates enough electricity for recharging the battery, so it would have enough power for starting the engine once again.  

What are the symptoms?

As obvious as it may seem, an illuminated red battery warning light is something that is hard not to notice. Another common symptom is a dead or weak battery, which will affect starter motor performance. Depending on the charge level, the starter will either turn slowly or won’t engage at all. Sometimes, headlights and interior illumination may seem dim at idle and become brighter as the engine revs up. Also, there might be a squealing or rattling sounds coming from the engine bay. This may show that the alternator is failing or that the serpentine belt is loose.

How can I check it?

Modern cars use an elaborate on-board system that can recognize if any of components are not working properly. In case of a charging issue, it will illuminate a warning light and store a specific code inside the ECU memory. However, on cars that don’t have this capability, using a multimeter to check charge levels is the only option. The procedure is simple and goes in two steps. With the engine off, check the battery charge by measuring the voltage between terminals. Reading around 12 volts shows that the battery is in good shape and holds the charge. Any reading below 12 volts is a sign that the battery needs replacing. In the next step, repeat the measuring procedure while the engine is running on idle. If the alternator is in good shape, the readings should be around 14 volts.

How important is this?

As we have explained in this article, checking the charging system in your car is not a complicated job. However, this is a procedure that requires special tools and some experience. If you don’t have the right tools or don’t feel up to the job, consider hiring a professional. At FixMyCar, we have certified and seasoned technicians that can come to your home and solve all charging system related issues. This will ensure that all important components are checked and your car is ready to hit the road.