There’s nothing difficult about changing or upgrading your alternator but why don’t we do it? Maybe it’s because we’d rather spend money on cosmetics or visual upgrades, or maybe it’s just a lack of information. Either way, it’s something you need to consider.
Stock cars (older than the ’80s) were never designed to handle a plethora of electronic gadgets. Back then, alternators were made to handle a much smaller load than is required to power today’s hefty systems and electronic accessories. From digital gauges to video screens and power windows, each additional amenity requires a power source and this essentially drains your car’s electrical grid, thus making the perfect recipe for failure.
So how does one go about purchasing a new alternator? Well, for starters, you need to figure out the load capacity you need. By letting manufacturers know what your intensions are (and what type of load to expect) they can point you in the right direction and suggest an alternator that will fit the bill, but the buyer must beware! It is essential to do your homework because many “remanufactures” will be built to lower standards and specifications and in the years to follow you’ll probably have to replace it again, so do it once and do it right.
The main purpose of an alternator is to keep your battery fully charged and prevent electronic accessories from draining the battery. Alternators need to be able to handle all of the electrical demand, especially at idle—where the amperage of the alternator is going to be lower at idle. A common question asked is, “Will a higher amp alternator hurt my battery or charging system? The answer is no. A good rule of thumb for any would-be mechanic is that more amps are not harmful, but more voltage is. If you look at electrical power like water, amperage is equivalent to the volume of water, and voltage is equivalent to water pressure. So in short, more amperage is like having a larger pool of water to draw from.
Now, if you feel that a faulty alternator may be causing problems, there are some safety concerns you need to know about. If you think your alternator isn’t charging do not disconnect the cable to see if your alternator is charging as you can damage the internals and voltage regulator that controls the amperage being put out. Instead, use a voltmeter to test the output of your alternator. A fully charged battery should read 12.6 V when the engine is off and it should read 13.2-14.8 V when the engine is running.
In our case, it was time for an upgrade, so we opted for a modern-style alternator with an internal fan and regulator. Installation for our unit was plug-and-play and it did a great job in keeping our Optima Yellow Top fully charged.
In all, the upgrade took just over 30 minutes with common tools, and the installation was just as easy as “remove and replace.” Here’s a quick overview of our install process. Should you have any questions ask the manufacturer or a trusted friend who is mechanically inclined.
A lack of power forced us to upgrade to a Powermaster alternator in our project Regal. (To begin the process of installing your new alternator, disconnect your vehicle’s battery.)
The old alternator bolts were removed from the alternator brackets and the belt was also removed. We then continued to unplug the wires from the main harness.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of the new-style alternator with the internal fan versus the old factory one.
Each Powermaster alternator is individually tested before being shipped out and they are accompanied with paperwork that shows the specs of the alternator as read from their dyno.
Since we’re using newer technology, you will need a plug convertor for the stock wiring harness in order to adapt to the newer-style plug. This plug should be ordered when you order your alternator.
The plug will just clip in place, making this newer alternator plug in without an issue. The plug will also extend your wiring harness a few inches, giving you wanted slack.
The new and chrome-style Powermaster alternator was plugged in so the voltage could be read by the car’s dash gauge.
The feed to the battery from the alternator is bigger so your old terminal end needs to be replaced with a 3/8 terminal clip.
Using a pry bar, we kept tension on the belt while the alternator was bolted down.
When upgrading to a high-amperage alternator the belt needs to be tight to avoid slippage. This is usually the number one reason for alternators not charging.
With everything bolted back in place, we plugged back our Optima Yellow Top battery. We started our Buick G-body Regal and checked the voltage. To our liking the alternator was charging at 14.61 V at idle, keeping our battery fully charged.
Aside from charging your car’s battery, Powermaster also has a full line of starters to help you in that department as well. It’s an essential part of your powertrain, and let’s face it, nothing can charge if you can’t get the party started. For a full view of the Powermaster lineup, be sure to visit them online for their full roster of quality parts built specifically to handle all your power moves.