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Automotive Electrical and electronic Systems


Automotive Electrical and electronic Systems -

There's nothing difficult about electrical systems. The basic theory of
electricity is simple and easily understood if you are just a little patient and
curious. So, we're going to start off with a few definitions. Armed with an
understanding of the following six terms, you will quickly learn to "think like
an electron".

Take your time and read these over until you understand the concept fully:

Electron: The basic unit of electricity. Think of these little guys as "bullets",
traveling down the wire. It's the movement of electrons which runs the
devices which make our lives - and our cars - so comfortable and convenient.

Voltage: This is the force (or pressure, if you like) of electricity in the wire. If
you think of your garden hose as the wire, the water pressure would be
equivalent to the voltage. Older cars run on six volt systems and newer (most
1956 and later) utilize twelve volt systems. All vehicles' manuals specify the
system voltage.

Current: This is the movement of electrons in the wire, expressed in a unit

called the Amp. The greater the rate of movement through the wire, the
greater the number of amps. Think of this as the speed of the water coming
out of the garden hose. When you tighten the nozzle the water shoots out
further and faster.

Resistance: This is a restriction to the movement of electrons through the

wire or circuit. The unit of resistance is called the OHM and you can think of
it as a kink in that garden hose. The higher the resistance, the more current
must flow to overcome it. The more current which flows through an area of
high resistance, the hotter the wire will become, ultimately failing. Corrosion,
loose terminals and too-small diameter wires are three very, very common
causes of resistance.

IMPORTANT FACT! High resistance is the cause of ALL electrical failures -

with the exception of broken wires and lack of grounding -

Watts: The unit of power in electricity and the product of Amps x Volts.
Why is this important? Because designers of circuits need to know the
amount of current required for a given device (such as a fan, horn, light, etc.)
in order to figure out which diameter wire to use. Example: a 50-watt brake
light, operating on 12 volts, will draw 4.1 amps (4.1 amps x 12 volts = 50
watts). The wire diameter must be large enough to carry the current without
heating up and melting off its insulation.

IMPORTANT FACT! This is the only formula you will ever really need to
understand basic electricity, be it in your car or in your house.
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Ground: All electrical devices must be part of a circuit. That is, electrons
must flow from the power source through the device to a ground. In cars, the
metal chassis is the ground (that's why the battery's negative lead is bolted
to the engine or frame) and the power source is the positive lead on the
battery. Without a ground there is only a POTENTIAL circuit. No electrons will
flow - and therefore nothing will work - unless the circuit ends in a ground.
Note: Some cars and trucks utilized "positive ground" electrical systems,
where the positive lead from the battery connects to the frame and the
negative lead goes to the electrical wiring harness. This in no way makes it
more difficult to wire or troubleshoot; all that's required is to remember that
the system is the reverse of normal systems.



Ready to go on? Okay, let's start with the fact that all cars run on Direct
Current (DC) electrical systems, as opposed to alternating current (AC) which
runs your home. DC is a "single wire" system. That is, the flow of electricity
always runs from the source of current through the device and then to
ground. It may do this through any number of connections and through other
devices, but tracing the path is straightforward if you always ask the

"Where is the power coming from and is there a path to ground?"

For practical purposes, the flow of electricity is now considered to be from

positive (voltage, designated by a plus sign +) to negative (ground,
designated by a minus sign - ). Therefore, your car's battery "negative"
terminal is connected to the metal framework of the car (some older cars -
mostly foreign - utilized 'positive ground' systems but this is no longer done).

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How Do Lead Acid Batteries Work?

All lead acid batteries consist of flat lead plates immersed in a pool of
electrolyte. Regular water addition is required for most types of lead acid
batteries although low-maintenance types come with excess electrolyte
calculated to compensate for water loss during a normal lifetime.

Battery Construction:
Lead acid batteries usually consist of two 6-volt batteries in series, or a single
12-volt battery. These batteries are constructed of several single cells
connected in series each cell produces approximately 2.1 volts. A six-volt
battery has three single cells, which when fully charged produce an output
voltage of 6.3 volts. A twelve-volt battery has six single cells in series
producing a fully charged output voltage of 12.6 volts.

A battery cell consists of two lead plates a positive plate covered with a paste
of lead dioxide and a negative made of sponge lead, with an insulating
material (separator) in between.

The plates are enclosed in a plastic battery case and then submersed in an
electrolyte consisting of water and sulfuric acid (see figure # 1). Each cell is
capable of storing 2.1 volts.

In order for lead acid cell to produce a voltage, it must first receive a
(forming) charge voltage of at least 2.1-volts/cell from a charger. Lead acid
batteries do not generate voltage on their own; they only store a charge from
another source. This is the reason lead acid batteries are called storage
batteries, because they only store a charge.

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The size of the battery plates and amount of electrolyte determines the
amount of charge lead acid batteries can store. The size of this storage
capacity is described as the amp hour (AH) rating of a battery. A typical 12-
volt battery has a rating 125 AH, which means it can supply 10 amps of
current for 12.5 hours or 20-amps of current for a period of 6.25 hours. Lead
acid batteries can be connected in parallel to increase the total AH capacity.

In figure # 2 below, six single 2.1-volt cells have been connected in series to
make the typical 12-volt battery, which when fully charged will produce a

total voltage of 12.6-volts.

Lead Acid Battery Discharge Cycle

In figure # 3, above a fully charged battery is connected to a load (light bulb) and
the chemical reaction between sulfuric acid and the lead plates produces the
electricity to light the bulb. This chemical reaction also begins to coat both positive
and negative plates with a substance called lead sulfate also known

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as sulfation (shown as a yellow build-up on plates). This build-up of lead sulfate is

normal during a discharge cycle. As the battery continues to discharge, lead
sulfate coats more and more of the plates and battery voltage begins to decrease
from fully charged state of 12.6-volts (figure # 4).

In figure # 5 the battery is now fully discharged, the plates are almost completely
covered with lead sulfate (sulfation) and voltage has dropped to 10.5-volts.

NOTE: Discharging a lead acid battery below 10.5 volts will severely damage it!

Lead sulfate (sulfation) now coats most of the battery plates. Lead
sulfate is a soft material, which can is reconverted back into lead and sulfuric
acid, provided the discharged battery is immediately connected to a battery
charger. If a lead acid battery is not immediately recharged, the lead
sulfate will begin to form hard crystals, which can not be reconverted by a
standard fixed voltage (13.6 volts) battery converter/charger.

NOTE: Always recharge your battery as soon as possible to prevent loss of

battery capacity due to the build-up of hard lead sulfate crystals!

Lead Acid Battery Recharge Cycle

The most important thing to understand about recharging lead acid batteries
is that a converter/charger with a single fixed output voltage will not properly
recharge or maintain your battery. Proper recharging and maintenance
requires an intelligent charging system that can vary the charging voltage
based on the state of charge and use of your battery. Progressive Dynamics
has developed intelligent charging systems that solve battery problems and
reduce battery maintenance.

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The discharged battery shown in figure # 6 is connected to a

converter/charger with its output voltage set at 13.6-volts. In order to
recharge a 12-volt lead acid battery with a fully charged terminal voltage of
12.6-volts, the charger voltage must be set at a higher voltage. Most
converter/chargers on the market are set at approximately 13.6-volts. During
the battery recharge cycle lead sulfate (sulfation) begins to reconvert to
lead and sulfuric acid.

During the recharging process as electricity flows through the water portion
of the electrolyte and water, (H2O) is converted into its original elements,
hydrogen and oxygen. These gasses are very flammable and the reason your
batteries must be vented outside. Gassing causes water loss and therefore
lead acid batteries need to have water added periodically. Sealed lead acid
batteries contain most of these gasses allowing them to recombine into the
electrolyte. If the battery is overcharged pressure from these gasses will
cause relief caps to open and vent, resulting in some water loss. Most sealed
batteries have extra electrolyte added during the manufacturing process to
compensate for some water loss.

The battery shown in figure # 7 above has been fully recharged using a fixed
charging voltage of 13.6-volts. Notice that some lead sulfate
(sulfation) still remains on the plates. This build-up will continue after each
recharging cycle and gradually the battery will begin to loose capacity to
store a full charge and eventually must be replaced. Lead sulphate build up
is reduced if battery is given an Equalizing Charge once every 10 discharge
cycles or at least once a month. An Equalizing Charge increases charging

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voltage to 14.4 volts or higher for a short period. This higher voltage causes
gassing that equalizes (re-mixes) the electrolyte solution.

One disadvantage of recharging a lead acid battery at a fixed voltage of 13.6-

volts is the recharge time is very long.

A typical 125-AH battery will take approximately 80 hours to recharge at 13.6

volts. Increasing the charge voltage to 14.4-volts will reduce battery recharge
time for a 125-AH battery to 3-4 hours. Once a battery reaches 90% of full
charge, the voltage must be reduced from 14.4-volts to 13.6-volts to
reduce gassing and water loss.

The optional Charge Wizard automatically senses when a battery has a very
low state of charge and automatically selects its BOOST MODE of
operation. BOOST MODE increases the voltage of converter/charger to 14.4
volts. When the battery reaches the 90% charge level, the Charge
Wizard automatically reduces the charge voltage down to 13.6 volts to
complete the charge.

Another disadvantage of recharging a lead acid battery at a fixed voltage of

13.6-volts is that once it is fully charged, 13.6 volts will cause considerable
gassing and water loss. To prevent this from occurring the charging voltage
must be reduced to 13.2-volts. The Charge Wizard will automatically select its
STORAGE MODE of operation (13.2-volts) once the battery reaches full
charge and remains unused for a period of 30 hours.

At a charging voltage of 13.2 volts, the converter/charger will maintain a full

charge, reduce gassing and water loss. However, this lower voltage does not
provide enough gassing to prevent a battery condition called Battery
Stratification. Battery Stratification is caused by the fact that the
electrolyte in the battery is a mixture of water and acid and, like all mixtures,
one component, the acid, is heavier than water. Therefore, acid will begin to
settle and concentrate at the bottom of the battery (see figure #8).

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This higher concentration of acid at the bottom of the battery causes

additional build-up of lead sulfate (sulfation), which reduces battery
storage capacity and battery life. In order to prevent Battery Stratification,
an Equalization Charge (increasing charging voltage to 14.4-volts) must be
applied periodically. The Charge Wizard automatically selects
its EQUALIZATION MODE (14.4 volts) every 21 hours for a period of 15

Batteries fail to provide sufficient current generally in only a few


1. The electrolyte and plates "wear out". The life of a battery (36 months, 48
months, etc.) is determined by the thickness and number of plates and you
get what you pay for in that regard. Eventually the battery wears out and
can't hold a charge. To test for this, have a service station test the cells with
a hygrometer (a device which measures specific gravity ) .If the hygrometer
says the battery is shot and it won't hold a charge, replace it.

2. The most common failure of batteries is loose or corroded cable

connections. In either case, the reason for failure is HIGH RESISTANCE!
(remember, a poor mechanical connection means that little or no current can
pass through). If the cables are loose, tighten them thoroughly. If corroded,
remove them and clean them with a file or sandpaper (clean both the cable
connectors and the terminals!) It's a good practice to clean the connections
at least once a year.

3. Overcharging, either through external chargers or faulty regulator, kills

batteries by creating so much heat (due to current flow) that the water in the
electrolyte is boiled off. In some cases the battery explodes. Of course,
connecting jumper cables incorrectly can result in a dead short, with
catastrophic consequences (A dead short is when all the current from the
voltage source is connected directly to ground without passing through any
device or resistance. In the case of a battery, it would be equivalent to
connecting both terminals together, causing a huge current flow through the
plates, in turn causing massive heating, then boiling, and finally the battery
will blow up).

Answers to Common Questions about Batteries

1. Do lead acid batteries discharge when not in use?

2. Do I need to completely discharge my lead acid battery before recharging it?
3. When do I need to perform an equalization charge?
4. What is an equalizing charge?
5. When should I add water to my batteries?
6. What is the proper electrolyte level?
7. Do I ever need to add acid to my battery?
8. Can my batteries freeze?
9. What are the most common mistakes made by owners of lead acid batteries?
10. Can I reduce the need to add water to my battery by lowering the charging voltage to
13 volts or less?

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Typical methods of battery testing include:

Mechanical Testing
Typical tests are included in the safety standards below. They include simple tests for
dimensional accuracy to dynamic testing to verify that the product can survive any
static and dynamic mechanical stresses to which it may be subject.

Environmental Testing
Typical tests are included in the safety standards below. They are designed to
exercise the product through all the environmental conditions likely to be encountered
by the product during its lifetime.

Visual inspection A visual inspection locates cracks, leaks, and corrosion. You can find
these problems before they become catastrophic failures; however, visual inspection says
nothing about the strings state of charge (SOC), capacity, or state of health (SOH).

Voltage testing A low float voltage shows a cell that is not fully charging and cannot
supply full capacity, which may be an indication of plate sulfation. A high float voltage is
an indication of overcharging. This can lead to premature grid corrosion and higher
temperatures in the battery. High temperatures may lead to valve-regulated lead-acid
(VRLA) batteries drying out or even thermal runaway. Incorrect float voltage shows
something is wrong. However, if the float voltage is correct, it says nothing about SOC,
capacity, or SOH.

Float current A high float current could be a precursor to thermal runaway. It could
also indicate a short circuit/ground fault or be a sign of a high float voltage. Incorrect
float current, once again, shows that something is wrong. But if the float current is
correct, it says nothing about capacity or SOH.

Ripple current Excessive ripple will cause internal heating of batteries. Ideally, ripple
current should be less than 5A for every 100Ah. However, ripple current says more about
the state of the charger than the battery. Ripple current does not provide any information
about SOC, capacity, or SOH.

Temperature testing Temperature is critical for batteries, as high temperatures reduce

battery life. Temperature testing provides no information about SOC, capacity, or SOH.

Specific gravity measurement A specific gravity measurement reads the ratio of the
density of a liquid to the density of water. Specific gravity measurements in batteries
indicate how much sulfate is in the electrolyte, providing information about the SOC, but
not capacity or SOH.

Impedance testing An impedance test does not measure the capacity of the battery, but
it is an indicator of the SOH of the battery.

Discharge testing Discharge testing is the only form of test that will determine the
actual capacity of the string, but not necessarily the SOH.

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Starting Load Test

1. Adjust voltmeter to DC volts (20 volt range).
2. Place voltmeter leads to the battery terminals. ( positive to positive and negative to
3. Watch the voltmeter as you start your motorcycle.
4. If the voltage drops below 9.5 volts, the battery has very low capacity and should be

Fully charged automotive batteries should measure at 12.6 volts or above. When the engine is
running, this measurement should be 13.7 to 14.7 volts.

Set the multimeter dial to 20 DC Volts. Connect the red probe to the positive terminal and the
black probe to the negative terminal. The reading should be above 9.6 Volts for a good battery,
but a value between 11-12.7 signals a great battery. It's a good idea to test the battery several
times for consistency.

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What is the capacity of a battery?

"Battery capacity" is a measure (typically in Amp-hr) of the charge stored by the
battery, and is determined by the mass of active material contained in the battery.
The battery capacity represents the maximum amount of energy that can be
extracted from the battery under certain specified conditions.
What is the efficiency of a lead acid battery?
The Lead Acid battery is not 100% efficient at storing electricity - you will never get
out as much as you put in when charging. Overall, an efficiency level of 85% is
often assumed. The efficiency will depend on a number of factors including the rate
of charging or discharging. The higher the rate of charge or discharege, the lower
the efficiency.
The state of charge of the battery will also affect charge efficiency. With the battery
at half charge or less, the charge efficiency may be over 90%, dropping to nearer
60% when the battery is above 80% charged.
However it has been found that if a battery is only partially charged, efficency may
be reduced with each charge. If this situation persists (the batteries never reaching
full charge), the life of the battery may be reduced.

What is battery rating?

A battery with a capacity of 1 amp-hour should be able to continuously supply a
current of 1 amp to a load for exactly 1 hour, or 2 amps for 1/2 hour, or 1/3 amp for
3 hours, etc., before becoming completely discharged.
What is the C rate of a battery?
A C-rate is a measure of the rate at which a battery is discharged relative to its
maximum capacity. A 1C rate means that the discharge current will discharge the
entire battery in 1 hour. For a battery with a capacity of 100 Amp-hrs, this equates
to a discharge current of 100 Amps.
What is a charge rate?
Charge and discharge rates of a battery are governed by C-rates. The capacity of
a battery is commonly rated at 1C, meaning that a fully charged battery rated at
1Ah should provide 1A for one hour. The same battery discharging at 0.5C should
provide 500mA for two hours, and at 2C it delivers 2A for 30 minutes.
How many amps is a 3c charge rate?
3C refers to a charge rate of 3 times the capacity of the battery. As an example, a
2000mAh Li-Po battery would be charged at 6000 milliamps, or more precisely, 6
amps, which will reduce the time it takes to charge the battery fully when compared
to a 1C or 2C charge rating
What gas is produced when charging a lead acid battery?
hydrogen gas
The charging of lead-acid batteries can be hazardous. However, many workers
may not see it that way since it is such a common activity in many workplaces. The
two primary risks are from hydrogen gas formed when the battery is being
charged and the sulfuric acid in the battery fluid.

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What is battery charging efficiency?

Efficiency is affected by the depth of discharge of a battery when it's placed on
charge. Any battery that is less than 80% discharged forces the charger to become
a waste of energy. Significant amounts of power line energy are converted into small
amounts of useful battery charge.
The efficiency of a battery can be calculated as the amount of power discharged by
the battery divided by the amount of power delivered to the battery. This takes into
account the loss of energy to heat, which warms up the battery. The charge-
discharge efficiencies of various batteries are summarized in Table 1. Li-ion
efficiencies are extremely high, Pb-acid efficiencies have a huge range, NiMH
efficiencies are low at 66%. [1-3]

How many Ah is a car battery?

A standard small car battery is about 45 amp/hours. That means that it will supply
over two amps for 20 hours. A battery should not be discharged at a higher current
draw, or asked to deliver more amps than its amp/hour rating divided by 10 in order
to get maximum capacity out of it.

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Automotive Batteries Test Preparation

1. Battery electrolyte is a mixture of water and:

Lead peroxide.

Sulfuric acid.

Lead sulfate.

All of the above

Correct, a mixture of 64% Water and 36% Sulfuric Acid make up Battery Electrolyte.

2. The plates of a discharged battery are?

Two similar metals in the presence of an electrolyte.

Two similar metals in the presence of water.

Two dissimilar metals in the presence of an electrolyte.

Two dissimilar metals in the presence of water.

Correct, in a discharged battery both plates are Lead Sulfate in the presence of water.

3. Which of the following is true of a 12-volt automobile battery?

It has six cells connected in series.

It has three cells connected in series.

It has six cells connected in parallel.

It has three cells connected in parallel.

Correct, six cells are connected in series to provide 12.6 volts.

4. The correct ratio of water to sulfuric acid in battery electrolyte is approximately:

80 percent water to 20 percent sulfuric acid.

65 percent water to 35 percent sulfuric acid.

35 percent water to 65 percent sulfuric acid.

20 percent water to 80 percent sulfuric acid.

Correct, a fully charged battery has electrolyte mixture of 65% water and 35% sulfuric acid.

5. A specific gravity of 1.170 to 1.190 at 80 F indicates that a battery's state of

charge is approximately:




Correct, a spicific gravity of 1.190 is 50% charged, 1.270 is 100% charged, and 1.100 is 0%.

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6. Each cell of a fully charged six cell battery produces:

1.75 volts

4.2 volts

1.2 volts

2.1 volts
Correct, each cell produces 2.1 volts. 6 cells @ 2.1v = 12.6 volts

7. The capacity of a battery is determined by its:

number of plates.

size of plates.

both a and b.

neither a nor.
Correct, both the number and size of plates determine the surface area.

8. Battery corrosion may be cleaned with:


a solution of baking soda and water.

water and baking flower.

Correct, a solution of baking soda and water will neutralize the battery corrosion.

9. To check for a battery drain, you would connect an ammeter between the:

battery and alternator.

battery (+) and (-) terminals.

battery (+) terminal and ground cable.

battery (-) terminal and ground cable.

Correct, placing an ammeter in series. Most cars will draw less than 35mA.

10. In order to properly and accurately perform Heavy Load tests on batteries, the
battery must be at least:

50% charged.

25% charged.

100% charged.

75% charged.
Correct, a battery less than 75% charge cannot be acurately tested and must be recharged.

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11. When performing a battery capacity (heavy-load) test on a 12-volt battery, the
voltage should not fall below

12.0 volts.

10.6 volts.

9.6 volts.

8.6 volts.
Correct, replace battery if voltage drops below 9.6v.

12. A battery heavy-load test discharges the battery for:

5 seconds.

10 seconds.

15 seconds.

20 seconds.
Correct, load test for no more than 15 seconds due to the heat.

13. The state of charge of a sealed battery is to be estimated based on its open-
circuit voltage. A full-charged battery that has been standing for a few hours will
have an open-circuit voltage of at least:

12.6 volts.

12.2 volts.

11.5 volts.

9.6 volts.
Correct, 12.6v = 100% charged, 12.4v = 75% charged, 12.2v = 50%, 12.0v = 25%,and 11.9 or less

14. A 400-CCA battery is being load tested. The correct load will be:

1200 amps.

400 amps.

200 amps.

330 amps.
Correct, load test battery at 1/2 the CCA rating, or 3X the amp-hour rating

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15. What is the reading on the DVOM when performing an open circuit voltage test
on battery with a 50% charge:

12.0 volts.

12.2 volts.

12.4 volts.

12.6 volts
Correct, with a digital DVOM, 12.2v = 50%. 12.6v=100%, 12.4v=75%, 12.2v=50, &

16. A battery that is undercharged for a long period of time will become:




none of the above.

Correct, The plates of a discharged battery are lead sufate in the presence of water.

17. To determine if a battery with cell vent covers is charged or discharged, a

technician would use a:



load tester.

none of the above.

Correct, a hydrometer is used to measure the specific gravity of the electrolyte.