How to Full Field an Alternator: 7 Easy Troubleshooting Tips

Reviewed by Dr. Deepakkumar Jani

To fully field an alternator, bypass the voltage regulator to apply maximum current to the rotor field winding. This is done by connecting the field terminal (often labeled “F”) directly to the battery-positive terminal, using a jumper wire with an inline fuse for safety. This forces the alternator to operate at maximum output, useful for testing its maximum capability. Care must be taken to prevent damage to the alternator or electrical system from prolonged full-field testing.

Challenges, Troubleshooting, and Solutions for Alternator Full Field

Challenges/IssuesTroubleshooting StepsSolutions
1. Identifying Field TerminalLocate the field terminal, often marked “F” on the alternator.Consult the alternator’s manual or wiring diagram to accurately identify the field terminal.
2. Preventing Electrical System DamageRisk of overloading or damaging the electrical system with unregulated output.Use a jumper wire with an appropriate inline fuse and monitor the system closely to avoid prolonged full field testing.
3. Measuring Alternator OutputDetermining if the alternator produces maximum output under full field conditions.If the alternator fails to reach the expected output, inspect internal components such as diodes, rotor, and stator for damage.
4. Safety Concerns During TestingRisk of sparks or short circuits when making direct connections to the battery.Ensure the engine is off and use insulated tools to make connections safely. Disconnect immediately after testing.
5. Diagnosing Alternator Under Full FieldEvaluating whether the alternator can handle maximum load and identifying potential failures.Use a jumper wire with an appropriate inline fuse and monitor the system closely to avoid prolonged full-field testing.

We’ll delve into the details, skipping over basic info to focus on the specialized knowledge needed to master this process.

Understanding Alternator Designs

The two main alternator designs are:

Single Wire Alternators

  • Use a single, primary wire to regulate voltage based on alternator RPMs.
  • Require full fielding by supplying maximum exciter voltage at all times through the single wire.
How to Full Field an Alternator

Image Credits: Alternator by Andy Arthur is licensed under (CC BY 2.0)

Three-Wire Alternators

  • Utilize three wires – positive, negative, and exciter.
  • Allow control of the rotor magnetic field strength with the third exciter wire.
  • Can manipulate exciter voltage for different outputs.

We’ll focus on methods for the more complex three-wire alternators.

Preparing to Full Field Your Alternator

Full fielding pushes an alternator to its charge limit. To avoid damage:

  • Install high output alternator properly sized for your vehicle’s demands
  • Upgrade wiring with 4 AWG cables directly from alternator to battery
  • Ensure electrical connections are clean and secure
  • Have the drive belt system inspected for wear and proper tension

Armed with quality components, we can now dive into the specialized process of alternator full fielding.

How to Full Field Alternators Based on Design

Single-Wire Alternators

  1. Ensure the exciter wire is connected properly to the alternator “2” terminal and voltage regulator
  2. Turn headlights on high beam to act as a load
  3. With the engine at idle, turn on all electrical accessories
  4. Rev engine to 2000 RPM for 10 seconds
  5. Check the voltage output at the battery with a multimeter
  6. Should see ~14 volts if the single-wire alternator is fully excited

Three-Wire Alternators

  1. Connect the exciter wire properly between the voltage regulator and alternator “FL” terminal
  2. Ground alternator “GND” terminal wire
  3. Connect the ammeter to the battery
  4. Raise engine speed to 1500 RPM
  5. Carefully increase the voltage on the FL terminal in 0.2-volt increments by adjusting the voltage regulator
  6. Observe the ammeter for max charge amps without overload
  7. Sweet spot reaching max rated output means alternator fully field modified

(Example: Large Case 130 Amp alternator hits peak of 90-100 amps at FL voltage of 2.7 volts)

Fine-tuning the Full Field

  • Too little FL voltage = low alternator output
  • Too high FL voltage = overheating and load shedding

Monitor:

  • Battery voltage (13.5-15 volts)
  • Battery amperage (20-50% of alternator rating)
  • Alternator case temperature

Careful manipulation of the exciter wire voltage enables fine control of the output.

Maintaining Proper Output

Once the property full field is modified, take care to:

  • Routinely check all wiring connections
  • Inspect belts and pulleys for wear/cracks
  • Consider installing an alternator boot to protect from dirt/debris
  • Change alternator bearing grease every 60-80K miles

Proper maintenance keeps your high-output system running safely at its optimized peak.