Do Golf Carts Have Alternators?

by Steve | Last Updated: 5 February 2021

There is a lot of confusion surrounding how the engine of a golf cart works.

This is due to the fact, in recent years, manufacturers have started producing AC powered golf carts because an AC powered motor vastly outperforms DC motors and has many additional benefits.

However, do they use an alternator? If not, what exactly do they use to create continuous power that charges your batteries and run your cart? Let’s find out.

Golf carts run on DC motors, and as such, they use starter generators. A generator produces DC current, and an induction generator can produce AC current as well. An alternator can only produce AC current and thus is not used in golf carts.

However, modern golf carts are manufactured with AC motors, and you are able to purchase AC motor upgrades for your cart.

Let’s look at the two different types of engines a golf cart has and then how they work.

Then we’ll take a look at what devices power these various types of engines and how they function in producing electrical current.

Then we’ll compare the two and conclude what kind of power source your golf cart uses.

Golf Cart On The Course in USA

Golf Cart Motor Overview

To understand if a golf cart needs an alternator, we have to discuss golf carts and their different types of engines; then, in understanding that, we will be able to determine which engine type uses an alternator and hence if a golf cart does.

Since the inception of the golf cart, it has been primarily built on the fundamental aspect that its engine was run on DC power.

However, nowadays, manufacturers are beginning to seize the benefits of using an AC motor.

Another device converts and produces power similar to that of an alternator, and this is called a generator.

Even though they are both similar in fashion in terms of how they produce electricity, an alternator produces only AC current while a generator produces both DC and if it is an induction generator, it can produce AC current as well.

AC Golf Cart Motor Overview

AC motors are much more rugged and robust than DC motors, but they are not as common as DC motors, and typically, you will only find the power coming from the sockets in your house and used for industrial type work to be AC.

Traditionally as we stated, golf carts have run on DC current; however, the benefits of running your golf cart with an AC motor are beneficial.

Overall your golf cart motor will run smoother and better, and its life expectancy will be longer.

One thing to note here is that if your golf cart uses AC as its main form of power, it will be utilizing an alternator (we will discuss this in more detail under the subsequent headings).

Some benefits of having a golf cart with an AC motor include that they will have higher RPMs (revolutions per minute).

This means that they can reach a higher top speed. Keep in mind that golf carts are governed between 10mph and 15mph.

The speed at which an AC motor can go is not the benefit of a golf cart.

The advantage is that because it has a higher RPM rate when reaching a top speed, there is less stress on the engine, and hence the engine will work less and last longer in terms of life expectancy.

Another great benefit is that an AC motor is able to handle up hills and load with greater consistency.

This means that your cart will not slow down when overloaded or going uphill. This is because an AC motor has more torque (power) that it produces.

Furthermore, AC motors have fewer parts when compared to a DC motor, and due to the fact that a DC motor only sends current in one direction, there is systematic degradation of components, whereas because the current is shifting in an AC current, there is less wear and tear.

Golf Cart Batteries Overview

You may be thinking golf carts then must have different batteries if they have various engine types (AC or DC); however, no matter the battery, and that goes for the type of battery as well, all batteries produce a DC voltage.

Hence, considering both types, which are lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries, will have a DC current.

These batteries are made in the style that supports your car battery, cellphone, and even your golf cart.

So how does your golf cart run on batteries that produce DC current?

This is where we need to understand generators and alternators.

Alternator Overview

An alternator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy in the form of AC current (alternating current).

An alternator is connected to the crankshaft (crank pulley) of the vehicle by a rubber belt in terms of a motorized vehicle.

As the engine turns, so does the alternator, and due to it working on the principle of a conductor moving relative to a magnetic field, it will produce an electromotive force (Faraday’s law).

The alternator will hence, run your golf cart while simultaneously charging your battery. Keep in mind that an alternator routes the AC current it produces through a diode, and the diode effectively stops the current from alternating, effectively forcing it in one direction (DC current).

Thus it can power your golf cart’s electrical systems and charge the battery simultaneously. 

Generator Overview

A generator for all intents and purposes works precisely the same as an alternator. That is, it takes mechanical energy and converts it to electrical energy.

The primary difference is that an Alternator can only produce AC current while a generator only produces DC current and, in some cases AC current (via induction generators).

The next most significant difference between a generator and an alternator is that the magnetic field in a generator is stationary, and the armature rotates within the magnetic field.

In an alternator, the case is reversed, which means the magnetic field is turning while the armature is stationary.

Does A Golf Cart Use An Alternator Or A Generator

Now that we know what types of engines a golf cart can have, and we know the differences between an alternator and generator, we can see that traditionally, golf carts running on a DC motor would need a generator and not an alternator.

A golf cart starter generator will simultaneously crank the engine at startup and recharge the batteries.

Golf Cart AC Converter Kit

You can now opt to replace your DC motor in your golf cart with an AC motor, and the process is pretty straightforward.

These kits provide you with everything you need in order to upgrade your golf cart from a DC system to an AC system.

Golf Buggys Parked in A Line

Conclusion

We discovered that we needed to understand what different types of engines power a golf cart, and in turn, we needed to understand what devices continuously produce current for those types of engines.

Traditionally golf carts ran on DC motors and therefore required a generator to start and run. This has been the norm for decades.

However, recently many manufacturers have started embracing AC motors’ use due to their increased benefits such as increased speed, more power (torque), better overall performance, and longevity in terms of life expectancy.

You can even upgrade your golf cart to and AC motor with conversion kits that are available to purchase and require little effort to install.

Even when installing these kits, you will primarily use your golf cart’s starter generator to start and continuously provide power to its systems.

Steve King, the founder of Fore King Golf, started playing golf at the tender age of 29, after years spent playing many other sports and getting dodgy knees. Although late to the game, Steve soon fell in love with the sport and found himself, like many others, addicted to the pursuit of improvement and playing better. He is currently a member of The Kendleshire Golf Club & Hercules Golf Society, as well as running several competitions for Fore King Golf