Electrical Diagrams

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It is absolutely essential that personnel in the electrical or electronic ratings be able to "read" (interpret) various types of electrical diagrams. Personnel working in these ratings commonly refer to all electrical diagrams as "schematics." This term is not correct, however. A schematic is a specific type of diagram with characteristics of its own and with a specific purpose. Each of the various diagrams discussed in this chapter has a specific purpose and distinguishing features that set it apart from the others. The diagrams discussed may be used for the following purposes:

  • To learn a specific system operation
  • To locate the components of a system
  • To identify the components of a system
  • To trace a circuit
  • The troubleshoot equipment
  • The repair equipment.

When you have completed this subject, you should be able to recognize the relationship between the various diagrams, their distinguishing features, and the purpose of each type of diagram. A continuing reference to the figures in the text should help you understand the subject matter more clearly. We will use a simplified drawing of the electrical system of an automobile to explain the various electrical diagrams and how to "read" them.


The simplest of all diagrams is the pictorial diagram. It shows a picture or sketch of the various components of a specific system and the wiring between these components. This simplified diagram provides the means to readily identify the components of a system, even if you are not familiar with their physical appearance. This type of diagram shows the various components without regard to their physical location, how the wiring is marked, or how the wiring is routed. It does, however, show you the sequence in which the components are connected.

Figure 3-6 is a pictorial diagram of an automobile starting and ignition system. If you are not already familiar with the components of this system, study the diagram. You should then be able to recognize the physical appearance of each component and its interconnections with the other components of the system.

Figure 3-6. - Pictorial diagram of automotive starter and ignition systems.

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The purpose of an isometric diagram is to assist you in locating a component within a system. If you do not know where to look for a component, the isometric diagram is of considerable value to you. This type of diagram shows you the outline of a ship, airplane, or piece of equipment. Within the outline are drawn the various components of a system in their respective locations. The isometric diagram also shows the interconnecting cable runs between these components.

Figure 3-7 is an isometric diagram of portions of the same automobile starting and lighting systems discussed in the pictorial diagram (figure 3-6). The battery, starter, and other components can now be seen, each in its actual location within the automobile.

Figure 3-7. - Isometric diagram.

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A block diagram is used primarily to present a general description of a system and its functions. This type of diagram is generally used in conjunction with text material. A block diagram shows the major components of a system and the interconnections of these components. All components are shown in block form, and each block is labeled for identification purposes.

The block diagram shown in figure 3-8 is an illustration of an automobile's electrical power, starting, and ignition systems. It must be emphasized that the following explanation is <emphasis type="u">primarily</emphasis> for the purpose of assisting you in learning to "read" or interpret a block diagram. The explanation of the functions of the automobile power, starting, and ignition systems is of secondary importance. By tracing from component to component in the block diagram and following the explanation, you are given a general description of the system functions. In addition, you should be able to understand the arrangement of the components in a block diagram.

Figure 3-8. - Block diagram.

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The battery is the initial source of power for the starter and ignition systems. The starter is turned by power from the battery when the ignition switch is turned to the START position. Power is also supplied, through the ignition switch, to the coil. From the coil, power is supplied to the distributor and finally to the spark plugs for ignition.

Once the engine is running, the starter is no longer required. The running engine acts as the prime mover for the alternator. (This is accomplished through a belt and pulley system attached to the engine's crankshaft.) The alternator now takes over as the power supplier for the ignition system. It supplies power through the ignition switch to the coil, from the coil to the distributor, and finally from the distributor to the spark plugs. At the same time, the alternator supplies power back through the voltage regulator to the battery for charging purposes. This completes the cycle until the engine is shut down and started again.

Note that the engine is not shown in the block diagram as the prime mover for the alternator. The engine is a mechanical rather than an electrical function. The illustrated block diagram is of the electrical system only. There are block diagrams that show strictly mechanical components or both mechanical and electrical components.


The single-line diagram is used basically for the same purpose as the block diagram. When used with text material, it gives you a basic understanding of the functions of the components of a system.

There are two major differences between the single-line diagram and the block diagram. The first difference is that the single-line diagram uses symbols, rather than labeled blocks, to represent components. Second, the single-line diagram shows all components in a single line (figure 3-9). There are no interconnections shown for selected components as were shown on the block diagram (for example, alternator to voltage regulator and back to the battery). The single-line diagram is very simplified and should be used primarily to learn (in very broad terms) the function of each of the various components as a part of the total system.

Figure 3-9. - Single-line diagram.

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Q.7 What type of electrical diagram is used to identify the components of a system? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.8 What type of diagram is used to find the location of a component? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.9 What types of diagrams are the most convenient from which to learn the basic Functions of a circuit?answer.gif (214 bytes)

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