48 volt safety is in many ways similar to the types of precautions one would be required to take when working with any electrical system.

48 Volt Safety: Understanding the Upcoming Automotive Power Shift

Over the next few years you will be hearing more about 48 volt safety, especially if you are interested in working on your own vehicle. The auto industry is slowly shifting toward this higher voltage electrical system in a bid to take advantage of its efficiencies when examining certain hybrid systems.

The 48-volt electrical system isn’t inherently dangerous, but does it require a different degree of caution when working on or alongside it? Read on to find out more about this new standard.

Why 48 Volt?

European automakers were among the first to lead the shift to 48-volt electricals, primarily in response to home-market regulations that made hybrids more competitive — and in some cases, necessary — than in years past. Even in the U.S., domestic brands like Ram are installing 48-volt systems in vehicles using their eTorque mild hybrid pickup drivetrains. This trend illustrates how far the technology is spreading.A red pickup truck parked next to a body of water

The 48-volt technology allows for a vehicle’s power management system to switch more easily between using the electric motor as a generator versus a source of motivation, and to soak up more kinetic energy from braking and convert it into electricity. It does this without having to run large and inefficient currents through the 12-volt systems used by most vehicles. It also serves as a middle ground between high-voltage full-hybrids and electrical vehicles, and the mild hybrids like those used by Ram trucks.

Safety First

Safety precautions for the 48-volt system are in many ways similar to the types of care one would be required to take when working with any electrical component. A 48-volt shock is something that will certainly cause more grief than a 12-volt one, but it doesn’t pose a mortal risk to the backyard mechanic.

In fact, there’s no need to take special high-voltage precautions when working on a 48-volt system, as its entire purpose is to keep the kind of dangers associated with full-hybrid and electric car systems at bay.

Still, this doesn’t mean you can start hacking and cutting into wires at will. Observe the standard safety rules you would when working on any electrical component, which means powering down the system by disconnecting the battery, covering your hands with protective gloves and never working on an engine or electrical system that’s in operation.

Remember, while 48 volt is here to stay, 12 volt isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, 48-volt and 12-volt systems work side-by-side in modern automobiles, each powering their respective parts of the vehicle to maximize performance. Stay aware, stay safe and always make sure to take basic precautions when repairing any electrical system in your car or truck.

Check out all the electrical system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on 48 volt safety, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

about author

Benjamin Hunting

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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