A relay is nothing more than a very heavy-duty switch that does a lesser switch’s bidding. A small electromagnetic engagement coil consumes on the order of milliamps means just about any switch can activate it.
Most components, however, require DC current to run. The solution is a set of diodes that serve as a kind of electrical check valve for current coming out of the alternator. Diodes only allow current to flow in one direction, so when AC goes in on one side, only DC comes out on the other.
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