I suspect you had two different but possibly related problems. The flickering lights is evidence of the charging system cutting out intermittently. In normal operation, the generator is actually being switched on and off hundreds of times per second. It's designed to operate that way. (It's the ratio of on-time to off-time that varies to adjust the charge rate). The voltage regulator, however, is not designed to turn on and off rapidly. Just like in a tv or radio, there are circuits that handle a surge of current much larger than they could handle for a sustained period of time, but they have no trouble doing that for the fraction of a second when they are first powered up. Think of shooting an automatic weapon. The barrel would melt down from the heat from shooting a thousand rounds one right after the other, but if you shoot just one round, the barrel has a chance to cool down and will live again to fire another round later.
When you have an intermittent connection, the item(s) it feeds may be turning on and off many times. Each time a little heat is generated. Normally those circuits have WAY plenty of time to cool down before you turn the ignition switch from "off" to "on" again, but when this happens rapidly, the heat builds up. Heat is the deadly enemy of electronic components. The voltage regulator, which is bolted to the back of the generator, is going to fail, ... Some day. That might happen 50 years from now, but stressing the transistors by rapidly turning circuits on and off that weren't designed for those kinds of repeated surges will bring about the failure of the unit sooner. No one can say how much sooner. The best you can hope for is to have solid electrical connections so the system will operate as designed. Consider how much time passed from the time you first noticed the flickering lights until the generator failed. That will tell you the new generator probably won't give you trouble right away. You could potentially drive for months or years that way, but do you want to take that chance?
A second way to look at this is the two problems could be entirely unrelated. Your generator might have just decided it was time to fail for some other reason, but the intermittent connection causing the flickering lights is still there. There's no way to know for sure without autopsying the old generator / voltage regulator to see what failed. If the brushes were worn out, that's just due to mileage. If an electrical component failed, that COULD be due to the repeated current surges caused by an intermittent connection.
Sunday, October 3rd, 2010 AT 2:56 PM