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The Mystery Of Car Starter Motors

There was a time when car engines were simple. Any home mechanic could service say, an Austin ‘B’ Series engine, at home, in just a couple of hours. These days, opening a car bonnet is a little more daunting and we have come to rely on professional car servicing garages to attend to such matters.


We can however help ourselves by listening out for and investigating any strange noises or difficulties that may from time to time arise; the starter motor for example.


About The Starter Motor

This is a relatively simple piece of automotive kit that hasn’t changed that much since around 1912. It has one job and routinely it does it well and by and large we pay little or no attention to it.


In today’s cars the starter motor works pretty much the same way as it did back in the dark mysterious days of the 20th Century. Turn the key or press the button and instantly the starter motor kicks in to turn over the engine. It does this by engaging ring gear mounted to the engine’s flywheel. By turning this quickly, the engine can start. The physics are straightforward enough but it’s a tough job and any starter motor earns its keep. Sometimes, sadly over time it can fail and we, as drivers, need to pay heed to the symptoms.


A Starter Motor Fails


Failure to start is not necessarily a fault of the starter motor. Starting system problems are fairly common and to find the cause of the issue, the starting system must be properly tested. We all know the sound of a start up; if it sounds right but the car doesn’t start then it probably is not the motor. It could be a battery dying or a loose connection; that’s why it is important to ensure that the car is regularly serviced by a professional garage to pre-empt problems.


If a starter motor is failing then these are the likely issues:


If there is a fault with the internal components of the starter, bad brushes for example, the motor may lack the torque to turn the engine over. Internal bearings could be the problem for instance but whatever the cause you’ll know when you hear the dreaded click, followed by silence.


If the starter isn’t engaging with the ring gear on the flywheel then you’ll hear the starter whirring away but nothing else will happen. If the engine fires up but the starter motor stays on, the usual sounds will be accompanied by a loud and ongoing noise which may be caused by a stuck solenoid; switch off immediately. The car will still work but on no account should it be driven; this could cause further untold damage.


Intermittent faults, that is to say, sometimes the car starts, sometimes it doesn’t, can’t be neglected. In short if a car does not start as it should, get it checked over.


Is Stop/Start A Problem?

Many drivers these days have become accustomed to Stop/Start technology fitted on the car. When the car comes to rest the engine stops and restarts when the brake is released. In that period a drop of fuel is saved and a few less emissions are expelled. But that does mean a lot more action for the starter motor; up to ten times more than a normal unit.


Fortunately, in normal use when the engine is warmed up, a car starts easily. The starter motor works harder with a cold engine. Further, car makers are well aware of this extra load and the latest stop-start technology has motors that are more powerful, faster acting and more robust, and sometimes backed up by higher-voltage electrical systems with bigger storage batteries. In short then, on a properly serviced car Stop/Start isn’t an issue.


In general though, as with all car parts, wear and tear is. Make sure your vehicle is regularly serviced using quality replacement parts and lubricants. It’ll pay in the long run and that’s what you want from a starter motor – a long run.

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