Starting System

The car starting system, like most else on your automobile, is a complicated system; at Mike's Service Auto Body in Narragansett, Rhode Island, our mechanics will help you solve any problems with your automobile’s starter.

The process of ignition involves many complicated components, operating precisely on time.

1Once you insert the key into the ignition switch and turn it, a whole series of events unfold that use the power of the battery to get your car going.

First current runs from the battery, through the neutral safety switch, then the starter relay or solenoid, then the starter motor, which cranks the engine. This allows the pistons to do their work of bringing fuel and air into the cylinder, while current running through the high voltage ignition wires reach the spark plugs and set off the little explosion that creates the energy that ultimately gets the car moving. Simple as that, right?

That’s the big stuff. But don’t forget all the little in-between stuff. Like the pinion gear and the ring gear, the flywheel, the spring in the solenoid, and the “bendix” gear. Not so simple, after all, and the whole thing requires expert care, like the rest of your car.

It all begins with a good battery.

The battery, of course, produces voltage and sends current where it is needed. Amazingly, the battery is also able to be recharged as the car is running. The main purpose of the battery is to supply current to the starter motor and so to provide current whenever it is needed, especially to the ignition system. The battery thus acts as an electrical storage unit for the vehicle. With the many makes and models of cars, there are different sizes and types of batteries, so it is important to get the right one that is strong enough for your car. Even so-called maintenance free batteries need cleaning and inspection of the battery terminals and cable ends which can be corroded by escaping sulfuric acid.

Be careful when dealing with batteries because the liquid inside the battery is part sulfuric acid. It is so strong it will eat right through your clothing and burn your skin. Gloves and eye protection are a good idea. If you get the sulfuric acid accidentally on your skin, wash immediately, and if you get it in your eyes, flush your eyes and see a doctor immediately. It is also important to keep the battery away from fire or sparks while it is charging.

Battery cables must be in good working order to carry the current.

1Battery cables carry a high current from the battery to the starter motor. Maintenance requires removing the battery cables from the battery. Always remove the negative cable first. Then the cable end can be cleaned with a wire brush. When you connect the cables again, connect the negative cable last. It is important to grease the connection points so the acid doesn’t corrode and interrupt the flow of current.


The little ignition switch distributes electrical current in several ways.

Located somewhere on the steering column, the ignition switch can be shifted by the driver to various activities. In lock position, no current is supplied and the wheel is locked. In the off position, the wheel can be turned but the key can’t be removed. In the run position, current is supplied to everything except the starter circuit. In start position, the current goes to the ignition circuit and starter motor in order to start the motor. And of course, there is the accessory position, where you can play the radio or activate other accessories, but the car is not started.

The neutral switch protects you.

This switch prevents starting when the transmission is in any gear other than neutral or park, or in standard transmissions, the car won’t start unless the clutch pedal is depressed. The switch controls a few other things too, like the back up lights when the car is in reverse. Like all parts, the neutral switch can become worn and need maintenance.

The starter relay modulates the amount of current.

The starter relay is between the battery and the starter, and adjusts the current so that the ignition switch can handle it.

Some cars use a solenoid to modulate the energy as well.

The starter solenoid may moderate the current or connect the starter gear with the engine.

The starter motor is small but powerful.

The starter motor is basically a powerful electric motor with a series of gears and rings which attach to the engine, sending current to activate the piston to ignite the fuel and air and finally to start the engine

An overrunning clutch disengages the starter gear.

Once the engine gets going, a device called an overrunning clutch (bendix drive) automatically shuts down the starter gears and motors.

Spark plugs ignite the fuel and air mixtures to start the engine.

In many of today’s cars, the old contact “points” in the distributor that allowed the spark of the spark plug to happen have been replaced with an electronic ignition system or a distributorless ignition switch. Instead of the old mechanical switching system, now a solid-state transistor or computer operates at high speed. But it all still sends a spark at just the right moment. If the spark plug operates too soon or too late, the engine burns too much gas, or it may lose power altogether.

The starting system requires routine maintenance. If you have trouble starting your car, if it won’t start at all, or stalls and has difficulty starting, before simply replacing the battery, have a trained technician at Mikes Service Auto Body in Rhode Island inspect all starting and charging components because one of these parts—large or small--may be the problem instead of the battery.






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