Engine starters are used in all modern vehicles,and modern engines require the pistons to start moving, before the ignition cycle can begin. Engine starters replaced hand cranking the engine, which was the main method used in vehicles for many years. Hand cranking the engine was dangerous because the crankshaft could start spinning the handle which could break fingers or your wrist. Engine starters began being mass produced on vehicles starting in the early 1920’s. Engine starters were especially needed with larger engines because the compression ratio is higher which makes the engine harder to crank. Starters are used in gasoline, marine, and diesel engines, as well as irrigation pumps, and portable generators.
The most commonly used engine starter is the electric starter. This is the newest starter motor and it is a series wound direct current electric motor with a solenoid switch which is similar to a relay. When low current from the starting battery is applied to the solenoid, it will push out a small pinion gear on the starter motor’s shaft. This gear is then connected to the ring gear on the flywheel of the engine. The solenoid also closes high current contacts for the starter motor and it will start running. After the engine starts up, the key operated switch is opened causing a spring in the solenoid assembly to pull the pinion gear away from the ring gear. This will then cause the starter motor to stop. In modern starter motors there is a gear and integral freewheel, or an overrunning clutch. This enables the flywheel to automatically disengage the pinion gear from the flywheel once the engine starts. This method of engine starting consumes a large amount of power from the battery.
There is also an engine starter called a Pneumatic starter. This starter consists of a geared turbine, an air compressor, and a pressure tank. This starter is normally used on trucks, but some gas turbine engines and Diesel engines use it as well. It works by compressing air which is then released from the tank and used to spin a turbine. After going through a set of reduction gears, it will engage the ring gear on the flywheel. Once the engine is running, it powers the compressor which recharges the tank.
Some large high powered diesel engines may use an auxiliary starter. This is usually a small gasoline powered engine which is used as a starter for the big engine. These are sometimes called pony engines. These sometimes shared the same cooling system and oil supply with the larger engine. These small auxiliary engines make it easier to crank start the large engine, and it usually improves service life.
There is also the Coffman engine starter which was used on a lot of on airplanes and large vehicles. This starter uses a blank cartridge containing cordite which pushes the piston forward when fired. A screw thread driven by the piston would then be engaged, which would turn the engine over. These starters are composed of a breech, into which the cartridge is inserted, which is connected to the motor by a steel pipe. After the blank cartridge is put in the breech, it is triggered either electrically or mechanically. When the ignition is turned on and the cartridge is fired, high-pressure gas shoots through the pipe forcing the motor to spin and engage the starter ring gear on the engine, which is attached to the crankshaft.
Manual, recoil, and spring starters are also available for smaller engines that are located in remote locations. Manual engine starters are used in a lot of our lawnmowers, snow blowers, and motorcycles. Spring starters are mechanical devices that do not require electricity, hydraulic pressure, or compressed air. Not needing any of these things makes this starter great for marine and agriculture operations. Spring starters work by storing energy in a manually-rechargeable power spring or spring pack that eliminates the need for a battery, alternator, or wiring.
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