February 05, 2007
by: jovial_cynic
Like most gear heads, I've got lots of boxes of misc. parts sitting around in my garage. I've got a bunch of trash pressure plate housings, various suspension bits, and a box of starters.

For the last couple of years when I've worked on L-series engines, I've consistently encountered a problem trying to start the engines. I always figured it was just a bad ground, on account of the "i think i can, i think i can" behavior of the starter... it would go "rrr rrr rrr whump, rrr rrr rrr whump," and eventually kick over, but not without a long fight.

As I started to put bits and pieces onto my engine, I threw the starter on it and figured I'd wind it up and see how it turns while sitting on my out-of-the-car engine stand. Incidentally, it's much easier to put a starter on the car when it's out of the car. It's also a lot easier when you have an air ratchet.

Anyway, I used some jumper cables to connect the battery to the starter and cranked it... and sure enough, "rrr rrr rrr whump." Bad ground again? Bad battery? I drove my wife's minivan close enough to the stand to use the van's known-good battery, and still, the same problem.

Maybe it was a bad starter. I grabbed my box of starters and began testing them. Each one worked while off the engine, but one after the other, they'd fail when bolted up. And after five starters (yes, I've got a lot of starters sitting around), I noticed that the next starter to test was bigger than the others. Bigger around.

Now, I'll have you know that I've always known that I had some larger starters in my box of starters. I've known that they were there, and I've always avoided them, because... well, because my first love is computers, and in the world of computers, smaller is better because technology is always moving towards miniaturization.

It turns out that starter motors don't exactly move in the direction of technology the way computers do. In the world of starters, bigger DOES equal better. And sure enough, after mounting the larger starter up, it engaged for a second and then free-spun, doing nothing. I yanked the starter off and looked at the teeth -- all worn down to nubbins. I should have looked first. Fortunately, I have THREE more large starters, one of which has good teeth, so I bolted that one up, and then...

Flawless. The engine cranked over exactly as it should, ending the mystery of the starter problems in my car.

Update: I was wrong. The solution wasn't the starter. In fact, the problem wasn't starter, either. I accidentally connected the ground strap to a peg on the starter which... shouldn't have been grounded. Whoops.
np category: 510


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