Before 1912, the starter motor was practically nonexistent in automobiles. It was during this year that Cadillac began to install the first electrical starter motors into its vehicles. Ford followed suit in 1919 and just a year later almost all automobiles being produced in the world had electrical starter motors. So what did people do before this time to start their cars? A simple crank on the front of most automobiles allowed the driver to start the engine by hand, but the operation of the crank was dangerous since the engine could be unpredictable during starting. Any kickback could lead to a broken hand or wrist and in some instances killed the intended driver. The production of cars with an electrical starter helped stop needless injury among early drivers.
Electric starter motors are fairly simple and have changed very little in the nearly 100 years they have been in use. The electric motor is small, with a tight coil of copper wire inside located between two or more magnets. A current from the battery charges a large capacitor which sits to the side of the starter and it’s that capacitor that gives the burst of energy to turn the starter. The electric motor’s shaft is connected to the large starter flywheel located in the engine block and turns the flywheel during the starting process. Although the starter motor is not designed for long-duration function, the short burst of use at the beginning of the starting process allows many years of use from this part of your car.
Automotive starter motors can become worn over time and need to be refurbished or replaced. The thick copper contacts found just within the starter motor eventually disintegrate with the movement of high-voltage electricity through them and can easily be replaced by a competent mechanic. Such a refurbishing job can be less-expensive than full replacement, but occasionally the copper-wire coil may also become damaged and may make replacement necessary.
The electric starter motor is located near the rear of the engine, normally on one side or the other of the engine block. Once located, it’s essential to be certain there is no electric current to the starter during removal. Remove the battery cables completely before attempting to remove the starter and avoid contact with the large capacitor sitting to the side of it if one is present. As always, it is much safer to work with another person in the event a serious error is made and you are injured in the process.