One of the most important aspects of your car running properly is the starting system. But what are the components of a vehicle’s starting system? How does the starting system work? If you are unable to start your car, you’ll be unable to drive your car. Let’s talk about how the starting system works and the parts involved.
The Starter Motor
The starter motor is an electric motor that turns over the engine to start the vehicle. It consists of a powerful DC electric motor and the starter solenoid, which is attached to the motor. In most vehicles, the starter motor is attached directly to the engine or transmission.
The Car Battery
The car’s primary 12-volt battery powers the starter motor. For the engine to turn over, the starter motor requires a high electric current. This is required for the battery to have sufficient power. If the battery is discharged, the lights in the car might still work, but there wouldn’t be enough power to turn over the starter motor.
The Starter Solenoid
The typical starter solenoid has a smaller connector for the starter control wire and two large terminals. One is for the positive battery cable, and the other is for the thick wire that powers up the starter motor.
The starter solenoid operates as a powerful electric relay mechanism. Once activated, the solenoid closes the high-current electric circuit and sends power to the battery from the starter motor. Simultaneously, the starter solenoid pushes the starter gear forward to connect it with the engine flexplate or flywheel.
The Battery Cables
The starter motor requires a high electric current to turn over the engine, so it’s connected to the battery with thick, large-gauge cables. The negative ground cable connects the negative battery terminal to the engine’s cylinder block or transmission. The positive cable connects the positive battery terminal to the starter solenoid. A poor connection at one of the battery cables can cause the starter motor not to work.
The Neutral Safety Switch
For safety reasons, the starter motor can only be turned on and operated when an automatic transmission is in the park or neutral position. The job of the transmission range switch is to tell the vehicle computer which gear the transmission is in.
If your car has a gear indicator on the dashboard, you may be able to see when a transmission range indicator is not working properly. A common problem could be when you shift the transmission into park, and the letter "P" does not show on the dash readout. This means that the vehicle computer doesn’t know that the vehicle’s transmission is in park, and it will not allow the starter to operate.
Knowing about these five components of your car’s starting system will allow you to diagnose a problem should it occur. When in doubt, take your vehicle to a reputable mechanic for problems. You’ll be glad you did.