How Did The Starter Motor Come To Be?

In order to drive a car, (or indeed, operate any contraption that relies on an internal combustion engine) you need a means of turning the engine. This allows oxygen to be drawn into the cylinders, which is what starts the combustion process in the first place. To be sure, there are many different ways through which this objective can be achieved. Over time, they’ve gotten more subtle and elegant. Let’s look through the history of the starter motor and see if we can establish just how this incredible contraption first came to be.

In the beginning

The man credited with creating the first starter motor was an American named Charles F Kettering. Kettering was a prolific inventor, the founder of Delco and the creator of leaded gasoline, among other things.

Up until 1911, engines needed to be started manually, usually via a detachable crankshaft near the front of the car. The user would rotate the crank, and when the oxygen got drawn in sufficiently to start the combustion process, the crank could be simply detached and the car could be driven.

How Did The Starter Motor Come To Be?

This approach did the job, but it wasn’t without its drawbacks. Chief among those drawbacks was the fact that turning the engine manually like this was dangerous. If the motor backfired as the motorist was cranking the shaft, then the crank would suddenly jerk backwards. This could cause broken wrists and thumbs – and sometimes the results could be fatal.

It was one deadly accident that really prompted the race for a better solution to get going. In winter of 1908, a man named Bryon Carter noticed a woman beside the road, struggling to get her Cadillac started. Carter had a car company of his own, Cartecar, and was friends with the head of Cadillac, Henry Leland. He therefore judged himself qualified to stop and offer aid.

Unfortunately, even the experts were vulnerable to a dangerous backfire. And that’s exactly what happened to Carter, whose jaw was broken by the accident. This injury lead to fatal complications, and Carter died of pneumonia shortly afterwards.

The entire motoring industry was distraught by the loss of one of its leading lights, and Leland himself was distraught by the fact that one of his vehicles had killed his friend. He therefore vowed that this design flaw would be corrected before anyone else died.

In order to do this, he had the Cadillac engineering team begin work on an electric starter motor. This device would do the work of getting the motor running without the need for manual labour and danger. Unfortunately, the early offerings were found wanting; they were too large and cumbersome to be installed into any Cadillac. But a deadline had been set, and the team were committed to meeting it – whatever unpleasantly-long man-hours might be necessary to do so.

Leland enlisted Kettering to speed proceedings. The latter set to work on a single system that would provide three functions: it would turn the engine, it would ignite the fuel in the cylinders, and it would light the headlights, too. Kettering managed to get the job done, and Leland immediately signed off on the production of more than 12,000 units.

Before long, the rest of the industry realised that they, too, would need to adopt the technology. After all, few people were willing to turn an engine that might kill them if there was a safer alternative. Today, you will struggle to find a vehicle that doesn’t incorporate an electronic starter motor outside of extreme circumstances, like an arctic container truck or a tank.

Where can I buy an electric starter motor?

If the starter motor in your car, or the generator that powers it, ceases working, then you won’t be able to drive anywhere. This failure might happen gradually – but in many cases, it will occur suddenly. You’ll need to jump-start your car and get it to the nearest garage for immediate attention. Do this using a pair of jumper cables and another car’s battery, attaching one to the other. Alternative, you might push the car so that the cylinders draw in oxygen, and then start the engine. Starter motors can be purchased online, and they’re easily installed. However, if there’s no energy being generated, replacing yours might not make much difference. In this case, a replacement generator might be needed. Whether you’re looking for a BMW, Mercedes or Audi alternator, you’ll find it available online.

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