General Question

DaphneT's avatar

What happens when you start a car? Be specific. When the key is turned in the ignition, what happens? From there what happens?

Asked by DaphneT (5659 points ) January 8th, 2014

It has occurred to me that I don’t know the electric/mechanics of how a car starts and I’ve decided I want to know. Starting from when the key is inserted, what is it inserted into and what happens? What is the next stage/event/bubble in the process of how a car starts? If you know a great website with pictures that explains, please share.

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8 Answers

LuckyGuy's avatar

If the car is built after about 2004 the entire start sequence is automated. You don’t even need to be inside the car. Just reach in, turn the key and let go, and the engine will crank as long as it needs to start. Once the engine starts, the throttle control will adjust the speed and the engine control will adjust fuel and spark.
Try it. You’ll be surprised.

KNOWITALL's avatar

You mean the process right. Like electrical pulse thru battery, etc…? How it all works together?

flip86's avatar

This site explains the steps.

kritiper's avatar

The key is inserted into a lock tumbler, like a padlock. The lock is released.
Basically, you now turn the key to the “engine run” position. This is where the engine will run after you engage the starter. All of the dash lights should come on in this position, to test that all of the indicator lights work and aren’t burnt out.
You turn the key against spring pressure and an electrical current is sent to a electrical solenoid that is hooked up between the battery positive side and the main, large starter terminal. This is because the ignition switch is too small, electrically, to carry the heavy amp load that is required of the starter motor.
A bendix, which is a retractable gear on the starter motor, is pushed out by the initial rotation of the motor, and engages the teeth on the flywheel, rotating the engine so it can start. Sometimes the bendix is part of the solenoid so that when the main electrical contact is made, the motor receives it’s high amperage for cranking. Since the ignition is energized, the engine starts.

DaphneT's avatar

Thanks @kritiper that gives me a great start on understanding the parts of the process. And yes @KNOWITALL I did mean the process and how it all works together, @LuckyGuy, sadly, any vehicles I have access to are pre-2003, but a remote car starter would have been great these past three days. And @flip86, that is a great website, thank you for sharing.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

Early cars had starters independent of the ignition switch. Very early, there was a crank attached to the driveshaft which would have to be turned manually to start the engine. This was replaced by an electric starter, sometimes on the floorboard, later a button on the dash. Sometime during the fifties or sixties, the starter was incorporated into the ignition lock.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@DaphneT Try it anyway. Some cars had it sooner. GM had it in 2000 on some applications. Give it a shot. You might be very surprised.
Let us know what happens.

DaphneT's avatar

Thanks @Yetanotheruser that is a useful tidbit to know, I’ve been reading mysteries set in the 20’s, post The Great War, and the protagonist always has to crank his car. @LuckyGuy I’ve tried that and I still need to turn the key all the way to crank the engine, the technique of turn and let go doesn’t seem to work on this vehicle. Which is okay, it does start. I just wanted to understand the process mechanically and electrically. Thanks for your tidbits of info.

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