Since the mid 50's when I slid under my first car, one of the methods used to check for a defective starter or solenoid was to take a hammar and tap on it. If the car then started the problem was with the starter of solenoid. The question is; What was I accomplishing that would make the vehicle start. The procedure wasn't 100 percent by was up there in the 90's.
The starter is a big DC motor. It has a pair of brushes that ride on a commutator and send the amps to the rotor. After years of use, the brushes become short from wear. The short brushes hang up in the brush holders. When you tap on the starter with a blunt object, the brushes break free, regain contact with the commutator and the engine spins. If the starter would spin but not engage the flywheel, the solenoid mounted on the side would be suspect. It has a device called a Bendix spring which moves the gear into the flywheel teeth.
Thanks tenspeed. All my previously owned electrocution hazard carpentry tools from the 50's had brushes. When the tool stopped working I would give it a bang. If it started, I pulled a replacement set of brushes out of the drawer and loosened the screwed on the side to replace the brushes. When I pulled a 16 year old starter out of the neighbors car yesterday I suspected as much. I momentarily contemplated dismantiling the thing to replace the brushes. Then realized I'm well into my sixties, it wasn't my car, the neighbor was paying for the parts, my fingers are getting fat, and most important, my patience isn't what it use to be. Again thanks.
We're of the same age OJ. Years ago I would have filed and sanded brushes to fit. If you think about it, you can get a re-manufactured starter that has all new everything. Use percussion maintenance on starters, fuel pumps and blower motors to get them working long enough to get you to the auto parts store for replacements. Save the rebuilding skills for the the easy, expensive stuff like lawn tractor parts.
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