The starter drive is the part of the starter motor that engages the armature to the engine fly-wheel ring gear. A starter drive includes a pinion gear set that meshes with the flywheel ring gear on the engine’s crankshaft. To prevent damage to the pinion gear or the ring gear, the pinion gear must mesh with the ring gear before the starter motor rotates. To help assure smooth engagement, the ends of the pinion gear teeth are tapered. Also, the action of the armature must always be from the motor to the engine. The engine must not be allowed to spin the armature. The ratio of the number of teeth on the ring gear and the starter drive pinion gear is usually between 15:1 and 20:1. This means the starter motor is rotating 15 to 20 times faster than the engine. The ratio of the starter drive is determined by dividing the number of teeth on the drive gear (pinion gear) into the number of teeth on the driven gear (flywheel). Normal cranking speed for the engine is about 200 rpm. If the starter drive had a ratio of 18:1, the starter would be rotating at a speed of 3,600 rpm. If the engine started and was accelerated to 2,000 rpm, the starter speed would increase to 36,000 rpm. This would destroy the starter motor if it was not disengaged from the engine.
FIGURE. Starter drive pinion gear is used to turn the engine’s flywheel.
FIGURE. The pinion gear teeth are tapered to allow for smooth engagement.
The most common type of starter drive is the overrunning clutch. The overrunning clutch is a roller-type clutch that transmits torque in one direction only and freewheels in the other direction. This allows the starter motor to transmit torque to the ring gear but prevents the ring gear from transferring torque to the starter motor.
FIGURE. Overrunning clutch starter drive.
In a typical overrunning-type clutch, the clutch housing is internally splined to the starter armature shaft. The drive pinion turns freely on the armature shaft within the clutch housing. When torque is transmitted through the armature to the clutch housing, the spring-loaded rollers are forced into the small ends of their tapered slots. They are then wedged tightly against the pinion barrel. The pinion barrel and clutch housing are now locked together; torque is transferred through the starter motor to the ring gear and engine.
FIGURE. When the armature turns, it locks the rollers into the tapered notch.
When the engine starts and is running under its own power, the ring gear attempts to drive the pinion gear faster than the starter motor. This unloads the clutch rollers and releases the pinion gear to rotate freely around the armature shaft.