Broken Starter Drive

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    phil auldridge
    Keymaster

    Recently I took my 1953 Nash Healey coupe out for a little drive. It started without issue, including a couple of stops and starts on the way. Then after stopping in my driveway, I later went to start the car to put it in the garage, and all I got was the starter motor whirring, but no engagement with the engine. At first, I thought the battery was low, but finally had to admit the issue must be within the starter itself.

    After removing the starter, I found that the Bendix shock absorbing spring along with its keeper washer and circlip, had separated from the main drive body. The spring was literally laying on top of the ring gear (being too large to fall down to the bottom of the access cover), while the keeper washer and circlip were still laying in the bullnose extension of the bell housing.

    Starter Bendix

    I had jump started the engine in order to drive the car into my garage and onto the 4 post car lift for investigation. It is only by some miracle that one of those loose parts didn’t get caught in the ring gear, which would likely have destroyed my bell housing!

    Fortunately, we have a great alternator/generator/starter repair shop here in the Austin area, and they aren’t intimidated by the older components. Although the spring-type Bendix units are scarce, they were able to source an alternative which uses an internal rubber coupling to buffer the engagement. In just two days, the shop replaced my aging and burnt field coils, new brushes, new starter engagement drive, and repainted the whole unit to look like new. Total cost, about $180 which I thought to be extremely reasonable, as the parts alone were over $100.

    What did I learn from this experience? Next time I have a direct engagement starter like this that doesn’t engagement the flywheel, I will NOT try to start the engine, since loose parts could cause catastrophic damage!

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