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Powersports Vehicle Manufacturers and Starter Solenoid Suppliers: A Symbiotic Partnership

People everywhere in the U.S. are enjoying the great outdoors. As a result, the number of consumers buying ATVs, snowmobiles, and personal watercrafts continue to grow. The demand for powersports vehicles is projected to expand from $11 billion in 2018 to $14.5 billion in 2025. With the prospect of so many buyers taking to the trail and the lake with their vehicles in the next several years, powersports vehicle manufacturers have good reason to rejoice.

The reliability of these vehicles is key to customer satisfaction, so a robust electric starting system is important. Most powersports vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines, and are operated through the use of handlebars and a push-button starter.

Because of the way a powersports vehicle is designed, a critical component of an electric starting system is a starter solenoid. It is essential because, if it goes bad, the vehicle will be difficult to start or it won’t start at all. While the principles of how a starter solenoid functions are fairly straightforward, it requires troubleshooting to figure out why it has failed.

Here is a basic overview of what a starter solenoid is, how it works, and how one can go bad.

What Is a Starter Solenoid?

A vehicle’s electric starting system requires a large amount of current to create the torque needed to turn over the engine. The conductors needed to carry the current must be large enough so that there is no drop in voltage. Wiring these large conductors to the vehicle’s ignition switch directly wouldn’t be practical, so an electromagnetic switch is used to control the current instead.

This large magnetic switch is the starter solenoid and it is mounted on the starter motor that it controls. Starter solenoids come in several shapes and sizes, but they almost always are designed as either linear solenoids or rotary solenoids.

A basic linear solenoid has an electrical coil wound around a cylindrical tube with a plunger that moves in and out of the body of the coil.

The other type of starter solenoid is a rotary solenoid. In contrast to the back and forth motion of the linear solenoid, the rotary solenoid produces a circular or angular motion, in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction (or sometimes both). This type of starter solenoid also has an electrical coil, but it has a steel frame with a magnetic disk attached to an output shaft positioned above the coil.

Both linear and rotary solenoids are available as either a holding type that is continuously energized or a latching type that has an ON-OFF pulse.

How Does It Work?

The starter that turns over the motor of a powersports vehicle has two separate circuits: one for low currents and one for high currents. Both are connected to the battery. The starter solenoid acts as a switch to take high current from the battery to the high current load at the starter. It uses a low voltage circuit that makes a contact point between the start button on the vehicle’s handlebars and the battery when the button is pressed.

The starter solenoid also uses the electromagnetic force created when current flows through its windings to produce a mechanical movement. The movement pushes the pinion, engaging it to the ring gear of the engine’s flywheel. When the starter solenoid is triggered, it starts the starter motor of the internal combustion engine.

What Happens When a Starter Solenoid Goes Bad?

A starter solenoid goes bad when there isn’t enough current being sent to the starter after the start button is pushed. The solenoid may behave in certain ways before failing completely or after it has gone bad. Here are the most common signs of a struggling starter solenoid.

  1. When the start button is pushed, the starter solenoid makes a series of rapid clicks. Sometimes a dead battery will make a similar sound. But if the vehicle’s battery has enough charge, this sound means that the starter solenoid is not making enough electrical contact with the starter. Loose connections, corroded terminals, or worn or welded-together contacts can cause this problem.
  2. The starter continues to run, even after its drive gear disengages and the start button has been released from the ON position. The starter solenoid’s contacts stay connected because they have been burnt out as a result of heat and high currents. The surfaces of the contacts have melted and fused together, which creates a continuous flow between the contacts. If this problem isn’t fixed quickly, it can cause severe damage to the starter.
  3. The starter solenoid makes a single click and moves slightly. This sign indicates that the solenoid is trying to engage. It may be broken, or there may be a faulty connection between the solenoid and the starter. Another cause could come from reduced conductivity resulting from dirt, corrosion, or breakage.
  4. The starter engages but doesn’t disengage even after the start button is released. The solenoid has burnt-out contacts that stay closed even after the engine is turned off. The return spring on the solenoid’s plunger may have lost its elasticity from repeated use.

The Symptoms of a Faulty Starter

If you’ve worked through the troubleshooting for a bad solenoid but have not found any of the symptoms listed in the previous section, it’s time to look at the symptoms of failing starter. Here are the most common symptoms of a starter that isn’t working properly.

  1. The vehicle doesn’t start. Although there may be other reasons for this problem, such as a bad battery or broken wiring, it’s very possible that the starter isn’t working. If this is the case, the problem may lie with a failed circuit. No matter how many times you press the start button. If the circuit is just starting to fail, there may be a clicking sound as after you have pressed the start button.
  2. The starter remains on, even after the engine is started. If you stop pressing the start button, the circuit to the starter closes, which should cut off power to the starter motor. If the starter remains on after the engine has been started, then the main contacts in the starter relay most likely have melted together in the closed position. In this case, the starter relay will be frozen in the ON position, and damage to the starter, circuit, relay, and transmission is possible if the problem is not taken care of immediately.
  3. Sometimes the vehicle starts, sometimes it doesn’t. Excessive heat, dirt, or other debris can damage the starter relay, causing intermittent operation of the starter. In a number of cases, bad wiring exposed to dirt is the cause behind intermittent starting difficulties.
  4. A clicking sound comes from the starter. Sometimes you might hear this sound if your battery isn’t holding a charge. But it also could mean that your starter relay is not sending a full electrical current. The starter relay either sends a full current or it doesn’t send a current at all. Sometimes, though, there will be instances when a damaged starter relay causes the starter to emit a clicking noise.

Johnson Electric’s Starter Solenoid Solutions for Powersport Vehicles

The problems associated with a failing starter solenoid or a faulty starter highlights just how much is riding on the electrical circuits of these components. Customers expect dependable performance from their powersports vehicles under the toughest conditions, which means they need to start every time.

Johnson Electric offers robust starter solenoid solutions for manufacturers of jet skis, ATVs, snowmobiles, and other powersports vehicles. These solutions include STA Tubular solenoids, Tough Seal rocker switches, and PowerPod™ starters. All of the solutions are designed to resist vibration and corrosion, greatly reducing the chance of loose, dirty or corroded connections. Lightweight and compact, these solutions provide a lot of power and utility for their size.

What’s more, Johnson Electric has tailored these solutions specifically for each kind of powersports vehicle.

  • Marine vehicles. The starter solutions for jet skis and marine outboard motors are water-sealed and designed for the exact requirements of the vehicle.
  • Snowmobiles. Starter solutions produced by Johnson Electric are cold-cranking and have been tested in extreme conditions. They have been created especially for outdoor applications.
  • ATVs. With 100% cranking ability, Johnson Electric’s starter solutions are designed to work reliably under the most punishing outdoor conditions.

Whether your company manufactures snowmobiles, ATVs, jet skis or other powersport vehicles, Johnson Electric has starter solenoid solutions that will help them start strong every time. Your success in bringing a quality product to your customers is also our success, and we value the partnership we share with you.

For more details about a starter solenoid solution that is custom-engineered for your powersports product, contact us today.

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