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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

If you work on old cars, a remote starter switch is worth every penny

There's an inexpensive little tool that gets used all the time while trouble-shooting car-won't-start problems-the remote starter switch. I'm not referring to something electronic on your key fob that starts your car from the comfort of your warm kitchen. No, this is way more old-school than that, and the "remote" part is really something of a misnomer.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-hack-mechanic/if-you-work-on-old-cars-a-remote-starter-swi...
30 REPLIES 30
Huntz-Hall
Intermediate Driver

Well Rob you have nailed it again, good job! (as always)
DUB6
Specialist

When I was a kid, trying to teach myself about how cars work (before the Internet, YouTube, and before I was earning enough to subscribe to car mags), I didn't know what I didn't know. Then one day, in a friend's garage, he hooked up a simple push-button device that turned his engine over while he was bent under the hood. I wasn't even asked to help! What a revelation! And so, I totally agree with this informational piece: a starter button is a great addition to the toolbox - I haven't been without one since the 1960s... 😊
FloridaMarty
Instructor

It's rare to meet someone these days that knows anything about timing lights, dwell meters, or remote starting switches if their not a classic car person. Heck, I remember setting the timing on my old VW with a flashlight bulb and a couple jumper wires. Maybe a series explaining "the automotive tricks and tools of the o'l days" might be a good idea. Thanks.
bblhed
Instructor

I keep one of those in my Lawn Shed, it hasn't seen duty on a car in years but it gets use on the tractor about twice a season.
JSievers
Instructor

Just finished installing new wiring on my vintage Snap-On remote starter switch. The insulation on the original wires had crumbled to pieces from age and exposure to various petroleum products over the years. Back in the day it was an indispensable tool for rotating the engine in order to adjust valve clearances.
SilentBoy741
Instructor

For those of you who haven't used a remote starter before, here's how it works:
Me: "Honey, could you come out to the garage for a second?"
Her: "What, again?!"
dhaugh
Detailer

First, let me say I didn’t even read the article, Rob, the subject was enough to spark good and bad memories about my experience with these devices, and yes, I still have the unit that damn near killed me.

First, you need one to know when the exhaust cracks open and the intake finishes closing, if you know what I’m talking about you’ve adjusted your own valves before!

Ca 1978, an 18 year old kid (who will remain nameless) was working at the Mobil Repair Center and someone came in with a nice Datsun sedan or coupe with front rotors that had broken away from the hubs (they were as thin as 45 RPM records) and the pads and their steel backs were gone, the pistons doing the only work, and it needed a tune up. The tune up is what got me in trouble, a dual point distributor and a remote start switch turned out to be a great life lesson.

Now, after working on the brakes, rebuilding the calipers, new pistons, rotors and the like (there were no kits with calipers, pads and rotors back in the day) it was time for the tune up. I hooked up the Sun machine and got the dwell set just right (dwindle, dwarf and dwell, the only three words in the English language that start with DW), I popped the distributor cap back on and hit the remote start. It fired right up, back in the day all Datsuns were stick shifts, fast idle cam engaged, 2000 RPM, ran like a Swiss watch. Problem was, it was and automatic, and it was in Drive, and yes, I was in front of it. A year of not walking and you’ll never find me again in front of a car I’m not in control of. A lesson we’ll learned. There’s a lot more to the story though you get the picture.
StagByTriumph
Pit Crew

@dhaugh   are you sure you have your valve sequence correct for a 4 stroke engine? I think there is a combustion and power stroke you may have missed when both valves are closed.  The exhaust valve does not open until after the power stroke which is called the exhaust stroke.  Maybe what you meant was that the intake valve cracks open for the intake stroke when the exhaust valve closes at the end of the exhaust stroke?

dhaugh
Detailer

You’re right

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PFCDexter
Intermediate Driver

Yikes, tahnks for sharing, but here's a few more Dw words:

Dwelling (n.); Dwayne-Hunt law (x-ray energy is inversely proportional to the photon wavelength); Dwyer instrumentation (a mechanical method for correcting curvature associated with scoliosis). 🙂
DUB6
Specialist

Didn't Frank Zappa name his kid Dweezil?  Probably gotta add that to the list.  😋

HillOfBeans
New Driver

Can't believe with all these car nerds no one has said "Dweeb."
DUB6
Specialist

Head-in-sand tactic.  Nobody wanted to admit that they knew the word - either that they've used it, or that it's been used about them!  😋

Jpdelpozo
Intermediate Driver

Ahhh yes, the "Sun Machine!" How well I remember now.
thehackmechanic
Advanced Driver

So sorry to hear that! Glad you survived!
SJ
Technician

Loved the Ford's with the solenoid mounted on the fender.
GRP_Photo
Instructor

Yeah. With those, the solenoid is only a relay. There's a separate electromagnet that we called a Bendix located on the starter that pushes the drive gear along the starter shaft to engage with the teeth on the flywheel.
StagByTriumph
Pit Crew

Most Triumph vehicles have that feature built in. There is a red or sometimes black rubber covered push switch on the starter relay mounted on the firewall next to the battery, has been on most Triumphs since the 1950's.

It is a fun secret as I have seen people using an aftermarket remote start switch on Triumphs and then say "did you know you have one of those built in right here?" which is always followed by sheer amazement. Then I point to it in the Owners manual 😉
I often wondered when setting valves / timing / etc on my Heralds and TR's why most other cars did not have that feature? One skillful quick push of that switch would typically get the next valve into proper position for the feeler gauge, or when tweaking the carburetors and getting the idle too low, allow for the quick restart without having to twist the ignition key.
But my Stag does not have that remote feature on the starter relay so, I have accumulated two styles of remote switches; one is a pistol grip, and one is a thumb switch. They are good for all sorts of electrical testing other than engaging the starter, like light bulbs / head light / relays / solenoids and I have used them for other various electrical checks.
thehackmechanic
Advanced Driver

I did not know that about Triumphs. I have no recollection of it on my GT6, but that was 47 years ago. Thanks.
coop
Intermediate Driver

And on my 59 Healey. Came in handy to "bump" the engine, while adjusting the valves, for one.
Moparman52
Pit Crew

Makes sense for most, though not a problem with my A100.
72stang
Pit Crew

With the Fords, the relay on the fender makes connecting the remote switch much easier. On my Chevy, I connect a wire from the starter long enough to reach from the starter to the top of the engine bay and dress it out so as to not touch hot surfaces and be in the way. I leave the wire and cap it with a wire nut. When not in use. I connect the remote starter switch to the wire when needed. Beats having the crawl under the car every time you want to use the remote starter.
GRP_Photo
Instructor

I never needed a remote switch with Fords.

DUB6
Specialist

But you did need a screwdriver!

71Stang
New Driver

If no screw driver was available I used a coin or key. 

wildcat1970
New Driver

My old RAC timing light had a separate set of cables with alligator clips that would attach to my 65 Mustang solenoid. Just pull the trigger and crank. Yes, the timing light was part of a package that came with a vacuum gauge, tach/dwell and compression gauge. Still have since 1973 when I purchased the Mustang which I have to.
02-orignal-ownr
Detailer

I learned how to work on cars from my future father-in-law, Ed, first because I was interested, and second, to prevent me from using the excuse that I brought his daughter back from a date very late because "the car broke down and I didn't know how to fix it." I should add that I was driving a 1959 Renault, not the paragon of reliability.

I was in awe of Ed's ability to set the timing on a car (his 59 Chevy 6 or her VW Beetle) by ear. Then we'd check the setting with a timing light--and it was spot on. Some years later (unfortunately after Ed's passing) I did exactly that with my BMW 2002; checking with my dwell meter I was spot on. Ed would have been proud of me.

I made a remote starter switch with a couple of lengths of wire, two alligator clips and a momentary (normally off) switch mounted in a little plastic case. A few minutes with a soldering iron and I was in business.

Steve3
New Driver

Rob, you mention " If you have a remote starter switch, you can leave the cap and rotor off, hit the switch to crank the starter, read the dwell while the engine is spinning, stop, tweak the point gap, and then try it again, all much quicker than taking the cap and rotor on and off and starting and stopping the car each time."
Maybe you know this, but you can set the dwell with the engine cranking with a remote starter or the key. Doesn't have to be an iterative process of stopping and resetting the gap to try again. I keep my screwdriver on the points adjusting notch, to dial in the desired dwell while cranking the engine. Old mechanic showed me this trick about 50 years ago.
4RenT
Advanced Driver

I carried a Remote Starter Switch in my Datsun Diesel pickup.
After a few years it developed a problem that prevented it from cranking.
I was unable (even with schematics) to find the problem, it might have been with the Geneva Gear.
So, when it wouldn't crank,
pop the hood,
attach the switch,
activate the switch,
remove when the engine started.
30 seconds total.
Later I found out just a nudge of the vehicle while in gear was enough to make the stars and planets align with the current phase of the Moon.
hmaynord
New Driver

"Second, when you use a remote starter switch with the intent of generating spark or starting the car, you need to turn the ignition key to the “start” setting to energize the coil."

don't you mean "run"?

thanks. harris