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Old 09-06-2021, 08:47 AM   #1
bradenjasin
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Default Starter Problem - caught on fire

Hello,
This is my first time on Ford Barn.
I've been restoring a 29 Model A with my dad over the past several weeks. We finally got it running this weekend and felt very accomplished. Our original engine was seized. We got a donor engine, took it apart and rebuilt the block with a new head gasket, had the flywheel resurfaced, and replaced all of the other gaskets along the way. The original trans was still good, and we kept that. At the initial startup, the engine fired up right away and we were letting it run outside our garage for about 15 minutes at idle. We pushed it outside for the initial startup, and when I went to put it into gear to drive it back inside, the engine stalled, the starter switch began to smoke, it started glowing red hot, and had a small fire right on the top of the starter!
We disconnected the battery as quickly as we could. But my question is what could cause the starter switch to do this?
On a side note, the clutch pedal feels out of adjustment as well. Its odd because it was perfect prior to the rebuild, and the trans didn't even come out of the car when we pulled the engine. I'm wondering what caused the problem here. Also, a new starter and starter switch are on the list to order this week.
Any help is appreciated guys!
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Old 09-06-2021, 09:00 AM   #2
Will N
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Those are the signs of a short circuit to ground. Perhaps the fiber insulator inside the switch was missing or failed and the copper strip made contact with the body of the switch? Or the fiber plunger at the end of the rod failed? BTW, you can tell if your switch is original by the composition of that strip. Reproductions are made of copper, and copper doesn't have the springiness of the original metal that was used, which was a bronze alloy. The original bronze alloy has a more yellowish hue than the pinkish hue of copper. If you have the original bronze strip, I'd re-use it.

Last edited by Will N; 09-06-2021 at 09:10 AM.
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Old 09-06-2021, 09:02 AM   #3
Kurt in NJ
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Having the flywheel resurfaced will change the old clutch adjustment
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Old 09-06-2021, 09:30 AM   #4
Bruce of MN
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Consider installing a battery isolation switch in the ground cable.
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Old 09-06-2021, 10:13 AM   #5
Keith True
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Where you have disturbed things changing the engine,look closely at the battery cable .It can easily tangle with the clutch pedal,get pinched and short out when you push the pedal.I think Ford made some changes early on to the cable bracket and grommet because it was a problem.
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Old 09-06-2021, 10:22 AM   #6
Brentwood Bob
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

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Here is a video I made on reworking the starter switch. It should cover your questions.https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lDBNoU0ZvLQ
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Old 09-06-2021, 10:30 AM   #7
nkaminar
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

As others have indicated, the starter switch likely shorted out. Carry a fire extinguisher in the car. The starter may still be OK.

The fork arms that push the throwout bearing don't always engage correctly when the engine and transmission are first joined. Take the cover off and peek inside to make sure everything is correct then re-adjust the clutch. When you do the re-adjustment keep an eye on the fork arms to see that they are seating correctly.

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Last edited by nkaminar; 09-06-2021 at 10:37 AM.
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Old 09-06-2021, 10:52 AM   #8
bradenjasin
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Thanks for all of the help guys. The starter began to leak oil when this happened and has a distinct burnt smell. I wasn’t sure if I should risk reusing it or not. I plan on adding a battery disconnect as well. Stay tuned. Does anyone happen to have a 6 volt working starter they would be willing to sell me? I’m located in Pittsburgh PA.
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Old 09-06-2021, 11:06 AM   #9
rotorwrench
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

On the old original flywheel, when the friction surface in machined, the rim where the clutch pressure plate mounts is generally surfaced the same amount to keep the intended amount of release distance and clamp up. The V8 type clutch doesn't have this problem if it has been so modified. I hope that the shop that did the work has experience with this type set up. The distance is 1.123 to 1.125-inch if I remember correctly.

The switch would have to be removed from the starter to see what damage was done. The copper terminal on the starter may have been damaged but the rest of the starter may still be usable to some degree. The repro switches can be problematic if the switch bar piece doesn't have enough spring action to it. Some don't have very good insulators on them either.

Last edited by rotorwrench; 09-06-2021 at 11:14 AM.
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Old 09-06-2021, 11:18 AM   #10
bradenjasin
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

The machine shop I used machined both the inner flywheel surface and took the same amount off around the rim so that was done correctly. I took the switch apart after the fire and the contact terminal appears to be okay on the top of the starter. The metal strip in the switch no longer moves and seems to be stuck where it is. The starter smells terrible and makes me nervous about reusing it.
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Old 09-06-2021, 11:56 AM   #11
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

If the switch smoked it is likely that it got hot enough so that the bronze strip inside has lost its temper and as such the starter motor contacts will no longer have enough tension to return to the rest position.

Then the starter may continue to turn when you release your foot from the starter rod.

Last edited by Benson; 09-07-2021 at 12:56 AM.
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Old 09-06-2021, 11:58 AM   #12
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Bench test the starter. I bet it’s okay. The short sounds like it was between the switch and ground.
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Old 09-06-2021, 07:38 PM   #13
bradenjasin
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

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Originally Posted by Jacksonlll View Post
Bench test the starter. I bet its okay. The short sounds like it was between the switch and ground.
Good idea. I'll give it a try and see.
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Old 09-06-2021, 07:46 PM   #14
CA Victoria
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Braden
It is great to see younger folks taking an active interested in a Model A.
If you send me your address via PM or email and a list of what you need I can go thru my stock and help out. I have a nice new old stock made in USA starter switch too and some wiring.
Tim
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Old 09-07-2021, 08:35 AM   #15
bradenjasin
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Quote:
Originally Posted by CA Victoria View Post
Braden
It is great to see younger folks taking an active interested in a Model A.
If you send me your address via PM or email and a list of what you need I can go thru my stock and help out. I have a nice new old stock made in USA starter switch too and some wiring.
Tim
Thanks Tim!
Apparently I am unable to send PM's since I have not posted 10 times on this forum yet. Is there an email I can reach you at?
Thanks,
Braden
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Old 09-07-2021, 08:44 AM   #16
jm29henry
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Maybe the battery cable got pinched by the clutch or break pedal? I think �� that the starter might be ok
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Old 09-07-2021, 11:38 AM   #17
rotorwrench
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

Starters are made with much heavier duty armatures, brushes, fields, and bearings. They can take a lot more heat than a generator can. I'd still have a look at the brushes and commutator just to see how they look. It doesn't take much to pull the band off & reinstall it.
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Old 09-07-2021, 05:14 PM   #18
bradenjasin
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Default Re: Starter Problem - caught on fire

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Originally Posted by rotorwrench View Post
Starters are made with much heavier duty armatures, brushes, fields, and bearings. They can take a lot more heat than a generator can. I'd still have a look at the brushes and commutator just to see how they look. It doesn't take much to pull the band off & reinstall it.
Roger that. I took the band off, and peaked in through the openings. Everything inside looks fine and appears to be untouched. There wasn't anything glaringly obvious, at least not to me haha.

Will give it a shot with a bench test. I plan to replace the starter switch, and gasket. I'll let you guys know what happens.
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