THE LITTLE STARTER THAT WOULDN'T
by Steve Sevits
When my 150hp Lycoming was majored at Mattituck a year and a half ago one of the options I selected was the highly praised lightweight Lamar starter as an extra cost item. Recently when my attempt to go flying one day was greeted with just a high pitched whine, it goes without saying I was less than pleased. The natural assumption was that one of the innards of the Lamar starter had gone bad. Possibly a stuck Bendix or broken shear pin inside.
The first call was to Mattituck which contacted Lamar which has a two year warranty on their starters. After a phone call or two Lamar agreed to ship out a new unit by Second Day air. Mattituck and Lamar performed flawlessly, there is nothing more they could have done for me. With 18 months into the two year starter warranty, the people at Lamar said my responsibility would be to have the starter installed and pay the return shipping on the unit removed from the aircraft. It sounded fair to me.
In short order a factory fresh starter arrived. A second call to Lamar was made to inquire if there were any special specifications for installation of the starter. It's a good thing this call was made. My call was transferred to the technical department which related it was just a standard installation process. Then things got interesting. The tech went on to say that before removal of the current starter, the voltage at the starter should be measured while the "go" button is being pushed. In a number of years flying my experience had always been that low voltage at the starter would result in a slow, groaning of the starter insufficient to turn the prop fast enough for a start. Yet now I was treated only to a high pitched whine during each attempted start.
The appointed day arrived and the mechanic who makes "house calls" arrived. Taking one look at the starter he casually remarked, "This is a Lamar starter, they make good stuff, it's hard to for me to believe one of these could go bad." Without further prompting he wanted to listen to the starter do its high pitched whine. His next step without prompting was to measure the voltage at the starter during application of voltage. Sure enough the starter whined but the voltage at the business end was only 7 volts. Somewhere the system wasn't delivering enough juice.
The mechanic's next step was to check battery voltage. 12 volts. It appeared somewhere in the system there was excessive voltage drop. Next, in a flash of inspiration he applied the voltmeter across the battery during the starting procedure. The battery voltage which had been floating at a seemingly good 12 volts promptly dropped to 7 v. It would appear that the culprit was an over aged battery. One final test was to apply a booster across the aircraft battery, this time the starter engaged and the engine wanted to go flying.
When asked the age of the battery I had to reply in lawyer language (my Dad was a lawyer). The current battery had been in the plane "from a time when the memory of man not runneth to the contrary." Replacement time was at hand. This time the new battery will be dated when placed in service.
Next comes the hard part. A new battery is already on the way, but I still have to make an apology to both Mattituck and the Lamar starter people. Both treated me exceedingly well and none of my problems were of their making. Several lessons were learned.
FIRST: Always talk to the technical people, they can often give you insights the front office won't think of. If I had first talked to a techie at Lamar a lot of time, could have been saved and possibly even a rude word or two (from me) might have been avoided. Instead I was talking to front office types who treated me superbly, but their concern was our warranty relationship rather than the technical aspects of the operation. The lesson here is always talk to someone on the technical side before assuming failure of any aviation related component.
SECOND: The Lamar starters are special, they don't operate the same way as we may be used to. With a low battery they will exhibit symptoms mimicking a defect, rather than a slow grind and groan customary of other starters. The lesson here is to check the electrical system with the seeming failure of any electrical component.
The THIRD is following my Dad's advice: When you screw up admit your mistake because it's the right thing to do and it will make you feel better. It's also the adult thing to do.
So here's my public confession, and apology to both Lamar starter and to Mattituck. They are both great companies to do business with and I just didn't know enough to check things out before I lost my cool. I know now. Although I do think Lamar might want to switch any future complaints of a similar nature directly to the technical department initially, before considering warranty replacement. I still can't fault them for their lightening response to what we both thought was a warranty problem.
I've made my confessions and apologies and now I feel better. I just can't wait for the new battery to arrive so I can go flying again.