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What Is a Starter Relay?

by Amrita Chuasiriporn

When you get into and start your vehicle, a small series of processes takes place before your engine turns over and starts. At the heart of this process is your starter relay--if you have one.

Function

A starter relay acts as an electrical circuit completer or circuit breaker in between the vehicle's battery and the starter motor. It helps to boost the battery's current so that not as great a current is required at ignition. The starter relay is sometimes, but not always, used in addition to a starter solenoid.

Timeline

When you activate your ignition switch, it sends an electrical current through the starter solenoid and starter relay to the starter motor, which then starts your vehicle's engine. Once the engine has started, you allow your ignition switch to return to neutral position, allowing the starter relay to break the circuit. Both parts of this process take place within a matter of seconds when your vehicle is working properly.

Considerations

Some vehicles are equipped with a neutral safety switch, which may be called by other names depending on your vehicle's manufacturer. If present, it is wired to the starter relay or solenoid and disallows the current from getting from the relay to the starter motor if your vehicle is not in "Park" (for automatic vehicles) or "Neutral" (for manual vehicles).

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