Monday 24 May 2010

A Little Sulk

Not me. Not even Susan. A certain French lady who lives in our garage had a sulk yesterday. I would hate you to think that meant she wouldn't start: quite the contrary.

To start a Traction Avant you have to pull on the starter switch. This pulls on a wire that turns a shaft with a little cam on it that depresses at copper spring (which is attached to the car body) onto another lump of copper (which is attached to the battery), thus putting current to the starter motor. Our problem was that the copper spring wasn't disengaging from the copper lump, and the starter was continuing to turn once the engine had started.

How the starter switch works.
Normally, this would not be a serious problem: just turn off the ignition and the flow of electricity to the switch would stop. Unfortunately, with Traction Avants the ignition switch only controls power to the ignition (i.e the coil and thus the spark plugs). This is how you can flatten the battery if you forget to turn the ignition on - there is always power available to the ignition switch. The starter will crank and continue cranking until the battery goes flat, but without the ignition (in French "contact") turned on the engine will not start.

All this meant that the starter was turning over and over - relentlessly - and I could not stop it. There was a moment of panic, because I didn't actually have any spanners with me in the garage at the time, so I had to leave Célestine grinding away while I ran into the house to get a spanner to disconnect the battery. This stopped the problem of the starter turning, but got us no closer to being mobile.

After an age fruitlessly searching on the internet I decided the only option was to take the switch apart and have a look to see what was happening. With my eyesight, in a dark garage, torch clench between my teeth and reading glasses on, I found a screwdriver, managed to wurgle it between the exhaust manifold and the carburettor and took the switch off.

After some twiddling of bits I decided to pull on the spring a bit, and managed also to lower the copper lump a bit. I figured this would give me a bigger gap between the lump of copper and the spring, hopefully disengaging the starter.

After more plumbing language I managed to get the switch screwed on again (not easy with fingers the size of Mike Tyson's fist). I then - very cautiously - re-attached the battery. The starter remained silent. Susan climbed into the car, and I tentatively pulled on the starter cable. The starter turned over.

I released the starter cable - and the starter stopped. We then tried the same with the ignition on, she started first time and the starter didn't keep spinning.

This is a result. I went for a drive to check that it was all going to continue to work, and so far so good. This is the first real fixing of stuff I have done on Célestine, and I am rather pleased with myself. I am so pleased she is a mechanical car, and if you look at things long enough you can work how it works. On a modern car it would have meant another trip to the garage to have a computer chip looked at.

Pleased? You betcha. I just hope I don't have to repeat the process any time soon.



Abbeysmum said...

If you "keep company" with ladies of a certain age, it is a good idea to go nowhere without a good shifting spanner and a sturdy hessian bag to lie on.....been there done that with old farm ute's that get stuck in gear.Great to be able to do it yourself.

ladybird said...

Simon, Great job! Looks like you and Célestine get on great together. I hope you didn't 'overwork' her driving me and my friends around the country last Monday. Thank you for giving us a really good time. It was lovely seeing you again!

Tim said...

Nice one Simon!
Like the "Haynes"'ish diagrams.
We found a manual for repairs to the '56 in the Intermarche at Yzeures [naturellement en Francais] which has proved very useful, especially as a working dictionary.
The range is called "Les archives du collectioneur" and is published by ETAI under their REVUE TECHNIQUE automobile series and the number of the revue for the Tractions ['34 -'57] is 7 and the code is 5234.

Leon Sims said...

Just a thought Simon. Instead of using the starter switch, could you have used the crank handle as a short term remedy? Yes, I remember the fun I would have repairing my tractions over the years. I actually got quite quick at change the 2 gear gearbox cog.
Couldn't do it these days - don't like broken finger nails.
Leon, not Sue.

Simon said...

Abbeysmum. I had the station wagon version of that ute. Used to get caught between first and second.

Ladybird. Fear not - never overworked, she just likes to be pampered :¬)

Tim. I will check that out.

Leon. There's a reason it's called a wristbreaker... Besides, the way she is parked in the garage there would have been no room (and a million and ten other excuses!!)

Leon Sims said...

That comment gave me a giggle.

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