Video Bonanza: The Sound And Fury Of Bad Ass Diesel Air Starters – Loud, Proud, And Scaring Old Ladies For Decades!

Video Bonanza: The Sound And Fury Of Bad Ass Diesel Air Starters – Loud, Proud, And Scaring Old Ladies For Decades!

(Words by Greg Rourke) – Cranking over big diesel engines takes a lot of power.  Plants of 850 plus cubic inches and over 15:1 compression are common in semi trucks. Imagine trying to spin one over on a sub zero morning with a crankcase full of 15W40 oil that has turned to peanut butter.

Small industrial diesels often have hand cranks and I can tell you from personal experience that this is a bad option, so let’s never speak of it again. Much more common is the electric starter that we are all familiar with. You hit the key and hopefully your truck fires up. However, cold weather saps power combined with the increased cranking time you get in winter and you may have trouble with your giant engine filled with oil flavored taffy.

One solution is an air starter.
Air starters are typically unaffected by the cold and offer more torque along with faster cranking speeds than an electric starter. An electric starter and its related wiring get hot during extended cranking, while air starters are self cooling. They are also more reliable and require just about zero maintenance which keeps the fellows in the fleet repair shop happy. Additional benefits also include lighter weight, which seems funny on a tractor trailer but there is some merit to that argument.
Class 8 trucks often have four batteries, plus the big heavy cables. For trucks hauling liquids or bulk materials every pound counts. This means that going with a single battery and smaller cables, plus the reduced weight of the starter itself and you have a truck that is about 100 pounds lighter. Hazmat haulers like them because there is no chance of a spark, very important when working around places like fuel terminals.Drawbacks are few. The main one being running out of air. Most trucks had a dedicated air tank, separate from the reservoirs for the air brakes. Still, if you ran out of air you better be near a compressor or another running truck. Electric starters have become more reliable and lighter, and air starters have fallen out of favor because of that. The starter are still available, but few and far between.

All this pros and cons stuff is fun, but we’re only concerned with the cool factor. If you’ve seen the movies Road Warrior or Maximum Overdrive, you’ve heard an air starter. Imagine an Ingersoll Rand impact wrench on steroids and you get an idea. Even those expecting the sound will jump. They make small children cry, and the elderly soil themselves. Your dog will run away. There are mufflers available, but what fun is that? We have a few visual aids for you. Note the guy in the back seat of the bus, and the passersby at the car show when the guy lights up the old pickup. Ya gotta love an assault on the senses.

(Editor’s note: In college, working at the diesel garage we had an old GMC bus that we’d joy ride around sometimes. It had an air starter and we were constantly scaring unsuspecting victims who walked through the shop with it. Good times – Brian)


(Watch the guy in the bus window!)

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3 thoughts on “Video Bonanza: The Sound And Fury Of Bad Ass Diesel Air Starters – Loud, Proud, And Scaring Old Ladies For Decades!

  1. 440 6Pac

    My uncle could have used one of these on his cat on cold mornings instead of the pup. But the pup was cool, it just took longer to start.

  2. Mike

    I used to drive an International 4300 powered by a 350 Detroit Diesel that used an air starter. Loved to hit it at the right time to scare the devil out of any pedestrians. Kinda of a drag when it needed a couple hits in the cold weather. Drag out the air hose to re-charge the tanks….

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