What is - Automatic Stop-Start System

As the world becomes increasingly aware of the effects of glut fossil fuel consumption, the automotive sector in particular hasn’t been short of measures to ensure that their vehicles produce more mileage per tank of fuel.

One of them, possibly the most commonly adopted at the very moment, is the auto start-stop feature. While the collective outcome of this system, on fuel efficiency, engine durability and ultimately on the environment remains somewhat arguable, even our local manufacturers have started opting for it.

It’s not a new feature by any means. It was adopted by Toyota in their Crown sedan variant in the 1970's where the system would automatically switch off the engine after sitting idle for 1.5 seconds. In fact, American automotive site Car and Driver stated, “Volkswagen debuted its first production stop-start system in 1983 with the Europe-only Polo Formel E.”

What is this system then? Does it really help reduce emissions, reduce fuel consumption, save our wallets and ultimately the environment? Or are manufacturers just putting that system in place to meet regulation requirements? What is the appeal of this then in countries with less stringent or non-existent emission regulations? And what does it do to your engine in the long run?


The Toyota Crown. Credit: productioncars.com

Here’s how it works in a nutshell. In an automatic transmission vehicle, where the system is more commonly adopted, when the driver applies the brakes and the vehicle comes to a standstill, the system automatically switches the engine off but not entirely. This is because only the engine is shut down but not the entire car as the battery is still supplying power to the air conditioning and other electrical components like the radio.

However, this is not done without the aid of a more powerful car battery and a more robust alternator to support the starter motor in restarting the vehicle. Once the brakes are lifted, the sensors deployed would be triggered which then automatically activates the starter motor to restart the engine.

As for hybrid vehicles, it utilises its built-in electric motor to get the vehicle moving before the engine is restarted. “Measurements taken in the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) yielded fuel savings and emission reductions of around 8% and savings of up to 15% are possible in real urban traffic”, as claimed in Bosch’s website on their auto start-stop systems.


One push of that button is all it takes for a smoother ride. Credit: parkers.co.uk

While statistics have shown that fuel efficiency can be achieved along with reduced emissions, there is still the niggling thought of the need to have a button to switch the system off entirely. Although it may be able to conserve fuel while you’re stuck idling in traffic, having the starter motor kicking in every time you lift off the brakes in stop-go traffic can get quite annoying as the starting process, as in most cars fitted with the system still do not operate seamlessly and unnoticeably.

And the jerking motion, when the vehicle restarts its engine, can be as unforgiving to the driver as it is to the other components of the vehicle.  It’s been claimed that a normal car without the feature can be expected to go through up to 50,000 start-stop motions in its lifetime. With automatic start-stop, the figures can inflate up to as high as 500,000 start-stop cycles.

As such this system could possibly have its drawbacks on the starter motor, the engine’s bearings and it even its mountings – the drawbacks of which will be discussed in a following article.

Here's a brief video on how the Automatic Stop-Start System actually works.

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