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Relay versus Solenoid

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  • Transmission / Overdrive: Relay versus Solenoid

    What we commonly refer to as a solenoid is in reality a relay. A relay is an electromagnetic device in which a weak current acts as a switch for a stronger current. You will find a solenoid in a circuit breaker and in turn signal flashers. There are a variety of "relays" some are internally ground some are external ground and some are designed for continuous duty. There are 6 volt and 12 volt also some have silver contacts for much longer service life. Some are designed with an external handy push button. From time to time you hear of somebody installing a new "solenoid" and it doesn't work could be the wrong application.

  • #2
    Yes and no. Usually a solenoid refers to an iron core that is pushed (or pulled) when the coils are energized. A relay usually refers to a device where a where contacts are closed when the coils are energized. Two different actions, not interchangeable.
    78 Avanti RQB 2792
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    • #3
      Altair might be talking about the starter solenoid that sends power to the starter when the button is pressed or the key is turned.

      Interestingly, although we call it a solenoid, it actually is a relay. I never thought about it like that before.
      RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

      17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
      10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
      10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
      4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
      5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
      56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
      60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible

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      • #4
        In electrical theory, "solenoid" is any long cylindrical coil. The familiar Studebaker starter solenoid is, internally, a solenoid coil with a moving plunger which moves a copper disc to bridge two or more contacts. You could call it a relay, or a magnetic switch, too.

        Starter solenoids on many Brand X cars use the solenoid plunger to engage the starter pinion with the ring gear, as well as moving a copper disc to bridge several contacts.

        Other uses for solenoids? Power door locks, power trunk release. Less so on modern cars, as a tiny motor working through a gear train is more reliable, and weighs less. And uses less expensive copper wire.
        Gord Richmond, within Weasel range of the Alberta Badlands

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        • #5
          I was also commenting that these relays have various applications and various wiring configurations. I went in to an RV store and I was looking for a continuous duty relay and the attendant did not know. There was a bin full of bulk relays and he said this is what we sell. This is the type that when actuated with the key will deliver a charge to the RV battery however when the key is off the relay is open and will not discharge the engine battery, A conventional relay will work but the life is shortened. How many times have you seen big RVs with their battery assembly out on the ground trying to find a problem. It could be as simple as a continuous duty relay.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by RadioRoy View Post
            Altair might be talking about the starter solenoid that sends power to the starter when the button is pressed or the key is turned.

            Interestingly, although we call it a solenoid, it actually is a relay. I never thought about it like that before.
            I agree . However, checking the truck parts book Studebaker actually called it: "SWITCH, starter (magnetic). Seems like that covers it pretty well!

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            • #7
              Don't forget too, that many relays have both a normally open and a normally closed pair of contacts and switch between them. Solenoids usually only work in one direction or opperate as a slave to control a mechanical function. Relays are typicaly used for higher power switching so a low power (smaller) switch can be used to trigger the relay. Solenoids are typically used in an opperational aspect.
              sigpic

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              • #8
                ...and HVAC techs will often refer to hi-load relays as “contactors”.

                "potayto, potahto, tomayto, tomahto, ...let’s call the whole thing off?"

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by NCDave51 View Post
                  ...and HVAC techs will often refer to hi-load relays as “contactors”.
                  "
                  That's right. When I was a pup repairing hospital X-ray machines, the huge relay that energized the primary of the high tension transformer was called a contactor. And the transformer was called high tension, rather than high voltage. It was 180 KV.

                  Boy, that was a fun job for a 21 year old just out of technical school and just moved away from home. With a brand new 71 Plymouth Fury III coupe as a company car, too.
                  RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

                  17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
                  10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
                  10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
                  4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
                  5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
                  56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
                  60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible

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