Jim Smart
December 1, 2006

Cold-Starting System
Since the first person struggled with a hard-starting engine on a cold morning, the humble choke-butterfly system has helped our engines. When engines are totally cold, they need more fuel to support combustion. The choke closes off the air supply and enriches the fuel mixture for improved cold-starting performance.

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There are two basic types of choke systems, manual and automatic. Manual chokes are operated by hand via a control cable. High-performance Fords were generally equipped with manual choke systems from the factory. The rest were fitted with automatic chokes that engage when the engine is cold and disengage as the engine warms up. Automatic chokes rely on exhaust-manifold heat and a simple bimetallic coil spring to get the message that the engine is warm. Heat is drawn by manifold vacuum from the exhaust manifold or header to the choke-coil package. As the bimetallic spring expands with the heat, it gradually opens the choke and brings the throttle off the fast-idle cam.

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Proper cold-starting calls for a one-time application of throttle before starting. This causes the choke to close and the fast-idle cam to kick in. A separate throttle-stop screw jumps onto the fast-idle cam, allowing the engine to run at a fast warm-up idle. When the bimetallic coil expands and pulls the choke off, it also rotates the fast-idle cam to normal, allowing the normal-idle throttle-stop screw to close to normal at a warm idle.

Not all automatic chokes get heat from a hot exhaust manifold. Today, most aftermarket carburetors have an electric choke that gets power when the ignition is turned on. As the heating element warms the bimetallic coil, the choke begins to come off. General Motors used hot-water automatic chokes long ago, where hot coolant circulated through the choke assembly, heating the bimetallic coil for choke pull-off. Chrysler was big on choke stoves, mechanical linkages, and bimetallic coils. With V-8 engines, this kept the intake manifold decidedly hot, causing more than its share of hot-weather driving problems.