Ignition Slave Relay
Apr/2017 R. Kwas  [Additional Comments]


Comparing 3, 4, and 5 Terminal Relays 
Momentary vs. Continuous Duty Relays



When adding high current loads such as an Overdrive or Lights, etc. to a vintage Volvo, I always remind installers to consider the entire current path.  When doing that, we find that for Ignition powered Loads, if we simply take power from (for instance) Fuse 1 of a 122 (or Fuse 1 of a P1800), that Load Current would also flow through the Ignition Switch.  Not so much of an issue if this is for a modest load like a phone charger or GPS or similar.  However, if this is a high power load, like an Overdrive Solenoid or Lights, we would be well advised to spare the vintage switch that additional duty. 

I realize that powering the OD control and Solenoid directly from the Ignition Switch was the OE arrangement as delivered from the factory (and shown as such on factory wiring diagrams), but knowing it is not a simple (or inexpensive) operation to replace the Ignition Switch, as it is part of the Ignition Switch / Armored Cable / Ignition Coil Assy, anything we can do to reduce electrical wear and tear on the switch by routing the additional current through a contact external to the Ignition Switch is a good thing!

We do this by simply installing an inexpensive "Ignition Slave Relay", as shown below.  This relay is essentially slaved to the Ignition Switch, such that it is closed when the Ignition Switch is ON, and the actual Ignition Switch is only subjected to the modest relay control current.  The beefy working contact of the relay switches the High Load Current, as shown here:

Ignition Slave Relay Current paths are highlighted.  Reader will notice that the additional current which the vintage Ignition Switch is subjected to, is the modest coil current only (Green).  The high Load Current (Blue) is not going through the Ignition Switch, but instead, is controlled by the high current working contact of the relay.  Ignition Switch is spared the additional high current, so its service life will not be affected.  An external Snubber Diode (A) is shown for the relay, and another is shown for the Load.     

Why two different Snubber Diode types?  A high current diode is required only for high inductance loads like Overdrive Solenoid or an Electric Cooling Fan or such. 

Comparing 3, 4, and 5 Terminal Relays:  A 4 or 5 terminal relay must be used as an Ignition Slave Relay!  A 3 terminal relay internally connects the coil (relay control circuit) and working contact circuit, so is not suitable, because if the whole point here is to separate the relay coil and high current contact circuits, this cannot be done using the 3 terminal type.  

Comparing 3, 4 and 5 terminal relays.  Note:  When relay has an internal Snubber Diode, operating polarity must be
with SD cathode (term 86) to positive.  When no internal SD is present, relay may be connected with either coil polarity.  


Location of the Ignition Slave Relay could be under the dashboard or under the hood...installer's preference...just remember to protect any wires going through the firewall, or around other sharp metal edges, with sleeving.  Relays are marvelous things!...so says your 50 year old Ignition Switch! 


Momentary vs. Continuous Duty Relays

My response to an e-mail question about Momentary vs continuous duty relays:

"Continuous duty relay simply means that it is capable to operating under continuous power, without overheating...some relays I have run into, like old Horn Relays [less of an issue today], or Starter solenoid (which is really a high power relay/contactor) just for instance, are not intended to be under power for more than a very limited typical operating time...if they were left continuously powered up, they would surely overheat and do their best impression of a burrito in a microwave (that is, fry from the inside!).

To check if a relay is continuous duty rated, simply apply power to coil, listen for the distinctive clack, confirming that coil is under power and working contact has closed under magnetic force, then feel it after a 10, then 60, then 300 seconds...if too hot to the touch (a good general go/no-go criteria!), I wouldn't consider it continuous duty, because it will likely not last...most modern car relays like the Bosch or Hella, or their clones, are cont duty, but it cant hurt to do the temp-rise check! "


Example of a Continuous Duty Relay:  From (Good Relay info, Link below) Coil current is  0.150A.  Calculating dissipated power from that value using Ohms Law (P = I X V), we get 1.8Watts.  Those typical little Bosch relays will endure that with ease until the cows come home, so can be considered to be Continuous duty.

Bosch Relay 0332209150


Example of an Intermittent Duty Relay:  A relay (also contactor) which is switching a very high current, such as the Starter Motor current, will typically have a very beefy coil (or even two, see:  Starter Solenoid), and will draw such a high current in order to do its function, that it would never survive the associated power dissipation if this were to occur long-term.  A Starter Solenoid needs, and requires, time to cool in between power-ups, or it will cook itself to death.  I found that Solenoid current is 10A with a momentary inrush many times that. Calculating dissipated power from that value using Ohms Law (P = I X V), we get a whopping 120Watts (recall that you wouldn't want to touch and leave your hand on a 100W incandescent lightbulb)...ouch!  Temperature of a continuously powered Solenoid would similarly continue to climb until something was surely damaged....that the Solenoid and Starter survived virtually continuous energization (for multiple minutes anyway) while Klaus Ludwig drove Porsche 962 No. 010 half a lap to the pits on the Starter Motor at Lemans 1988 is a testament to the Bosch equipment, but I wouldn't make a habit of it!  

The Bosch Starter Solenoid... 
intermittent duty, but with lots of margin in a pinch!! 



In the application shown above, the Ignition Slave Relay is necessary to control power, and Terminal 87 (Normally Open) is used.  When installing a Headlights-On Reminder, Terminal 87a  (Normally Closed) is used when Ignition is OFF, to switch Chassis connection for use by the circuit.  Note that separate relays would have to be used as one switches power, the other switches chassis.  See also:  http://www.sw-em.com/electrical_upgrades-buzzers_and_beepers.htm  

Good Relay info:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/automotive-relays-fundamentals-testing-kiril-mucevski

The Ignition Slave Relay is also a good supply for audio power amps...which seem to draw lots of stand-by power...if they are powered by the Ign Slv Rel, one wouldn't even need to worry about turning it OFF!  See:  http://www.sw-em.com/Battery%20Notes.htm#high_parasitic_load_audio_amp


This information is Copyright © 2019.  Ronald Kwas.   The terms Volvo and Bosch are used for reference only.  I have no affiliation with either company other than to try to keep its products working for me, help other enthusiasts do the same, and also present my highly opinionated results of the use of their products here.  The information presented comes from my own experience and carefully considered opinion, and can be used (or not!), or ridiculed and laughed at around the watercooler, or worshipped, at the readers discretion.  As with any recipe, your results may vary, and you are, and will always be, in charge of your own knuckles, and future!

You are welcome to use the information here in good health, and for your own non-commercial purposes, but if you reprint or otherwise republish this article, you must give credit to the author or link back to the SwEm site as the source.  If you donít, youíre just a lazy, scum sucking plagiarist, and the Boston Globe wants you!  As always, if you can supply corrections, or additional objective information or experience, I will always consider it, and consider working it into the next revision of this article...along with likely the odd metaphor, or analogy (see above!) and probably wise-a** comment. 


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