A starter will contain protective devices for the motor. At a minimum this would include a thermal overload relay. The thermal overload is designed to open the starting circuit and thus cut the power to the motor in the event of the motor drawing too much current from the supply for an extended time. The overload relay has a normally closed contact which opens due to heat generated by excessive current flowing through the circuit. Thermal overloads have a small heating device that increases in temperature as the motor running current increases.
There are two types of thermal overload relay. In one type, a bi-metallic strip located close to a heater deflects as the heater temperature rises until it mechanically causes the device to trip and open the circuit, cutting power to the motor should it become overloaded. A thermal overload will accommodate the brief high starting current of a motor while accurately protecting it from a running current overload. The heater coil and the action of the bi-metallic strip introduce a time delay that affords the motor time to start and settle into normal running current without the thermal overload tripping. Thermal overloads can be manually or automatically resettable depending on their application and have an adjuster that allows them to be accurately set to the motor run current.
A second type of thermal overload relay uses a eutectic alloy, like a solder, to retain a spring-loaded contact. When too much current passes through the heating element for too long a time, the alloy melts and the spring releases the contact, opening the control circuit and shutting down the motor. Since eutectic alloy elements are not adjustable, they are resistant to casual tampering but require changing the heater coil element to match the motor rated current.
Electronic digital overload relays containing a microprocessor may also be used, especially for high-value motors. These devices model the heating of the motor windings by monitoring the motor current. They can also include metering and communication functions.