Friday, March 13, 2015

No click, no start: trouble-shooting starter problems.

Ford Tempo: Found On Road Dead. (F.O.R.D.)

Ian Cooper

The other day I tried to start my car. I’ve had problems with the ignition switch before.

There was no click, no crank.

Some will suggest it is not getting fuel or spark. That’s nonsense insofar as we know. The problem is that the solenoid is not kicking in, allowing current to spin the starter and engage the Bendix, cranking the motor and giving it a chance to start.

The key to saving money on car repairs is critical thinking. The first time the starter didn’t ‘click,’ I was in front of a business. There was a bit of a slope. When I let the car roll back and popped the clutch with the key in the ‘run’ position, she fired right up.

This shoots down all theories regarding fuel and spark in my opinion.

It may very well be the starter motor. A used starter motor for this car will cost $40.00 plus 13 % Harmonized Sales Tax here in Ontario.

We can still get information, and information is key here. On a previous occasion, I noticed that the dashboard cluster had gone dead. A few days later, the car wouldn’t start. I can’t remember if it clicked or not. As soon as I lifted the hood, I saw a big blue ball of corrosion on the positive battery terminal.

This time, that was the first thing I checked when I got the car safely home. I didn’t dare shut it off while doing errands, and it’s not very wise to leave the engine running when refueling at a gas station. You’re only going to get away with that so many times. The car has a little over an eighth of a tank in it.

I cleaned some corrosion off both battery connectors and post, reinstalled and there was no change. 

The solenoid did not click when the key was turned.

By this time, after driving the car a good twenty kilometres with some accessories going, the battery might be dead. It doesn’t seem very likely, as there just wasn’t that much corrosion. Driving it that far should have charged it, and there were no red lights in the dashboard to indicate otherwise.

One way to test the starter is by shorting across the terminals on the solenoid. I did this over the course of a couple of years and a couple of starter motors on my 1995 Ford Windstar. There were many occasions when 'Big Bluey,' a massive old screwdriver, started up the van and got my backside safely home after a no-start.

Ultimately, we found that the battery wires, the harness was rotten inside the rubber insulation. The solution was to get a new set of wires made up at Universal Auto Electric here in town. It cost sixty or seventy bucks. 

I took them home and installed them myself. She fired up and the problem was cured.

The small car I’m driving now might be a bit more difficult to test, but if I can get my hand in there and find the proper tool (slightly curved to go around the centre stud, properly insulated, wearing gloves, not leaning on the car with exposed flesh, etc.), testing the solenoid, trying to start it that way, is a definite must before spending money. 

The other thing is to push-start the car, drive around for a half hour or so and then bring it home. If it is indeed a dead battery, this will give you enough charge to at least get a click out of the solenoid. 

The trouble with that theory is that the car was starting, cranking slowly to be sure, but the temperatures up until quite recently were in the minus twenty and minus thirty degree Celsius mark. Unless it’s a bad cell or two, (suddenly), in my opinion it would click but not crank, or click but die quickly under cranking.

On my first vehicle, an Austin Mini, we had the engine and tranny out in order to replace the remote gear shifter assembly. On that car it was a casting bolted to the side of the (transverse) engine. There were rods inside rather than the more modern cables. With a bunch of fifteen and sixteen year-olds working on it, (none of us knew very much either), the body ground—a braided copper cable running from the engine to chassis had never been properly tightened. I replaced the starter, the battery, tried all kinds of things, and yet every so often the problem came up again. The Mini was a light car. It was pretty easy to get someone to give it a little push, and that saved me a couple of times. One day I was doing an oil change, or some kind of work under the car.

Mine was green; a rotten wire harness after ten or twelve years.
I saw the braided cable there and for whatever reason, gave it a tug. The bolted end of it swiveled and I knew it shouldn’t do that. Long story short, I tightened it up, and never had the problem again.

So far, looking on the internet, I have not been able to find where that should be on my car, or no doubt I would reach down there and give it a pull.

There is also a ‘crankshaft position sensor’ on my car. The part’s not that expensive, I saw one online for $23.00. There is a way to test it with a multi-meter.

If you do bring the car to an auto mechanic, they’ll read the trouble codes from your car’s computer and take it from there.

Because of previous problems with the ignition switch, a faulty switch is also a possibility.

The weather is getting better but working on the car in the parking lot of an apartment building isn’t that nice, and there is still melting snow out there.

I’ll fiddle around with it on the weekend and, most likely, pick up a used starter on Monday.

The car has 269,000 kilometres on it and this is the most likely culprit—but it’s not the only possible culprit. It can be frustrating to spend money and change bits that don't need changing. I've been on disability for twenty years, and these little money mistakes can be quite painful.

This information is important. One time I took a 1986 Ford Tempo to a mechanic. I told him it was overheating and like a fool suggested it might be the water pump. Two days later, I picked up the car. 

I got ten kilometres down the road. There was as strong smell of burning sugar inside the car, and there was thick blue smoke coming out the back end. The temperature gauge, which not all vehicles have, was way up into the red. It was a cold day, and this happened in a very short time.

I turned around and took it back. I think I might have even yelled at the guy, threw my keys at him and did some really stupid shit like that. I was two hundred miles from home and kind of took that one a little personal.

It turned out to be the thermostat, an eleven-buck part. I could have changed it myself in three minutes. It was frozen in the closed position. As the engine warms up, it's supposed to open and allow coolant to flow through the block.

That incident cost me more than the $362.00 in repairs that it took to get the car home. The aluminum cylinder head had overheated and that resulted in hairline cracks all around the combustion chambers, etc. A cylinder head from a wrecker’s cost $80.00, and it was labourious and time consuming to change it. The gasket kit was more like $140.00, as I recall. I broke my fourteen millimetre socket more than once and had to go and buy another one. The whole thing was a big pain in the butt. That car was in the bone-yard within six months.

Much of that was my own fault. This is why clear thinking is important when dealing with a crappy, older car, one that needs other repairs, and probably won’t be around a year from now.

It’s a question of doing some cost-benefit analysis.

Forty bucks I can handle, doing the work I can handle. Throwing hundreds of dollars at it in pure speculation is not an option.


Changing a starter on a 2002 Neon. Comparable with most vehicles.

A plethora of grounds on the 2002 Neon.

The starter relay and there is also a fuse. (Apparently.)

Note: the ignition switch has not been replaced. I had to whack on it exactly twice, and it's been fine ever since. Because it has not been changed out, it is still a consideration in the present circumstance. So far I haven't tried a boost, but you never know. When someone comes to give me a lift to the scrapyard, we'll give that a try.

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