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Twice now my car engine has stopped cranking mid start. It doesn't seem to be a power problem as the radio, wipers ... all seem to work. The ignition key simply doesn't do anything anymore.

In once case waiting a few seconds resolved the problem and it started right up. In another case I had to roll it down a hill and pop the clutch to get it going.

Most of the time my car just works as expected, it is just these two incidents. I don't want to get stranded somewhere though so I'd prefer to fix it before it happens again.

I am thinking it isn't power since the car likely wouldn't have started that first time if the battery was dead.

In both cases the car did start, it seemed to be limited to the engine cranking, not its ability to actually run.

Could it be the solenoid on the starter? If not, what is the most likely culprit here?

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As starter motors get old they can require higher current in order to turn successfully, so despite you having no obvious power problem I would first check your battery - also because this is a simple thing to replace if necessary.

It could indeed be the starter solenoid, so having a look at both this and the starter motor itself would probably be my next option.

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That's the first symptom we see on our club airplanes when the battery is starting to get weak. Prop likes to hang up and requires another twist of the key to get it going and started. Can happen even if battery tests fine, but replacing the battery immediately cures it! Note however, that aviation batteries are really small for the amount of juice the starters need compared to cars (battery smaller than a normal 4-cyl car has to turn over a 540cid engine with a big prop hanging off the end). –  Brian Knoblauch Aug 10 '12 at 20:15
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As already stated, the problems that you describe can be caused by two things i have described all

1-Broken Starter:

  • The Starter Brushes may have failed (or a starter coil broke) in which case you will need to have the starter repaired/replaced this will be your last port of call

2-No/Too Little Current to Starter:

  • If you hear a click when you turn the ignition and the battery voltage is high enough (12.6v) starter motor not getting enough current to begin turning the engine.
  • As bob said, check your battery terminals for residue on the terminals, if this is the case you should clean with Bicarb and water. also check that you cannot move the terminal clamps on the terminals. if so, you will need to tighten.
  • An issue could be the wiring from the battery to the Starter. you can take some jumper leads and use them to connect the positive terminal of the battery directly to the Starter ( you will need to touch the lead to the point where the original wire from the battery is mounted) - if you do this and the starter turns, you have eliminated a starter fault.

  • Lastly, check if you have an immobiliser installed in the car, most times you may have a fault there. (do you have a bypass switch so that you can de-activate the immobiliser)

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A loose battery terminal can exhibit the same symptom. Carefully check both ends of your main (thick) battery cables to ensure that they're tight and not overly corroded, etc.

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