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I have a Citroen C3 which is giving me a headache. The problem is a recent one, and is basically that I can't start the car. The strange thing is that the problem only surfaces when I've been driving the car, shut it down and then tried to start it again (for instance going to the supermarket). And the likeliness of this happening depends on for how long I've been driving the car. I'm usually able to start the car, but the other day I had been driving for an hour before making a stop and after that the car didn't want to start for a few hours.

I'm relatively sure the problem isn't the battery since the headlights, windows, radio and dashboard all work. It's not the alternator since the car always starts after some period. The engine doesn't stutter, the car accelerates normally and fuel mileage is excellent so I doubt its the spark plugs.

Could it be the starter? Anyone ever had a similar problem and found a solution?

Update #1:

I've gone to a mechanic and he took the starter out, tried it with a car battery and it worked but was a little weak. So he dismantled it, cleaned up a few parts, lubricated others, tested connectivity with a ohm meter and then tested it again with the battery. It ran much better.

He re-installed it in the car, and we tried turning the car on/off a few times and it worked like a charm. So I drove home, and immediately tried to turn the car back on when I had parked but it wouldn't start. I've since tried again to start and it worked so it seems the same problem (not starting after running for some time) exists but it isn't the starter.

Update #2:

I found this video (i.e not mine) where a person is explaining his starter problem with a Citroen C2, and the experience with when starting is exactly the same (loud clicking sound from engine compartment and all). Can be seen here.

Update #3:

This problem has now started to happen even when the car hasn't been driven for a long time (i.e in the mornings). This kind of rules out it being exclusively due to something heating up.

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Is it dead silent when you try to start it, or does it turn (with starter motor) but does not start? –  bububaba Jul 4 '13 at 15:02
    
Yeah dead silent. –  Hrafn Jul 4 '13 at 16:24
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7 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted
+100

If the engine doesn't turn when you turn the key, the problem is definitely either in the starter motor itself or delivery of electricity to the starter motor, so possibly the solenoid. Fixing the problem is probably going to involve replacing whichever part is going bad, but when you find yourself stuck, if your vehicle is a manual you might be able to turn the motor slightly by rolling with the car in gear to get it to a different position, then trying to start again.

One question that could help further diagnosis: do the interior lights dim when you turn the key, like they would during a successful start?

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Thanks for the tip. I have been able to get it going again by letting it roll (in instances where I've parked in a decline), and throwing it into gear. Would just hate to have to hunt for hills every time I need to park. Regarding the lights, I haven't noticed but will keep an eye out for it next time I start the car. Would that indicate a bad starter or an electrical problem? –  Hrafn Jul 5 '13 at 0:11
1  
If the lights dim, there's a big current draw, which means the starter solenoid/relay is at least doing its job and the motor just isn't turning. If not, It's harder to say what the cause is. It could be that the solenoid didn't actuate, or the motor might just not be pulling any current. –  R.. Jul 5 '13 at 1:05
    
I've added an update in my question regarding the solenoid and starter. –  Hrafn Jul 9 '13 at 23:39
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The coil may be getting hot, then it has to cool off before it will start again. Try replacing the coil pack.

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Thanks for the tip, will look into it. –  Hrafn Jul 4 '13 at 22:15
3  
If it's dead silent, the problem is not the coil or anything related to the ignition system. –  R.. Jul 4 '13 at 23:40
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I'm American, so not familiar with this car, but in many cars I have worked on some kind of computer often controls the starter. In most modern cars I've worked on, I've seen similar problems such as yours be the under hood 'fuse box' that has a built in computer/controller. I've also seen it be a bad relay in that fuse box or a relay box close by if it has an external relay. Typically, I've been able to diagnose it by tapping on whatever component when it is not starting while somebody else held the key in the start position.

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Hi. Thank you for the tip, I'll check it out at first chance. –  Hrafn Jul 10 '13 at 10:11
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  • Since the start has been checked and/or cleaned/rebuilt then you shouldn't worry about that.
  • The starter relay shouldn't be an issue, I've never seen one fail "sometimes" It's only actuated when vehicle is being started so you can rule out it being affected by heat.
  • Battery/Charging can be thrown out since everything works (but you should still have had the mechanic test properly it to be positive)

(How about we try diagnosing the problem. Instead of just pointing fingers at parts.)

Let's have a look at he Starting System.

  1. If you have an extra key for the vehicle then please attempt the start the vehicle with spare/extra one.
    • If second key works perfectly then first replacing the key battery in the key that's malfunctioning, if battery does not work then have the key replaced.
  2. I you do not have a spare key. manually unlock the drivers side door with the blade before getting into the vehicle.
    • If this allows the vehicle to start and you do not have a spare then try replacing the battery in the key and see if it fixes the issue. If it does not have the Central Locking System checked for proper functionality and if it is OK then replace the key.

IF; the key has no relevance to the issue and the vehicle still will not turn over...

  1. Check what gear the transmission is in (or thinks it is in).
    • With the key in the 'ON' position what the Instrument Cluster displays.
    • If the vehicle is clearly in the park position by the position of the Gear Selector. And the cluster says otherwise place the Gear Selecter into Neutral and attempt starting it again. If this allows the vehicle to start. Then you're looking at a possible Neutral Saftey Switch issue, or Gear module, or even a simple adjustment of the NSS (if it's adjustable).

Lastley, Has anyone checked for any Diagnostic Trouble Codes? If so, what came up? If not, have it checked.

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Hi, and thanks for trying to analyze the problem. I've tried both keys, and both result in the same problem. There is no indicator in the instrument panel for what gear the car is in, but it's usually in neutral or first. The diagnostic codes actually got checked and it had a fault code. But it wasn't, according to the mechanic, related to the problem of starting. It said something about the clutch coherence. –  Hrafn Jul 11 '13 at 10:38
    
The mechanic should have attatched a print out of the diagnostic report to your receipt or at wrote them somewhere on the receipt somewhere. If not, have someone scan it and update with results. –  cinelli Jul 11 '13 at 23:14
    
The clutch MUST be pushed in in order to start the vehicle correct? This switch acts just like a Neutral Saftey Switch to prevent it from being starting while in gear without the clutch pushed. If the code was clutch related then it is without a doubt related to your issue (maybe not directly related but all information must be assesed).. –  cinelli Jul 11 '13 at 23:21
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The loud clicking sound you hear is probably a relay clicking open or closed (depending on if it's a N/O or N/C relay, but that's not important). This means that the problem is somewhere downstream from wherever the relay is, between the relay and your starter motor. You'll probably need to get an auto-electrician to have a look, as opposed to a regular mechanic.

My money is on a bad wire or connection somewhere. Heat will cause extra resistance, which may in turn cause too little current to flow where it should. But let an electrical expert give it a once-over.

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In my experience, problems that only occur after the car has been running for a time are usually related to heat - Something, somewhere is getting too hot.

As you've got a clicking sound, there must be a relay working as mentioned above, however this could be a red herring, as there are several relays activated when you start a car (e.g. there is one controlling the fuel pump). Can you tell where the clicking is coming from? Get an assistant to try and start the car while you listen to identify it?

In particular, they key noise you're after is a single loud click from the starter, as the solenoid engages. If you get that, then it's the starter not working, otherwise it is either the solenoid or the power feed. To test the latter, connect a voltmeter to the trigger feed on the solenoid (the smaller of the two wires going to the starter). This should be 0v before starting, and 12v while the key is turned to the start position. If it is, then the solenoid is failing (bear in mind that, as it's working when cold, it could easily have been fine when your mechanic bench-tested it, but still fail when hot...).

If you're not getting 12v to the solenoid when the key is turned, then the problem is in the supply feed. The traditional way of testing this would have been to attach a wire to that connector, then touch the other end to the battery positive and see if the starter turned, but I don't know if that's work on a modern computerised car, so I won't advise it. You'll then have to trace the wires back into the system, looking for anything that might have a loose or dodgy connection, a missing or loose heatsheld on a component, etc.

If I were a betting man though, my money would be on an overheating starter solenoid.

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It’s perfectly okay if, while reading this noise, you jump up and yell “B/S Bingo,” I’ll understand. Many of us middle-aged ol’ timers remember the mid-70’s Chevy trucks with their big block engines, and the engine heat seizing the starter motor. The fix? Tapping out a couple of shims from the aluminum cans of an adult malty beverage, and though I cannot recommend the foamy contents myself, the brewer in Colorado produces the best shims. (Select a local cannery for your location.) Place a couple of those carefully crafted shims (select the number of shims to suit) between the transmission and the starter and several layers of same cut and contoured to create a heat shield between the starter and the block and honest to goodness, no more problems.

And excellent way to pre-check this test is to heat everything up by taking a nice country-side cruise, let your mechanic know you’re on your way and while nice and hot, the mechanic loosens the starter bolts just a very tiny amount, then for a very short split-bit of a moment, hit the ignition key. If the starter rotates, you’ve successfully trouble-shot your issue.

When asked where I’m going, my girlfriend simply smiles when I say I’m out of shims. :)

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