I've been having a strange starting issue with my 1998 Saturn SL (and it's left me stranded before). Today, it seems as though it will no longer start.

First, the details - it's a 1998 Saturn SL, manual transmission. No power options except for ABS, so no power windows, locks, security system, etc.

Second, the symptoms. When I turn the ignition to ON, the fuel pump does engage (audibly); the fuel meter responds and all electrics turn on. Upon trying to start the car, I have no sound. No relay click, no starter sound, no cranking, nothing. The internal electrics don't go out at this point (not a battery issue, I know that one well) or dim. I am able to push-start the car.

Third, the history - this has happened before, but it seemed to be a clutch safety switch issue and was intermittent. Waiting for a period of time would seem to resolve the issue (and as such I'm not sure if it was a temperature-based problem).

I originally thought that the issue might have been the clutch safety switch but replacing the switch and testing (with the pedal, and manually with my finger) did nothing. (Actually, thinking about it now, trying to start the car with the clutch out kills all of the electronics, I think - so I think the behavior is different.)

I know enough about cars to be dangerous (which means that I know nothing at all). I know that there's a starter relay behind the dashboard, and I was thinking about trying to replace this next, but I'd like to be able to target the problem area. Based on the symptoms above, how could I troubleshoot the issue? Where (besides the safety switch) are the potential problems?

Thank you.

  • I am having the exact same problem on my 98 Saturn, and I just wanted to see if you had ever figured out what was causing the problem since it doesn't look like you posted a follow up here.
    – Ben M.
    Jul 22 '17 at 3:58
  • @BenM. I never really did. I had many other issues with that car and I ended up getting rid of it. End of an era. Jul 22 '17 at 16:21

The starter relay would definitely be my next port of call.

Note that it might not be a bad relay that is the issue. Since the relay serves as a bridge between a small "controller" circuit and the actual starter circuit, a couple of other possibilities do exist:

  • an open circuit on the controller side, so either a bad ignition switch or physical break in the wiring

  • an incomplete starter circuit (again, physical break)

  • a bad starter, though the usual symptom is that it'll make some noise when the key in the ignition is turned to the "Start" position before jamming up

  • Welp - just tried installing a new relay, with no dice. (That thing's kind of annoying to get at.) Unfortunately, I don't know how to check the ignition switch - I might have to check Youtube - and I definitely wouldn't be able to get to the starter easily. I'll check the ignition circuit next, though. Oct 17 '15 at 21:19
  • @jedd.ahyoung if you have a piece of copper wire you can (at your own risk) jump the relay pins to help you narrow down the problem.
    – Zaid
    Oct 17 '15 at 21:28
  • I might try that. I'm hoping it's not the starter, honestly. If it's a small fix I can probably do it, but if it's a full starter issue it's not worth it. (This car is a turd - it's not one of the nice ones that you see around.) Oct 17 '15 at 22:07
  • Apparently, to get to the ignition switch on this car, you have to remove the entire steering wheel and the related assemblies (which I suppose makes sense from a security standpoint). I'm not even sure it's worth the trouble. I'm not good with a multimeter, but the way I see it right now, I have two options - 1.) Try to connect the starter directly to the battery to see if it starts. If it does, it isn't the starter. 2.) If it isn't the starter, wire up a push-button start for the time being. 3.) Buy a new car as soon as possible. Oct 17 '15 at 22:10

based on that whole set of tries... your ignition switch would be questionable... or trying to start the car while someone takes a hammer or a bar and bangs on the starter for a dead spot. other than a bad key. keep us posted...

  • This should really be a comment (I know you need some more rep to be able to post comments)
    – Zaid
    Oct 18 '15 at 14:15

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