My 2002 VW Golf TDI (turbodiesel) first began having starting issues a year ago. Slow cranking especially when cold led me to suspect the battery was weak. I replaced the battery with a fancy 880 CCA battery about a year ago. Noticeably faster cranking/quicker starting was the welcome result. However, then the car began having a new issue - sometimes when starting from cold (mornings) the starter would every so often become disengaged from the flywheel such that after turning the engine over a few times the starter motor spins up quickly with no load on it.

I bought a new (rebuilt) starter and installed without any further troubleshooting, and to my surprise the problem not only continued but actually seemed to happen more often! I started from scratch and checked all my battery cables for any voltage drop between the battery and starter solenoid and also between the battery and chassis ground. A 0.1 VDC drop was evident so I cleaned all my terminals and ensured no voltage drop remained. The problem continued, so I returned the "new" starter and finally convinced the parts store to exchange it even after a bench test showed it was working properly (though of course with no load.)

The problem continues to this day even after installing the second starter. The car always starts on the second try, and this never happens when the engine is warm - it only occurs in the morning when the engine is "cold." I began to suspect that perhaps the flywheel itself was damaged in a spot but last weekend I installed a new timing belt and had an opportunity to inspect every single tooth on the flywheel - it's in fine shape with no missing or broken teeth.

Here's a video demonstrating the issue. Sorry for the long-winded post and thanks in advance for any suggestions or opinions.

  • In that video that engine sputters and dies on the first try. That will disengage the starter. Are you allowing the glow plugs to heat the cylinders before cranking? If you are, then you should have the glow plugs checked for proper functionality. When they don't heat the cylinder properly, it will hard start.
    – CharlieRB
    Apr 26, 2017 at 12:31
  • No, in the video the engine does not start. It cranks a couple times then the starter becomes disengaged. Yes, I am allowing the glowplugs to heat - glowplug cycle time is automatically controlled on this engine based on ambient air temp. All four glowplugs are good. In fact, they even throw a CEL on this particular vehicle when one has an open circuit.
    – Tedwin
    Apr 26, 2017 at 15:15
  • Right at 9 seconds in that video the engine fires but does not sustain itself. I do not believe you have a starter issue. If the glow plugs are working, but not properly, it could cause an issue. Next time it is cold, try a double glow plug cycle; turn the key on and allow glow plug cycle to complete, key off and right back on to allow glow plug cycle again, then start. If it starts right up there may be something wrong with the glow plug circuit. Worth a try to at least rule it out.
    – CharlieRB
    Apr 26, 2017 at 17:45
  • I can see what you mean but what happens at 9 seconds is that the starter stops turning over the engine and when the bendix pulls back from the flywheel you hear a bit of teeth gnoshing. I had the glowplugs out of the engine last weekend - all are working properly. I also adjusted my glowplug duty cycle such that they are running for a longer amount of time (I modified the ECU.) This does help cold starting and with my timing set perfectly now and the longer duty cycle I have zero-smoke startups. Unfortunately, the starter issue continues.
    – Tedwin
    Apr 26, 2017 at 19:10
  • OK. Obviously I am going on what little I can see/hear in the video. Sounds like you have been very thorough. It has been a while since I have worked on VW diesels. What about compression? Is it within the proper range(s)? That can have an affect on cold starting too. Or even fuel pressures proper?
    – CharlieRB
    Apr 26, 2017 at 19:59

1 Answer 1


Well, I have (I think) answered my own question as of this morning. I was running errands and parked the car and restarted it several times. The starter started making a weird noise and it got worse on every restart. Finally it refused to turn the engine over at all and I even let the smoke out!

After checking battery voltage and amperage to the starter to be sure I didn't have a battery issue, I ran down to the parts store and got a free starter since this one has a lifetime warranty - bought it about 15 months ago. It took me 10 mins to swap them in a grocery store parking lot and she started right up. Hopefully my weird starter-disengaging-midway-through-cranking problem goes away. Will update in a couple weeks.

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