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1996 Honda Accord with 170K miles. Replaced starter, distributor, plugs, battery about a year ago. Started having problems starting after the car was warmed up a few months ago. Usually it started up perfectly first thing in the morning. If I drove for 15-20 minutes, parked, came back 10 minutes later, when I first turned the key the dash lights up properly, I heard the fuel pump engage, and when I turned the key heard just one click -- I believe from the starter solenoid. If I then turned the key once more (maybe twice more) the car would start right up. It sounded like an electrical short of some kind to me. So, after some online sleuthing, I decided the ignition switch was the most likely culprit. Before that I took it to the shop who installed a new TPS sensor, saying that was the problem. The problem started again almost immediately. Bought a new ignition switch, installed it no problems, and two days later it did it again. It has been back at it for the last couple of months since installing the new ignition switch, but is now getting worse. It still generally starts up perfectly first thing in the morning after sitting all night, but now when I got to start again (even after it's been sitting for 3 hours), it is taking multiple tries to get to start, and sometimes has a hesistant/rough start to it.

I have had 3 starters put on this car in the past 4 years - literally once a year a new starter. Now I'm starting to wonder if it ever really was those starters. Occassionally up until now I'd have a similar problem - I'd turn the key, just one click, but as soon as I turned the key again it would start up fine. On a couple of occassions (before replacing the ignition switch), it did a really rough start, idled very low/rough, and the shifter was stuck in park - I had to use the shift release to get out of park. But the shifter only ever stuck in park when I had the rough start/rough idle issues, which is what lead me to believe the problem was somewhere in the electrical system.

I've done more looking online, and some things point to maybe a bad main relay, however most folks who describe a problem with the main relay have starting issues involving cranking that won't start. Not the case here - I get nothing, no crank at all. Some people are telling me its the starter, but seriously, no one has to have a new starter put on their car every single year. My logic is telling me it's something else entirely that I'm missing, something somewhere in the electrical system that is not making connection.

Any ideas? Thanks a bunch.

  • A bad starter or ignition relay can cause intermittent issues involving both clicking and turning without starting. You can research which slot holds the relay(s) and swap with the spare. Also, try starting in neutral and test the consistency of that method. – Mustangguy809 May 10 '17 at 21:26
  • try jumping power to the starter s terminal after the engine is hot. pgmfi relay problems tend to occur when the in car/ambient temp is high. i'd also be interested in seeing a cranking voltage drop test on the engine ground when the problem happens. some brands of aftermarket parts are junk so if your starter was always replaced with the same brand it may well be that the starter solenoid is faulty. – Ben May 10 '17 at 21:52
  • Thanks for the input. Given that it usually happens when the car is warm I'm leaning toward a relay or switch malfunction. I had the problem twice yesterday evening, and each time was able to start it in neutral, but don't know if it's because of the neutral safety switch or because that was just the magic try for it to start. I'm under rain today, and forecasted through saturday here, so I won't be able to do any poking around until later this weekend, so I'll test the neutral start v. park start and see if I can get any consistency there. But thanks alot for the input. – cah May 11 '17 at 15:16
  • came online to see if i should replace ignition switch or the ignition switch relay.Now i know thanks to your questions so thanks. Leave your door open theres two button covers put finger on bottom cover turn key you will feel vibration if it is relay. Although you can feel vibration here this is NOT the bolt needed to be removed it will be underneath on a L bracket. – user50039 Jun 30 at 20:16
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I would test the circuit to see what is happening at all points to better determine what is happening. I am not super familiar with your setup there, so I will assume your setup is basically:
battery -> fuse -> ignition switch -> starter relay -> starter.
First thing to do would be to make sure your battery connection is clean and tight. The starter draws more power than anything, and needs a good connection to work.

Next, follow the circuit. If you can test it when it is not working, that would be excellent. You can use a test light. I've built a few of my own test lights with an LED, some wire and alligator clips. The alligator clips allow me to leave the test light connected, so I can watch it every time and ensure what is happening.

You want to back probe each device in the circuit. Depending how the starter relay is installed, you may need to remove it to test. A wiring diagram will be very useful here.

Your ignition switch should have a wire that goes to the starter relay - test it at the ignition switch and at the relay. The relay has 4 connections - positive input from the ignition switch, ground, input from the battery, and output to the starter. When it receives a signal from the ignition switch, connects the input from the battery to the starter.

A couple other places I can think of. There is a very large positive cable going to the starter, make sure this cable is in good shape and tight on both ends. Next would be the neutral safety switch. The way this is connected depends on if you have an automatic or manual transmission. on manual transmission vehicles, it is on the clutch pedal. On automatics, it is on the shifter to check that you are in park or neutral. You can try shifting between gears (or pressing the pedal) to see that the circuit is opening and closing correctly.

Finally, if all this checks out - your always getting a signal to the starter solenoid, connections are good, then your starter is to blame. You might want to see if your starter has a warranty you can trade in on.

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