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It began with a turn of the ignition... and a click. No start, no attempt to turn, just a click. It would usually turn over the second time. I thought it might be the starter relay replaced and no change. I replaced the battery. No change.

Then it did something super weird. After a click no start, it would sometimes start and fail to disengage the starter. You could hear the thing whining as the engine ran. I quickly turned the ignition off... but the starter just kept on going. I had to disconnect the terminal on the battery to stop it. Lots of sparks.

It would eventually turn over, properly disengaging the starter, but the issue persisted on and off for some weeks.

This morning, it did the weird thing where the starter would not stop, and then it began to smoke. I burned my fingers trying to disconnect the battery, but eventually got the thing off.

Now I'm stuck with no way to start. I can't afford a repair for a couple more weeks, and... yeah. Life is grand.

I also found a small rubber cylinder that I at first mistook for a bolt, lying near the starter. It seems to have some electrical damage to teo metal prongs the go into it. It appears to be hollow, and slightly melted. Theres a small rectangular hole on the other end. I have no idea what this is, where it goes or what it does.

Based on the location I found it, it had to have afllen off when the car failed to start this morning, because any motion of the car would have made it roll out of the engine compartment and into the street.

There is a parasitic draw, but I can't isolate it. I suspect it is in the starter itself, or the wiring going to it. I couldn't tell if the smoke was from the starter or the wiring.

I haven't tried starting it again. I don't want to set my car on fire.

strange rubber part

  • You've replaced the starter relay and the battery... since you're keen on "throwing parts at the problem", how about just go ahead and replace the starter? Can't hurt and is certainly as likely to help as any of the other things you've done. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 19:26
  • Do they have pick-n-pull/used you-pull-it parts places in your town? That's the place to go for a part you don't want to pay retail for. Look for a wrecked one, that way you know it didn't come in for mechanical trouble. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 19:56
  • Stick shift or auto? – Caius Jard Jan 31 at 21:04
  • Automatic transmission. – kerbaled Jan 31 at 22:20
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Whether it was the starter or not that was causing the issue, it certainly now needs replacing. The fallen part is a breather, there are often two on these starter motors, one on the solenoid cavity, and one on the end head that covers the brush gear. It's fallen off because the innards nearby have gotten hot enough to melt/burn the flange that was holding it in.

enter image description here

There's a big copper contact bar inside the solenoid housing, on the end of the moving plunger, once the pinion has meshed with the ring gear, it closes onto two contacts, one is connected to the stud that the cable from the battery is attached to, the other goes to the motor. It's likely that either the solenoid plunger has stuck, possibly from corrosion or debris, or the contact bar has welded itself onto the contact studs.

Traditional 'fix' for these sticking contacts was to rap on the solenoid housing with a wrench until it freed itself, but I've seen some that had been rapped so much that the housing had broken. Given that the big stud is permanently live, and shorting it to the grounded housing will cause a lot of fireworks, it needs some care. It might be enough to start it once more, but don't keep doing it. You need a new starter.

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  • Thank you. That explains the problem and the mystery part very well. Guess I got some walking to do, – kerbaled Jan 31 at 22:18

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