'02 Impala 3.4L, 170.3k: Sudden NO-START yesterday morning

'02 Impala 3.4L, 170.3k: Sudden NO-START yesterday morning

Bought this car brand new in 2002. All original parts except battery, intake gaskets (of course), plugs, wires, radiator and hoses, coolant level sensor, brake pads, can’t think of anything else…

Went out in the AM (8:30) to go to work (clear weather), opened the driver’s door, had a mouth full of mouthwash (typical) that I needed to spit out, decided to start the car first, so I turned the key - NOTHING (no click, no nothing), door was still open, foot was off the brake (figured that was it), closed the door, put my foot on the brake, turned the key - STILL NOTHING. Radio worked, fan worked, headlights looked strong, battery (side) terminals clean as a whistle. Suspecting the starter (original part), went back inside to grab a hammer, but had to roll the car back away from my '89 Colt (a statue since '02) so I could shimmy underneath. Tried the key first, just for kicks, and the car started!! Drove to work, car re-started when I got there (twice - once for gas along the way, another after parking it). Drove home, started two more times going out to eat, and started fine this morning.

So which is it:

1.) Transmission selector? I didn’t think to try starting the car in NEUTRAL. Did rolling the car back manually 3’ somehow effectively do the same thing?

2.) The Starter? There was no ‘click’ when I turned the ignition key. NOTHING. That’s why I suspected the starter. But #1 probably cuts out the starter all together, right?

3.) Low fuel? Probably not, right? I only mention this because I drove home from work the night before with the LOW FUEL message lit. I’ve done this many times before over the years because it’s only 27 miles home and I know the message appears with 2 gallons remaining (which is worth about 40 miles, conservatively speaking). The next morning I probably only had 1.5 gallons in the tank (but maybe less). Could I have a weak fuel pump (also original part), and rolling the car caused the fuel to swish around in the tank, aiding the start? I drove the car about 16 miles back to work on this 1.5 gallons left and stopped to fill up, so the tank is full right now.

Oh- there are a couple of codes on the computer: 102 and 442. One of them (442, I believe) has been there since I cleaned the throttle body out about a year ago. The other one (102) is new … but looks to be another cleaning issue (MAF ?). Both probably un-related to this starting problem, right?

The problem might be with the park/neutral safety switch. Afterall, you did have to move the shift lever in order to move the vehicle. This alone could be enough where the worn contacts in the switch made good contact again when the shifter was placed back into park.



Good to hear from you again. Yeah - that’s why I listed it #1. I figured this would be the leading candidate.

Also wanted to add that the SECURITY message was "not* illuminated, because this happened about 5-6 years ago and the car wouldn’t start, wife called me at work, but by the time I got there it suddenly started. Same kind of symptoms this time, but no message.

So if I don’t get to this switch soon (assuming this is the problem), and moving the selector in and out of PARK and NEUTRAL doesn’t allow me to start the car, is there a workaround - like bypassing the switch - that I can do in the pinch?


When you turned the key and it didn’t start, did the dome light go dim?

Just because you didn’t hear the starter solenoid click, doesn’t guarantee the starter is good . . .

The park/neutral safety switch isn’t just that. It’s a multifunction switch. This switch also turns on the back-up lights when the transmission is put into reverse, and is the transmission range switch which tells the computer what gear the transmission is in. So if the park/neutral portion of the switch has failed the switch requires replacement.



The dome light (which is actually on the underlip of the rear-view mirror) isn’t noticeable during the daylight hours. I would’ve had to have noticed it when I turned the key the first time with the door open (and I did not). The 2nd time, the door was closed, so the light had gone out. It doesn’t appear that the battery is the problem, though, if that’s what you’re getting at. The battery is only 14 months old (although that doesn’t necessarily mean the battery is good … but it probably is).


That figures … do you know offhand if this switch is in the engine or passenger compartment?

Not even a click? That sounds like the transmission selector safety switch to me. It may just need some adjustment. Sometimes you can get it to start by pushing or pulling on it a little, to move it off-center from the transmission détente. Try that in both Park and Neutral. Worth a try anyway.

I don’t see how low fuel could be the cause. With low fuel it would crank, but not start.

It could be a security thing though. Maybe ask a dealer if there is a way to bypass the security for diagnostic purposes.

There’s a small chance it is the starter motor. If the pull-in coil was faulty, higher than normal resistance say, the first time you try to start, it could fail to work, but in the process it would heat up the coil, and a thermal expansion from that could expand the wires given a little time, and cause it to work the next time possibly. Doubtful, but possible.

A mechanic would measure the voltage at both starter terminals during attempted cranking. If both meet the spec for the starter motor, then the problem is the starter motor. If not, the mechanic would work backwards toward the ignition switch from there. That process would guarantee to find the problem eventually.


I’m not really thinking about the battery

If the domelight goes out when you turn the key to start, at least you know everything up to the starter is working fine.

Door is open
Dome light is on
You turn the key to start
Nothing happens
No click heard
Dome light does not turn off or even get dim

In that scenario, no voltage reached the starter and you’ve possibly got a more serious problem




Why did you send me that?

You know from previous posts that I am a professional wrencher, and to answer the specific issue, I’ve replaced a few neutral safety safety switches

You seem to feel the neutral safety switch is the problem?

You may very well be right, but I feel there’s a fair chance the starter is not long for this world.

What everybody has to remember is this:

Only OP has access to the car
All of our advice is based on whatever OP tells us
Perhaps we have the full story
Perhaps every single little detail was told
Perhaps something, seemingly inconsequential, was left out
It’s sometimes not that easy to diagnose a car over the web

I’m sure we all could diagnose the car much more efficiently if it was in our shop

That said, I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again

Perhaps this time

Perhaps next time


It was a total accident.

I was reading ColtHero’s post, was interupted, and when I returned i was reading your post and confused the two.

I’m guessing my computer thrown swiveled when I got up, hit the keyboard, and switched from CH’s post to yours.




No problem

I suppose I was just confused

It may be the neutral switch, but I’m still betting on starter. They go bad much more than the switch. Any little jiggling can unstick the solenoid or move the brushes and make it work for a while longer.