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1999 Infiniti i30 won't start

It was having trouble turning over for a few weeks, getting progressively worse, but we just didn’t have time to look it over. Well, it finally died–now if I turn the key a couple times we got a grinding noise but mostly just nothing at all. The lights, radio, etc all turn on though so we were sure it wasn’t the battery. Thinking it was the starter, we pulled that out and took it down to Advanced Auto Parts, but they ran a test on it and said it was still good. So we put that back in the car and brought them the battery instead–they tested it and said it was charging and holding voltage but not amperage, and that, that would mean the lights and things could come on but it wouldn’t have enough kick to actually start the car. So, we bought a new battery, went home, and popped it in. Still, nothing. My friend says it’s not the alternator because with a fully charged battery the car would start even if the alternator wasn’t right (and would just die in a couple days, at which point you’d know you needed to replace the alternator) and my car’s still not starting. The last thing we tried before we gave up for the moment last night was checking fuses in the driver’s side of the car and also under the hood, the handful we thought could be related to the starter, alternator, and/or battery, but they all looked good. Does anyone have any ideas of what else it could possibly be? I don’t want to give up and take it to a shop yet, but even if I did, I have no good way to get it to one at this point.

The only other thing I read about online with Infinitis was that if the security system was activated it wouldn’t start, however, while I noticed the light for it is flashing which I’m not sure if that was normal before or not, I THINK if it is activated it would be solid red, and at any rate, I tried what I read online to unlock it (put key forward for 5 seconds, then off, repeat 2 more times, then try to start) and that didn’t do anything either.

When you turn the key you say you get a grinding noise. Does that seem to come from the starter?

Have you put a socket or wrench on the pulley bolt and tried to turn the engine by hand? Did you check the negative cable for connection at the block? Have you tried to jump start it?

Okay, so here’s the update–I think grinding noise was probably the wrong word, my friend says probably what I’m hearing is the alternator buzzing when I try to start it. We have tried to jump start it, no success. Today we checked the wiring down to the starter–even thought in Advanced Auto parts the starter engaged and spun the gearing, in the car it engages, but it does not spin. The wiring is carrying power down to the starter, so it isn’t that there is a mis-connectiong somewhere between there and the battery. We also tried using cables to make sure it wasn’t a grounding issue, car still didn’t start with that. Thanks for the suggestions so far (I’m an amateur but learning a lot about cars from this, my two friends who’ve been working on it are more the car guys).

There shouldn’t be any noise from the alternator when the engine isn’t starting. Are you sure it is coming from there? I almost doubt it.

There really is only one wire connection between the battery and the starter: that big fat cable. The ground is carried through the frame and engine to the starter.
On top of the starter, there’s a solenoid. It has a thinner connection and a ground strap to the starter. Get a cheap multimeter (harbor freight will do at $5), set it to DC volts. Measure from the starter body to the fat connection. You should see 12V there at all time. If you don’t, move the ground to the negative terminal of the battery. If you now see 12V there at all time, you have a bad ground between the starter and the battery somewhere.
If you still don’t see 12V, you have a bad connection on that fat cable. Either the terminal on either end can be making bad contact.

If you do see 12V on the fat lead of the starter, move to the thin wire on the solenoid and measure between it and ground. You should see 12V when you start the car. If you do, move the negative lead to the body of the solenoid and make sure you still have 12V there when starting. If you now don’t see 12V, the ground strap to the solenoid may be making bad conect.

If you don’t see anything between what should be ground and that thinner lead, you could have an interlock or ignition switch problem.
Report back.

If the starter is engaging but not turning the engine over then it sounds like the engine is locked up.

Ah I see what you mean, cougar… It engages in the car - I missed that nugget. Yea, sure sounds like @cougar is right.
Can you turn the engine by hand by putting a socket onto the main pulley?

Checked the engine, we were able to turn it over manually. The starter still clicks forward but doesn’t spin. We checked all of the wiring mentioned above, they all are getting full power. Originally thought somewhere was wrong with batter, it was measuring at 8 volts, then thought maybe there was an electrical short drawing on the ground cable, then later it measured at 11, 10, 12, eventually realized multimeter was breaking and the electrical issue was not real (at any rate, the amount of power registering from the battery itself matched all over the cable, so when we fixed it, everywhere was actually reading at slightly over 12 volts). Also checked the ground all the way to where it ends in the car, it was all in good shape. Tried jumping from the battery right to the solenoid, thereby clearing the ignition system (car still didn’t start, solenoid made the same click I can hear when I try to turn the car on). Is it possible at all that somehow even though the starter clicked forward and spun the gear when they hooked it up at Advanced Auto Parts, that the starter is still bad? We feel like we’re back at square one. Thanks for your help!

When cranking there should be around 10.5 volts on both leads to the starter, from those leads right on the starter, to the starter case, which is ground. There’s some lee-way, but if there’s less than 9.5 volts the starter usually won’t crank at all. That’s the first place I measure when I have this problem with my Corolla.

You should see a voltage drop of about two volts at the starter when it is working. If there is 12 volts at the starter post while it is on then something isn’t right with the starter. Not enough current is flowing. Perhaps it tests fine without a mechanical load on it but it can’t drive the engine. I suggest you replace the starter and see if that helps.

I agree. That starter is highly suspect.
Under load that thing may be drawing too much current. Maybe there’s some appreciable voltage drop internal to it when you’re starting. It could have a higher than normal resistance somewhere internal to the starter and when it draws current under load, the voltage drops across it such that the starter is starving and can’t turn over.

You could take the starter out and try it yourself on the bench but that may not prove that it isn’t bad in your case. I bet @cougar is right. That’s really the only thing left, if the appropriate voltage gets to the starter and solenoid and it has a good ground.

If that’s a particularly expensive starter, do a search on ebay for it. There are several today for under $70.

So it turns out it was the starter! Argh, I can’t believe we had it at the very beginning, so much time could be saved–it turns out, when I got it tested, although their machine read that it was good, the gear was spinning much too slowly for it to actually start the car–I was not knowledgeable enough to realize this, but this second time we pulled it out and I took it to a place to test it and buy a new one, the guy said this was the issue. The difference was very visible with the new starter (gears were visible while spinning with old one, and a blur on the new one) and my car is finally working! Thanks so much everyone for all your help!

Glad you got it fixed. Thanks for the update.

I have continue to experience similar problems with my 2000 Infiniti i30, only now I have replaced 3 starters and an alternator. After each time (I was stranded in 4 different locations when it refused to start) I would have it towed and a part replaced and it would work fine for a couple of months and then it dies again. When the alternator went out last time the car would rev when I had it idling anywhere until it overloaded and died, jump starting the battery got it going but it would only last about 5 minutes before it was dead again. Now the car is starting to do that revving again and by now I can tell when it’s going to die. Any suggestions?

This thread is over 13 months old. It would be more efficient to start a new one