2001 Honda Odyssey - Problems starting

Dear Car Talk:

I’ve been having intermittent problems with my 2001 (215,000 miles) Honda Odyssey starting over the last year or so.

I started noticing something off last summer, where sometimes the car would be slow to start - it would be slow to “catch.” Everything else came on normally, and it would always get going after a nerve-racking 1.5 seconds or so. The car is driven on average once a week for a couple of miles. It was also very intermittent, and I couldn’t pinpoint any pattern as to when/why it happened. Then, over Thanksgiving, I went to start the car before a drive from D.C. to Pittsburgh, and it wouldn’t start at all. This was probably after a week or two of it not being driven.

I had AAA come, and the gentleman who came who tested the battery (was fine), banged on the starter & checked a few other things. We tried over and over to get it going to no avail (he probably worked on it for about 20 minutes). We tried turning the key quickly, everything. All of the lights came on, the windshield wipers worked, no clicking, the ignition simply wouldn’t get going. Eventually he gave up & we got it up on the truck, and unbelievably - it started. FYI - fuel wasn’t an issue, it had ½ a tank. We took it to the mechanic anyway and it started on the ground again there. They kept it for a few days, and it started up fine every time, so I brought it back home. It’s been fine until the last few weeks, when I started to notice it was slowing down again.

Today, it didn’t turn on again - like before Thanksgiving. However, unlike that day, after a few attempts & holding the key all the way forward for about 5 seconds, it kicked on. It started right up about 3 hours later on the way home.

Oil has been changed religiously throughout it’s life & the timing belt was replaced around 2013. No warning lights have been on throughout this time period. I need to have a car that can start reliably & am nervous that we’ll have another pre-Thanksgiving episode soon! Any ideas of what this could be?


I would say you need a new fuel pump. Classic symptoms, especially loading it on a tow truck and it starts just fine. Normally, if I suspected a bad pump during a no-start, I’d whack the gas tank with my fist and try to restart. If it did, replace the pump especially on an 18 year old vehicle with over 75,000 miles.


Does the engine turn over (starter motor turns the crankshaft - that rrr-rrr-rrr sound) every time you turn the key from Off to Start? Or does the starter motor only intermittently work when you turn the key from Off to Start?

No, there isn’t sound at all when I turn the key. Just the lights and AC coming on, but no engine/starter noise at all until it eventually turns on (or doesn’t).

Either the starter motor or the ignition switch would be my top suspects. If the starter solenoid is consistently getting 12 volts when the key is turned to Start, then the starter and its attached solenoid are the problem. If the starter solenoid is not consistently getting 12V when the key is turned to Start, then the ignition switch’s electrical contacts are the likely cause.

It’s not unusual for the copper contacts inside the solenoid to wear and burn, so eventually they only sporadically connect solidly and conduct the high current needed to make the starter motor run. An auto electric shop can fix this if you bring the starter in. Most repair shops want a fast turnaround time in their service bays and simply replace a bad starter motor with a new or rebuilt one.

The fuel pump and its circuitry are not involved in this problem.

The next time the engine won’t start, with ignition switch on so the dash lights are on, step on the brake pedal and shift the transmission into neutral and then try starting the engine.

If the engine starts, it points to a problem with the park/neutral safety switch.


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That is another possible reason for the 12V to not get to the starter solenoid.

Agree with shanonia on this one.The starter is 18 year old and the starter solonoid contacts are probably worned to the point the car starts interminently. If its a Denso starter,replacing the contacts and plunger is a 10 minute job after the starter is out.