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2002 Golf TDI start problem

I am having a no start problem. I get all of the dash lights, the battery is fine, and there is just nothing when the key is turned. Our 2002 Golf TDI, now, of course, almost 15 years old. The dealership detects nothing through a computer read, and I’m down to the starter, relay and neutral switch as possibilities. The battery is just 3 years old, and we are at just 68K. Can a neutral switch be tested for proper operation? Can the electrical system by tested for a starter motor or relay fault? The dealership maintains I need to await failure before they can do anything. We’ve had previous VW electrical problems w/this car - several dead batteries, complete on-board computer failure after having the car several months, way back when, and that part has been fine since then. I sold my last VW, a 1974 Karmann-Ghia Coupe, a few years ago, and these under-the-hood diesel setups are beyond me. I’d appreciate any help anyone can give.

The dealer didn’t make a few simple voltage tests with a cheap voltmeter? Takes a few minutes and would pin down the problem.

Or was it starting OK when you had it at the dealer, ie, is the problem intermittent?

The first thing to try is trying to start it in neutral.

The problem is intermittent, and, of course didn’t happen when at the dealership. In the last 7-8 days this has happened every couple days when the car is started for the first time that day — when the key is turned, one gets all of the dash lights and nothing else, no click, no crank, just silence. Then, very arbitrarily, the car starts a few minutes later and is good for the day. The dealership tested the battery charge, and it is good. No codes came up, either.

Thanks for the very prompt response — hoping you might shed some light on this,

Well, last I tried, it didn’t start in neutral. Is that relative to the switch, I’m guessing? I’m going out to the garage and give that a go again just now.

Thanks for a prompt response,

The car starts in neutral when I depress the brake pedal and then also started in park. So, not neutral park switch, I suppose.


Perhaps the neutral safety switch/range sensor is out of adjustment or loose. There could also be a poor connection at the starter solenoid, or the solenoid is bad.

Thanks, will take a look those possibilities. RH

Can you wiggle the battery cables?

This sounds a lot like a loose battery cable, or perhaps corroded battery cables. Making contact, but not good enough to supply enough juice.

Thanks, but the battery is fine. It may be the neutral switch or solenoid.


Not the battery, the battery cables. They can be corroded where you can’t see them. You need to remove them, one connection at a time, clean the surfaces where they make contact, and put them back on. You can get special wire brushes for this.

That’s a somewhat bizarre thing for a shop to say for a “no crank” problem. Perhaps they mean that’s the least expensive way to address it. But there’s quite a few tests they can do to narrow the cause down. Here’s some ideas

  • It’s pretty common this time of the year, early fall, to have complaints here of no cranks caused by the battery nearing the end of its life. As the ambient temperature cools off, that will show up a battery problem that didn’t exist in the summer. The ability of a weak battery to crank the engine is highly dependent on ambient temperature. If you live in a hot area, like Florida or New Orleans, 3 years is about how long a battery lasts. A shop can do a load test to determine if the battery is ok or not.

  • The quickest way to figure out what’s causing a no-crank in my opinion is to measure the voltage at both starter motor terminals (the start and battery terminals). This must be measured during attempted cranking, with the key in start. If both measure 10.5 volts or above, and it doesn’t crank the engine, that’s almost always a defective starter motor. It could be a defective starter solenoid, but I think on your car the solenoid is part of the starter motor and would typically be addressed by just replacing the starter motor with a new one.

The starter is probably worn out, if you can’t leave the vehicle to be diagnosed what can they tell you besides bring it back on a hook? You could choose to have the starter replaced, it won’t last forever.

Thank you, but we have just one car. It may be the solenoid or neutral switch, and the no-start happens intermittently. RH

eddo, thanks,

The cables, clamps, and battery posts are all good, and the battery test at full power.


Thanks, Bill,

The cables, clamps, and battery posts are all fine, and the battery tests at full power. It’s most likely the starter and/or neutral switch.

George, thanks for giving this so much thought.

You’re right, the shop does see this as the least expensive way.

We’re in Cleveland, and the battery cables, clamps, and posts are all fine. I’ve experienced the seasonal run-down syndrome for a battery on a couple of Volvos we had years ago. The battery tests at full power.

I will pursue your bullet #2, as we have just the one car, and I can’t leave it with them for an intermittent problem that might not occur for them at all. Anyway, I’m going to email the shop today, a VW dealership, to ask if they tested at the battery and starter motor terminals while cranking. I do think the solenoid must be part of the starter and can check on that. It may be time for a new starter.

Thanks again,

Make sure they probe between the terminal and the starter case.