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2003 Aerio SX AWD starting problem

Hey everyone,

Last Sunday, I just purchased a 2003 Aerio SX AWD for my wife. I got it with this issue, hence a low price, but I want to ask for opinions before I start replacing parts.

The car starts sometimes, and other times it doesn’t start and just clicks over, like the solenoid doesn’t get enough power.

I got receipts from the previous owner showing a new starter, alternator, and battery all within the last 8 months. The previous owner was trying to figure out this issue, and got tired and gave up and so she sold it.

I took it down to Auto Zone for a free battery, alternator and starter test and the the person checked it with the tester, and said that the battery was overcharged, and that it was at the end of its life. Alternator tested good, but starter tested bad. When it starts, it cranks right up, no turning over multiple times before starting.

My hunch is that its the voltage regulator feeding too much power to the battery, but an overcharged battery should still allow the car to start correct?

Thanks for reading my long post and I appreciate any help you guys can give!

Sometimes you get what you pay for. I would bite the bullet and take it to a reputable garage to have checked out.

It is possible that the new remanufactured starter that was installed was bad as well. I had this happen to me. I was not to happy that I had to replace a starter twice on a car that was such a PIA to replace.

Your description of the symptoms is a little confusing. You said “other times it doesn’t start and just clicks over, like the solenoid doesn’t get enough power.” Farther down you said sometimes it’s “turning over multiple times before starting.”

Those sound like two different symptoms. Sometimes the starter isn’t cranking at all? And other times it cranks fine but the engine doesn’t start, or has to crank several seconds before starting? Is that correct?

Hey guys thanks for the input! Jesmed, I meant no turning over multiple times, when it starts, it starts. When it doesn’t start, it only clicks, no cranking.

My thinking about the voltage regulator was because of the overcharging.

If the alternator is overcharging, the battery won’t survive long

It sounds as if the starter is faulty, but only at times

I agree with @americar . . . take it to a reputable shop and have it diagnosed

Well, yes, a faulty voltage regulator could cause overcharging of the battery, and if severe enough could damage the battery. This is usually a simple thing for a mechanic to check for and give a yes/no. On most modern cars the voltage regulator is part of the alternator. Not sure about yours. If the alternator tested good, and the VR is part of it, then the VR is probably ok.

Could an overcharged battery make the car not crank? Maybe. Maybe the prior owner overcharged it with a battery charger. Batteries should be given a “load test” to determine their condition. That’s the best way. Are you certain this is what was done? A load test can be done with the battery removed from the car. Maybe remove the battery and take it to AutoZone with you in another car or Sears and/or ask them to do a load test on it. If the load test shows it is failing, and both AutoZone and Sears agree, buy a new one. That alone might fix the problem.

Determining the condition of the starter motor is best done by measuring the voltage at both electrical terminals of the starter motor during attempted cranking. Is that what was done for you?

These “click” problems can sometimes be simple to solve, just cleaning the battery terminals sometimes will fix it. But they can get very involved to solve too. Usually once the problem is discovered, the fix isn’t that expensive. But finding what’s broken can be time consuming. It sounds like you’ve done the simple stuff and still have the problem. Other than what’s mentioned above, maybe time to call in a pro. I expect a pro could get to he bottom of this and get you back on the road fairly quickly.

If you want to keep an eye on your charging system status you can plug a simple voltmeter into your cigarette lighter. These things are pretty basic but they will tell you if/when the battery is being overcharged.

I’d plug one of those in and keep an eye on it before replacing a battery or alternator since it’s a lot less expensive. If it stays “green” then your voltage regulator is OK. If not, you can get that sorted out.

I’ll try talking it to sears for another battery starter test. The person at autozone connected the tester to only the battery, not the starter. She said that it was able to test the batt, starter and alt only by connecting it to the batt. No cranking was needed she said. She said the batt was overcharged, the alt is ok, and the starter is bad. But when it starts, it cranks really strong.

I don’t think it is possible to get a comprehensive assessment of the starter motor by measuring only the battery voltage and outgoing current during attempted cranking. For example, a bad connection could cause the current to be too low during cranking, but that wouldn’t be the starter motor fault. That would be a connection problem. If the starter current measured too high, that would be more indicative of a starter motor problem, like a shorted coil or it is locking up for some reason, but could also be caused by a circuit short.

Yeah I think so too, that’s why I want to get another shop to take a look at it. The dealer did put in a reman starter, then starter then battery. But new or reman stuff can come with defects too I know.

Outsourced reman part quality is a common source of complaints here. About 8 months ago I installed a reman starter in my Corolla, and it turned out to be bad. I removed it, took it back to the parts store where they verified it was bad and – after a little dust up with the manager there – got my money ($110) back. Then I took my existing (non-working) starter to a local auto electric shop, and they fixed it in 15 minutes while I waited, and charged me $10! Not $100. $10. Other than the trouble of removing/reinstalling the reman starter, no worries, and saved myself $100. If it turns out your reman starter is bad, and you still have the original, consider that route maybe.

Will a bad starter have a hard time turning over the engine? I ask because when it works, the car starts right up with no issues.

It could be a poor quality rebuild

I agree, it could simply be a bad solenoid in a badly rebuilt starter.

Another possible issue could be with the main power wire to the starter solenoid. Since other things have been replaced in an effort to fix this issue that very well could be what the real problem is. Internal wire corrosion at the battery clamp is a fairly common issue. By checking the voltage at the solenoid while the trouble is happening will tell the story. If the voltage there is less than 11 volts while in the START mode then the wire is bad. If the voltage is higher and the solenoid is working then either the solenoid has a problem of the starter has an intermittent problem.

I’m ordering a multi meter now to check it. Will report back what I find!

That is one of the best tools you can own. It doesn’t even need to be expensive but I suggest you get the best one you can easily afford. Sears has some good ones for reasonable prices. Getting one that can handle 10 amps of current can be handy when current needs to be checked.

Hey Cougar, I got my multimeter, but I am not too good with mechanics, I can’t see where to put the leads for the solenoid to check voltage. I might have to get at it from under the car. Battery is at 12.2V when car is off, it doesn’t start currently, so I need to jump it and see where it’s at while running.

On another note, while I was looking at the engine bay, I found a ground wire that was ripped off. Does this look familiar to anyone? Is it very important, enough to prevent the car from starting?

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For reliable starting the engine must be properly grounded to the car chassis, and the chassis to the battery ground. That ground in the photo looks suspicious, but the main ground from the engine to the chassis usually wouldn’t be at that location. It would usually be under the engine, from the engine case, or the transmission case, a thick wire from there to the chassis. I don’t think that ground in your photo would cause the starting problem you are after. (But it could cause some other problem, and needs to be investigated why it is missing.)

If the engine isn’t grounded properly, it will show up at a low voltage in the voltage tests (during attempted cranking) at the starter motor, provided you measure between the terminal on the starter (everything plugged in like normal) and the starter case.

12.2 volts on the battery? Usually I expect something closer to 12.5 volts with the engine off and the car has been sitting overnight. 12.2 v seems a little low, esp if this is when the battery is above 60 degrees. Is the battery fully charged and have you had a load test done on it? Battery chemistries vary, and 12.2 v may be fine for the one you got, but it is a little suspicious.

One caution: If you are new to doing this kind of testing, you’d serve yourself best by finding someone with experience to help you, show you the ropes, the first time you do it. Otherwise you risk damaging something that isn’t now damaged, or could even injure yourself. Starting currents are very high, in the 100 Amp range, and represent a lot of power. Starter motors are rated in the KW range and are very powerful. And batteries that are rapidly discharged due to a short can explode.