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97 Nissan Altima - Car wont start - No sound

I have a 1997 Nissan Altima. I tried starting my car this morning. The warning lights come on but when I turn the ignition the car makes no sound at all. No clicking. Nothing. The radio and headlights work (I didn’t try the wipers).

The battery charges at 12.6 volts so I’m assuming it’s not a dead battery.

At this point is the starter the only remaining issue? Can I rule out a bad/loose battery terminal since the radio and headlights work?

Try moving the shift lever to neutral and then turning the ignition key.
If the engine turns over and starts, that is your clue that the neutral safety switch is bad.
There are other possibilities, but this is the one that I would focus on first.

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No, you can’t rule out the battery cables or a bad battery for that matter.

Your comment

concerns me. Does this mean the battery, engine off is showing 12.6 volts? Or charges TO 12.6 volts on a charger? If so, the battery would seem to be OK. If this is the voltage you get when the car is running, the alternator is likely bad since that number should be about 14.5 volt when the battery is charging.

The cables may be able to carry enough current to run the lights or that connection is from separate wire. The cable to the starter may be bad or the starter itself may be bad. Check the voltage at the battery with the ignition turned to the start position. Does the voltage drop to about 9 volts with no click? Likely bad starter. Drop way below 9 volts? Likely bad battery (a surface charge is fooling you). Check the grounds and the main positive to the starter. Check for voltage at the starter. Remove it and check for resistance and corrosion. First places to start before removing the starter and having it checked.

Yes, with the car engine off I test the battery and get 12.6 volts.

I check the battery with a voltage meter with the ignition off. So you’re saying put the ignition in the start position and the volts should show less than 12.6?

It’s something to try. If the wiring or starter is open, the voltage would not change. If it does, that gives us a clue.

Best is to check the voltage at the starter terminals (there are two, check each) while attempting to start the engine. Use the starter case as the voltage reference point, ie, connect the negative meter lead there.

If you turn the ignition to start you might see a very slight drop because of dashboard lights coming on and the fuel pump may want to come on as well in anticipation that you will start the car.

You could always try the old backyard method. Have someone attempt to start the car while you give the starter a light but swift bump with a hammer. If the starter has a problem you might be able to activate the solenoid with that bump. If indeed it does starts you might as well replace the starter because it might not start again the next time you try it.

In order, I’d check trying it with shifter in neutral (if it works bad safety switch), battery connections (remove, clean, retighten), battery cables (are they corroded?), if those don’t work you’ll need to test if starter is getting voltage. If it is, then I’d suspect a bad starter/starter solenoid. If it isn’t, it might be a bad ignition switch.

Dumb question folks since I’ve never done it. I can put my car in neutral without turning the engine on by just pressing on the brake and shifting gear to neutral? Do I need/should put the key in the start position?

The key needs to be in the ‘unlocked’ position, the first click. Not the ‘start’ position.

In order to get power to the starter the ignition switch passes voltage through some sort of transmission safety switch. Depending on what kind of transmission you have will determine where the safety switch is at. If you have a manual transmission the switch should be on the clutch pedal. If you have a automatic then the switch works with the shift lever. Power passes through the safety switch and then to the starter solenoid which switches power to the starter motor when power is applied to the solenoid coil.

The trouble you are having is most likely due to the safety switch not working correctly, not the starter. If you apply power directly to the starter solenoid ignition wire lead and the starter works that way it will prove the starter portion is okay. For your safety you have to be careful doing that as it bypasses the safety switch. Mechanics have a remote switch to make that kind of simple test so they are clear of the car when they press the switch.

I don’t know if this uses a Denso starter. If it does, these symptoms are consistent with worn starter solenoid contacts, common in starters this old. Easy to check: See if voltage is reaching the main starter connection when the key is turned. If it is, then the problem is in the starter.

Ok so I put the car in neutral and the car was able to start ok. I let it run a bit and then shut it down. I then waited a few minutes and tried starting the car (while in park) and now it starts ok. I shut the engine and waited several minutes and tried again and it started up again. I didn’t attempt to actually drive the car.

So my question is…what is/was the problem? I was expecting the car not to start after putting it in park from the initial neutral test unless I put it in neutral again.

Did putting it in neutral trigger something? Is it considered “ok” for now? Thanks for all your help guys.

I should note BEFORE I tried putting it in neutral I did clean the terminal and bang the battery terminal a little with the hammer. I tried starting it and it didn’t work.

The park/neutral/transmission range switch is wearing out.

This switch tells the computer what gear the transmission is in, it turns on the back-up lights when the transmission is shifted into reverse, and it prevents the starter from operating unless the transmission is in park or neutral.

If you continue to have problems starting the engine while the transmission is in park, that’s a sign to replace the switch.


Sounds like the switch. But did you try banging the starter? Don’t hit the battery with a hammer, it could damage it.

Like the others, I also think the safety switch is the cause of the trouble.