98 Jeep Grand Cherokee wont start

Hi, love hearing this show but rarely seem to catch it here in Charleston, SC. Wish I could call in, but of course, life throws wrenches at inconvenient times.

I have a 1998 Jeep grand Cherokee 5.2L 4x4 (4WD doesn’t work, but whatever…it’s flat here!). 185k on the milage. On Monday morning, out of nowhere, it seems, my JGC will not start. All the lights in the interior work, dash indicators, headlamps, etc.

I immediately suspected that the battery must be low and a jump would do me ok. I didn’t feel like dealing with it then so I rushed off to work borrowing the wife’s car.

Around lunchtime, I drove home and attempted a jump. Still same issue. Key goes in ignition, lights come on but when I turn the key, there is only a click sound. No turnover, no overly noticeable “bad” sounds (to my novice ear).

I removed the battery, had it tested. Passed. Removed the starter, tested as well (Auto Zone) passed. Have attempted to replace relays but can’t match up exactly. I replaced the starter relay under the hood with the horn relay (same part number) still no go.

Research on the web suggested it could be a “neutral safety switch.” Have had a hard time locating, but have made sure all connections that resemble it are snug going to the side of the transmission.

A short bit of background: over the last few months, I had to have the steering gear box replaced and an oxygen sensor replaced along with alignment and new tires. Thought that would be it and keep this car going for several more years.

The last thing I did with the car on Sunday was to remove some items from my car as it was getting ready to freeze outdo. I did set the alarm off. I did not start it after that until the next morning. Just simply hit the unlock button which stopped the alarm.

Utterly stumped and wife is getting sick of playing Mom here driving me around.

Any suggestions?

FYI, when I removed the starter, I cleaned thoroughly. There was a lot of caked up grime/oil. It sits very close to the oil filter which has either leaked, is leaking or I was clumsy when replacing last.

A bad neutral safety switch won’t make a click sound. If it was the neutral safety switch the lights would not flicker. I would look for corroded cables or cable connections esp. on the ground side.

Thanks for the info and pointer. I did clean off the battery terminals as best I could. Other than inspecting the connections to the starter and battery, I guess I am not wise enough to know where else to look. The lights don’t flicker, however. That is, the headlights. I turn the key, dash indicators, radio, computer lights go off until I release the ignition. Not sure if that provides more info.

Anytime you want to check out the neutral safety switch, just put the car in neutral and then try to start it. If it is the switch then it should start from N rather than P.

But, as noted, the clicking does point to a different kind of problem. Peel back some of the insulation from the battery cables and look for corrosion hiding out underneath. If you find it then replace the cables.

If you’re careful you can temporarily bypass your cables with a set of jumper cables just to see.

Hmmm ok I think I see what you guys are getting at.

So if there was some corrosion underneath that inulation, I still would get power no problem inside the car?

I’ll take a look at that first thing. Thanks for the suggestion.

To bypass the ground cable, clamp jumper cable ends, both pos. and neg. to some metal on the engine, like a bracket. Clamp the other ends of the cable to the negative battery terminal. Sometimes the negative cable is much cheaper and corrodes first. If the engine starts, you know what to do. Also, remove and scrape the body end of the engine to body ground wire and reconnect it.

Try holding the key to start while you wiggle the shifter in neutral and park. If it starts (or tries to), it’s the neutral safety switch. If it does not, it still could be the switch. You cannot tell if the switch is bad by looking at the connections. It could also be a bad starter relay, bad ignition switch, or wiring problem. (you said the starter was tested) It’s unlikely though that you have corrosion “under the insulation” on your wiring, except possibly very close to the terminal at the end.

Just tried this solution. No go. Inspected the wiring best I could. It is fairly clean. Very little corrosion or noticeable issue. Still cleaned off a bit more. Sill just a click. Battery still powering interior well. I cannot trace the body end of the ground wire. It’s still not too bright outside though…

I tried this like a madman when I first saw this as a potential issue. No response. I am suspecting either a bad relay that my untrained eye can’t track down or the actual ignition switch. The latter is starting to make a bit more sense since the steering column was removed before to replace the gear box…

Turned out to be the power contact at the starter. Removed starter, contact cleaner in the lead itself, put back on and it started right up.

Thanks so much for all your help!