Alternator, Starter, or Something Else?

Hello All,

My beloved 2000 Chevy Prizm has 244K miles, 161K with me behind the wheel and almost nothing done under the hood besides regular maintenance. Turned the key a few days after a 2 hour trip back home for Thanksgiving and the car wouldn’t start. Dash lights come on, fan starts to blow, and it clicks like crazy. No change when battery is hooked up to another car for a jump. About 5 years ago, I had a similar problem, and it was just connectors loose on the terminals. But I’ve checked and they seem tight. Could it be as simple as a loose cable? Or does it have to be starter or alternator? Thanks.

The battery may be bad.

How old is it?

When a battery is deeply discharged and jumper cables are attached, it may require the donating vehicle idle for a while so the car with the dead battery will start.


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So the car wouldn’t start but did the engine crank? I.e spin when the key was turned to start?

Click click click indicates no starter turning, Suggests battery, cables, or connection issues. A bad or discharged battery will not always respond to a jump. If all that checks out, could also be a bum starter. Impossible to tell from here.

The battery is pretty old (I’ve only replaced it once in those 161K miles!) and we didn’t wait more than 10 seconds with the other vehicle idling before turning the key in my car. Also, we just hit our first real cold snap here in Tennessee, but it had just the slightest struggle (like one extra second to start up) a few morning prior, and now it’s not starting.

Mustagnman, I’m not at the home where it’s parked right now, I need to listen to the clicking again, but I think the engine was cranking.

Assuming the clicking sound is a starter solenoid chatter, that usually points to a bad or discharged battery or possibly the battery cable terminals.

The fact the terminals are tight may mean nothing. They can develop a scale on the cable ends and battery posts. They should be periodically cleaned.

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I also think that the battery is discharged or possibly needs to be replaced. Remove the cable connections and use a battery post cleaning brush to thoroughly clean the contact surfaces of the clamps and the battery posts. Hopefully that will get you going again.

It may well be time for a new battery, installed with clean and tight connectors. If it does not cure this problem, another cause of non-cranking can be the copper contacts inside the starter’s solenoid. An auto electric shop will know all about it and can probably fix and test your starter, if you can take it in and reinstall it yourself.