Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Car won't crank at all. Electrical issue

This is a '96 Nissan Pathfinder with a manual transmission.

On a few occasions, sporadically, over the span of a couple months, my pathfinder wouldn’t start on the first turn of the key… but it would on the second or third turn. When I say “wouldn’t start,” I mean I’d get a single click and that’s it… it wasn’t trying to turn over and failing. It wasn’t cranking at all. The stereo and lights worked fine though.

Then, on two occasions about a week from each other, it failed to start (as above) right after a short drive but started again without issue a couple hours later. On these two occasions, I tried turning the lights on and starting and did not see the lights dim, which would seem to indicate no juice was getting to the start motor at all I guess?

Now, it seems to have just stopped starting altogether.

The battery voltage seems fine. A little high even at 15V+ when measured with a multimeter.

Do these symptoms give any strong indications of what the problem might be? If I have a chance of fixing it myself, I’d like to do so. Otherwise, I’d like to have a good idea of what the problem is before having it towed somewhere.

First thing I’d do is clean the battery terminals.

It could be the ignition switch.

1 Like

bad starter or starter solenoid.

This is a gas engine conventional car, not a hybrid right? If so …

The battery shouldn’t measure 15 volts if the engine is off and has been off for at least 30 minutes. It should measure in the 12-13 volt range, 12.6 volt nominal. 15 volts would only be within spec if the engine is running. If the battery actually measures that high, you may have a problem with the battery or the alternator. That’s the first priority, make sure of your battery voltage measurement accuracy and conditions under which it was measured.

Assuming you do a re-test and discover the battery measured more like 12.6 volts with the engine off, then for a no-crank you’re looking from among the following.

  • Battery posts and connectors corroded or not properly tightened.

  • Battery is kaput, won’t hold a charge. If your battery is more than 5 years old or you live in a hot area like southern Texas or Florida and it is more than 3 years old, this is suspect number one. Have it load tested, then you’ll know for sure. It’s very common this time of year for this to happen b/c the ambient temperatures are getting lower, which turns a marginal battery to a dead battery.

  • Starter motor or starter motor selenoid is bad.

  • Ignition keyswitch is bad.

  • Clutch safety switch is bad.

  • In some cases there’s an under dash relay that can cause this, but unlikely.

Assuming you’ve verified the battery is good, the next step is to ask a shop to measure the voltages at both starter motor termnals, terminal to starter case, when the key is in the “start” position. If both measure 10.5 volts or above, and the engine doesn’t crank, replace the starter motor. If either measures less than 10.5 volts, work backwards towards the battery to find out why.

It could also be the neutral safety switch.

OP’s car has a manual transmission. Manual transmission vehicles usually have a clutch safety switch, similar to the NSS function, preventing the driver from cranking the engine unless the clutch pedal is depressed.

Mike might be right, but I’m gonna go with the starter assembly guess.

The regulars here all know this, but for the OP’s sake, one of the things that happens when you turn the key to START is that an assembly in the starter assembly connects via contacts the starter motor circuits. These contacts carry the full 12VDC from the battery, and they tend to get fried over the years. Every time you engage and disengage these contacts, a tiny arc occurs as they get close enough to each other for the voltage to jump the space. The arcs are tiny, but they vaporize tiny amount of material with every arc and leave tiny amounts of carbon. That builds up and eventually interferes with the circuit.

I suspect that the “click” is the assembly moving, and the lack of the starter motor turning is the connection failing. Repeated tries can create just enough wear in the carbon to get the connections to work. Eventually it will no longer be sufficient, but that’s what I’m guessing is happening right now.