Car won't start (only sometimes)

I have a 2003 Taurus wagon (a real babe magnet) that has 63K on it. On random occasions recently, I turn the key to start it and there is dead silence–no groans, no clicks, nada. This happened for the second time last week at a tire shop, and the technician had me hold the key in the start position while he tapped the starter with a metal rod, which worked miraculously. He showed me where the starter was and how to perform this miracle. Unfortunately it is a two-person job, and I was stranded the next evening alone at my house, and missed work the next day. Later that day it started right up like nothing had happened. It stranded me again two days later, and nice lady in the parking lot held the key in start position while I used my cane to tap the starter as I had been shown and voila!. I took it to the dealer and explained the problem and my temporary solution, hoping they would know from this exactly how to fix it. After four days, they said they could not duplicate the problem, that the car started right up every time they tried it. Meanwhile the car I had borrowed from a friend broke down in a busy intersection, stranding me again for a short while. I went back to the dealer and brought the Ford home, figuring there isn’t much to do but play the odds…
Logic suggests that because tapping the starter seems to get it to go, that the problem must be in the starter. Yet the guys at the dealership wouldn’t touch anything until the car refused to start for them. Where does one go (or in this case, possibly not go) from here?


If the car won’t start unless you whack on the starter, the starter is bad

No ifs, ands or buts

Go to another shop, or even the dealer, and tell them you are paying them to replace the starter

Tell them you don’t want a diagnosis

Tell them you just want them to replace the starter

If they ask why, tell them it won’t start unless you whack on the starter with your cane

If they won’t replace it, find another shop that will

Your car is 10 years old, old enough to need a starter

I wold suggest you install the highest quality part you can get, perhaps even a Ford starter

100% agree w/ @db4690 above. I expect if you ask that shop to just replace the starter, they’ll do it for you. They are probably afraid if they do, and it doesn’t fix the problem, you’ll blame them. (Remember, they do this every day for a living, and they have learned methods to avoid cranky customers like the plague. As you might expect, its no fun having customers upset with you.) So tell them you absolve them of any responsibility if replacing the starter doesn’t fix it. But from the symptoms you provide, it almost certainly will.

You could do a couple things first if you wanted. I’d probably do these things if it was my car, before replacing the starter. The starter is a high current DC motor. It draws 100 amps or more. If it doesn’t get the proper amount current, it won’t work or will at best be balky. At 100 amps, the battery must be good, and fully charged, and each electrical connection in the circuit has to have less than 0.010 ohms of resistance. That all isn’t simple to achieve. So make sure the battery has been load tested, and the battery connections are clean and shiny as a whistle. And tight. Likewise with the two connections at the starter motor.

If all that pans out, that is even more confirming of a bad starter motor. Two failure modes are common. The most common is that the solenoid contacts are worn out. Every time you start the car, it wears a little of the copper away. After 10 years, it wouldn’t be surprising they are worn out. (If so, these can be replaced with new ones at a local auto electrics shop without buying a new starter if you like, might could save some money.) The other problem – which is the one I think you have – is the commutator and brushes can wear out. DC motors have to switch the magnetic field direction to make it turn, and this is usually done with pieces of carbon making contact with an array of copper contacts on the commutator as they sweep by. Either the carbon (the brushes) wear away, or the copper wears away. The brushes can be replaced, and the commutator can sometimes be cleaned. But usually if this is the problem it is better just to buy a new starter motor.

Best of luck.

I just had the starter replaced this morning. Thanks. Hope that’s all.