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Coincidence or Criminal Mischief

I just paid the dealership $1058.98 to replace a hose for the power steering and a belt, presumably for the air conditioner (all I know is that it doesn’t screech like a witch anymore when I start the car with the air on). So I get the car home and it begins having starting problems. It gets worse and worse until one day after work (approximately 8 days later), it wouldn’t start at all. We let it sit for the weekend and come Monday morning when it still wouldn’t start, we towed it back to the dealership. It started right up for them. So we picked it up and drove it home again(20miles) and sure enough, once we turned it off…it wouldn’t start again. This happened twice. It starts for them after a ride on Mr. Tow Truck, but won’t start if you drive it for 20 miles and then turn it off. They say it’s purely coincidental, and that my battery and starter need to be replaced. I say it’s only five years old, and my battery and starter were fine when I brought the car to them the first time. I don’t want to drop another $700 to fix a car that I was about to make my final car payment on next month. So my question is…is this a coincidence? Did they screw up my car and are just too afraid to fess up? I’m glad the tow truck driver is having a good month, but must it be at my sole expense?

Please help! I am not above begging. I don’t know what else to do. Thank you.

Five years old is a decent age for a car battery. It may well need to be replaced.

Your symptoms sound like a loose or corroded electrical connection, bad starter brushes, or worn out contacts in the starter solenoid. Of course, a bad starter could give the these symptoms. Assuming that the dealership did the correct diagnosis, I bet they are right. Your starter is bad and causing your issues. Your five/six year old battery is probably weak and should be replaced.

How long did you go with the slipping belt? That belt almost certainly drives the alternator too. Having it loose didn’t help the battery.

Do you do a lot of short trips? (Use the starter a lot?)

I usually view a simultaneous diagnosis (battery and starter in this case) with a bit of skepticism.
Before making any guesses let me ask this. When the vehicle will not start what are the symptoms?

Are there no noises (even a solenoid click sound) at all, starter motor turns the engine over slowly, etc?

Ask your neighbors and friends if they know about an honest local mechanic. These are not challenging problems.

Several chain auto parts places like Autozone or others will check you battery for free to tell if it is bad [they will do this in the parking lot]. I would get a second opinion from one of them, they may be able to check starters also. Call ahead and make sure it is a free service. My bet is they can put a new battery in cheaper than the dealer.

Yes, as a mother of five, I am constantly starting that van up to take someone somewhere, and this year I had cancer…so you can add a ton of trips to the doctor on top of all the other mom stuff my van usually has to do.

As far as the slipping belt, I only noticed it this summer when we started using the AC again. Could it have been slipping during the winter too…and we just didn’t hear it since we weren’t using the AC?

No noises at all, except everything else in the car has power. Windows move, seats move, radio comes on, etc.

Would changing the starter ourselves (my son, husband and myself) be a huge, complicated project? Recently the key cylinder on my sons car went bad and we figured out how to change it ourselves. Or would this not be a good do-it-yourselfer ?

the tow lifts one end of the car higher. so that will let any water or sludge in the gas tank move away from the pump, and then the car will start. You say it is cranking for a while until the battery dies, so I think you have a strong battery and a good starter, and the 20 mile drive home allows the battery to re-charge, which would tell me the alternator is also not failing. 1058.98 sounds might high to pay for a new hose and belt. the parts cant cost more than 50 or 60 bucks for most cars if that. I think they are jerking you around, but that is just one mans opinion.

Yes, changing out the starter is not a bad DIY project.

Thank you for your reply. The tow truck driver suggested the same thing. I forgot to mention that they did a transmission flush and an engine flush as well. Did they maybe flush something to where it shouldn’t have gone? BTW…nice screen name.

When you have a situation where the starter is inoperative and there are no noises at all this usually points to one of 2 things; either a faulty ignition switch or a faulty neutral safety switch. It’s usually the latter.

The neutral switch is what prevents the vehicle from starting in any gear except park or neutral and a faulty starter is often diagnosed instead. That’s a lack of thinking things through.
Based on no noise at all, my guess is a faulty neutral switch and this is not a rare thing at all no matter what type of car it is.

The car is at an age where the battery is nearing the end of its useful life, and might be failing, particularly if it has gone dead a time or two from lights being left on, etc.

Having a starter fail after 5 years would be unusual. We normally expect Japanese starters to last 10-15 years. Not impossible, but unusual.

A dealer’s approach to fixing any problem, particularly an electrical problem, is not to diagnose the specific problem (no money in head-scratching time), but rather to replace everything related to the system that is giving trouble. That maximizes revenue and minimizes come-backs. Any dealer that markets services that involve the word ‘flush’, other than brake fluid flush, is mostly interested in flushing your wallet. I doubt that they did anything intentionally to hurt your car, but they might possibly have removed a battery cable and forgot to retighten the clamp.

Someone mentioned a description of the way the car behaves when it fails to start. I don’t see that in this thread. Can you describe in detail what it does when it is having starting problems?

Replacing a starter often requires unusual tools to reach bolts in awkward places, but probably nothing that you cannot find at Sears, once you figure out what you need. You need some ramps to get the front of the vehicle up in the air. Disconnect the battery before touching the starter. The starter for your car costs $200 on-line, so we hope that is not needed.

Make sure that the battery clamp connections are clean and tight. Best to take them off and clean them with steel wool and put them back on. Drive the car for at least 15 minutes to charge the battery.

Then, if you have or can borrow a voltmeter, check the voltage. Should be 12.6 volts with the car turned off if the battery is well charged. If it is lower than that, it is failing or it is not being charged. Then start the car and check the voltage at the battery terminals with the car running at fast idle. It should be charging at 13.5 to 15 volts. If not, you have a charging problem (fusible link, belt, alternator, voltage regulator)

You could use an honest local mechanic who is good at starting/charging systems. If you have trouble finding one, replacing a 5-year-old battery is not money very badly spent and is definitely something you can do. I suggest Costco or WalMart for batteries. It is generally a good idea to buy a battery that is the correct case size but higher capacity than the one the book suggests. You will be carrying around a few extra pounds of battery, (more amps = more lead = heavier battery) but with maintenance-free batteries, you will find that a battery with more capacity than it needs will last several years longer, making the extra cost worthwhile.

engines can be “flushed” such as drain the oil, put in kerosene, crank over the engine, drain the kerosene, and put in a different grade or type of oil. But this is very unusual and is in no way related to your problems. Transmissions (automatics) are generally just drained and re-filled. this is not a “flush”. I agree that something, say your money, was flushed into a place it did not belong, the dealers wallet or boat payment. Neither of these items would affect your starting problem I think.

The problem with this theory is that a clogged fuel inlet or lack of fuel flow wouldn’t stop the starter from turning. The OP’s problem is that the starter won’t turn the engine, not that the engine won’t run.

It could have been, but the more I think about it, the more that I think that no battery that is five years old would still be in spec for cranking amps and capacity. I think that any five year old battery would fail that test, even though it might still be okay for another year or three.

Do note the OP’s indication that they make a whole lot of short trips, such that the wear on the starter is much greater than normal.

are faulty neutral switches expensive to repair?

latest update on the quest: it was towed back to my house over a week ago because I would not pay any more $ to have it fixed, nor did I trust their diagnosis. It has sat in my driveway ever since. It starts beautifully. I have started it about 4-5 times and it starts right up each time. Of course I’m afraid to drive it anywhere because it probably won’t start once I drive it again. Could it still be considered a starter issue or a battery issue if it’s been starting up perfectly this whole time?

I still suspect that you had a correct diagnosis. Eventually, you will get tired of it just sitting there. If money is that tight, then change the starter out first (you can even do it yourself). The battery can wait till it fails (if you don’t mind not knowing where it will fail at). It may go another year or two anyway.