Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Electrical Gremlins in 98 XJ (Jeep Cherokee)

I have a new-to-me Jeep Cherokee that had a pretty epic electrical problem last night as I left work. I fired it up, and as soon as I hit the clutch to put it in reverse, there was a horrendous metal grinding/whining sound from under the hood. My first thought was “oh no, my throwout bearing is toast,” but then I noticed that the parking brake light (which normally never turns on, even when the parking brake is on) is shining bright on the dash.

Put it in gear as the noise continues, but the clutch seems to be working fine. Only makes the death noise when i have the clutch all the way in. I noticed my lights dim every time I clutch in, too. I called some coworkers out to show them the problem, and one of them mentioned it sounds like the starter is engaging when I hit the clutch. (I think he might be on to something.)

I shut it off, fired it back up, parking brake light is dark and clutch doesn’t make the death sound. Drove home just fine, did not reoccur.

Anyone have any clue what this could be? Short in the ignition switch on the steering column is my only guess, but it’s just that, a guess.

The call about the starter causing the noise sounds like it to me also. Here is what I think is happening. The ignition switch was making connection to the START mode while it was in also the RUN mode. I assume there is a starter safety switch on the clutch pedal which keeps the starter from working until the clutch pedal is pressed down and if so that is why the starter circuit didn’t seem to have a problem until the engine was running. Adjusting the ignition switch position may be all that is needed. The lights would of course dim slightly due to the load of the starter motor on the battery.

This makes a lot of sense! Thanks, I think that might have been the issue - I figured that somehow the clutch start interlock switch played a part but I didn’t see the big picture. I think cherokees of this vintage even have a known issue with the ignition switch over-rotating.

If it happens again you might try turning the key slightly back to the OFF position.

One caution: Continuing to drive the car with this condition risks damaging both the starter motor and flywheel. You might want to ask a mechanic to hook up a test light to the “START” signal for the key switch, and leave it there for you to look at. It should only be on when the key is in START. If you find it on at other times, like in "RUN, don’t drive the car, and get that repaired asap. You’ll save yourself a pretty penny if you catch it in time.

I’m gonna try to replace the ignition switch soon. In the meantime, I will just make sure I don’t drive it when it enters this condition. There is an indication of it being in this condition already, which is that when it is stuck in “start” the parking brake light and airbag light illuminate on the dash (as part of the dash light test sequence that happens in “start”.) So if they light up again, shut it off and restart is the plan (or as Cougar mentioned, try turning the key slightly back.)

I definitely don’t want to drive it if it won’t come out of start, as the starter noise was godawful and I know it will damage things in a hurry! It’s like when you forget the car is running and try to start it again - that noise might even be worse than fingernails on a chalkboard!

Fixing the flywheel could well require removing both the transmission and engine. Not an inexpensive venture.