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Engine Starts Great, immediately shuts off upon release of key

Howdy Car People!

'97 Acura 2.5TL

Car starts great every time, no problems. However, as soon as you let go of the key, the engine turns off. If you hold the key in the start position the car continues to run indefinitely (no problems, except a tired arm/hand from holding the key.) We managed to drive it home this way. Car alway starts without any difficulty.

This problem happened the first time a few days ago, then stopped. It is now occurring much more frequently. A little internet research indicated others with same problem, but no solutions were given. One person went to the Acrua dealer, who replaced the ignition/starter and the problem did not go away.

Any insight would be appreciated. I don’t want to take it to a shop and have them replace the wrong parts, only to pile up the repair bills.



How did you avoid damaging your starter? (wasn’t the starter running when you held the key in the “start” position?) Did you pull the soleniod wire as soon as the car started?

Sounds like a ignition switch

When the key is rotated to the start position, in many cars, the accessories are shut off and only the ignition and fuel pump receive power. When the car starts and you release the key to the run position, everything except for the starter motor should be powered. Since your car dies, the ignition switch is a likely suspect since the ignition and/or fuel supply is being killed.

The only possible reason that the starter doesn’t operate after the engine is started and you hold the key in the start position is that there is a vacuum lockout that kills the current to the starter after engine starts and is producing vacuum. This is true on my 2003 Toyota 4Runner and my 2006 Chevrolet Uplander. My 1954 Buick also had the vacuum lockout, but this Buick was started by depressing the accelerator. As soon as the engine fired, the vacuum switch disabled the starter. On other cars I’ve had, turning the key to start while the engine was running would cause the starter to try to engage and make a terrible noise.

Old timers will remember this as a common problem on cars that used mechanical contact points in the ignition, because those cars used full battery power to the points during cranking, but normal running was via a ballast resistor that could get old and fail.

On a modern car, I would vote for the ignition switch.

I wasn’t holding it in the “crank” position. I just didn’t release completely. So, no, the starter was not running.

Ignition switch sounds likely, I agree, except internet search revealed that the same problem was not solved by replacing the ignition? Yet no other explanation was given :frowning:

To make things clear, I did not hold it all the way to the “crank” position. I said, “start position”, but really it was I held in a position just before the resistance to “crank” the starter.

If I did hold it in the “crank” position, you could hear the starter “grind.” I did not leave it in this position (I know better.) So there isn’t a vacuum lock, I just made sure not to crank the starter, yet didn’t let fall back completely (killing the engine.)

Is there any chance that there is an “auto-cutoff” if something is wrong with the exhaust/emission? Something that can only be tested when the engine is running (hence the no problem starting), but shuts off the engine when it fails an emission test? Just wondering.

Everyone is saying “ignition” which sounds very reasonable, but unfortunately those who have posted the same problem on other boards, say replacing ignition didn’t solve the problem. So, I’m looking for any other explanation.

Thanks again for all the responses.

-Mark D.

Use other people’s results only as a guide, not as a exact answer to your problem

Don’t get caught up in believing that since a car with similar symptons wasn’t fixed by the logical soulution that yours also not be fixed

The same same goes with TSB’s, even though your car fits in the group of cars affected, and the symptons are the same, it’s not guaranteed that the TSB fix will fix your car

Thanks, I agree. Just the problem was described so exactly, and it was for the exact same car/model/year.

Hmmm… I’m still thinking the ignition switch is the most likely situation, but it may call for some more diagnostic work. One alternate explanation might be that on some cars, when the engine is cranking the fuel pump is powered directly through the ignition switch instead of through the usual computer-controlled relay, so if that relay is broken or if something is telling the computer not to engage the fuel pump (usually if the oil pressure is low) then you could get a similar symptom. To figure it out for sure, you’ll need to figure out if the engine is stalling from lack of fuel or lack of spark.

However, I don’t know if my alternate explanation even applies to your car and ignition switch failures are relatively common, so I’d be willing to bet on that being the issue.

Also, be very careful driving the car like this because if you accidentally engage the starter with the engine running, you can break off teeth on the flywheel gear, which can leave spots where the starter can’t engage. On a manual transmission, you have the nuisance of rocking the car back and forth to move the engine to a spot where the started can engage, but on an automatic, you have to change the flywheel which is a very expensive repair.

Thanks for the replies so far. I will keep you posted.

Any other ideas before I take it in to be looked at?


I have a hot rod with a Chevy 350 and a points ignition. I have the same problem. It has been running fine but the last time I tried to start it, the emgine died as soon as the ignition key returned to the run position. I have replaced the ballast resistor, coil, ignition switch, and have substituted a different carburetor. The fuel pump is providing fuel. Any suggestions?

Put some hot in that “hot rod” and get rid of those points.

Why would you expect a carb change to fix your problem?

Bouncing back between the fuel and ignition systems means you have not done your basics.

To Deckhole and Tbird1:

I also have to agree with the others about the ignition switch being the problem with your ignition systems. It is a simple thing to prove if you have a test light probe or voltmeter on hand to test with. By checking for power on the switched side of the contacts of the switch with the key in the RUN position you should have power present. If not, replace the switch. Some switches have multiple positions so you need to make sure you are on the correct pin to the ignition.

Another easy thing to look for is to see if other things work when you turn the key to RUN and don’t start the engine. If things like the warning lights and other accessories aren’t turning on then the switch is suspect. Some things may be on a different set of contacts though and work ok.

Sounds like a faulty ignition switch and it’s easy to test. Simply use a test light to probe the positive side of the ignition coil while the key is in the RUN position.

You might also check the fuses. Many Asian cars use an ignition fuse and it could be blown. The reason why it starts when the ignition fuse is blown is because the coil is receiving power from the starter solenoid circuit when the starter motor is engaged.

If you can keep the engine running by manipulating the SWITCH, then it’s the SWITCH!! Nothing else is in play here. The ignition switch is usually located down on top of the steering column near the brake pedal arm. It’s connected to the Ignition LOCK by a long rod…

It’s not the ignition switch. But instead it’s with the igniter or ignition module.

These operate in two modes. The start and run modes. During the start mode, this component allows full battery voltage to the secondary ignition system. This ensures that the spark is hot enough to fire a cold start air/fuel mixture. Once the engine starts, and the ignition switch moves to the run position. This device then reduces the voltage to secondary ignition. This is done so that the secondary ignition components last longer. Much like how a ballast resistor/wire worked in point type ignition system.

So from what you describe, it sounds like the run mode of the igniter/ignition module has failed.


I always wonderd how my old '56 Buick kept from turning its starter after it started. Thanks for solving one of my life’s big mysteries.

Asian cars usually attach their ignition switches to the key and tumbler assembly.
It should be inside the steering column cover behind the steering wheel.

Just to clarify something after re-reading the original post. It is stated the dealer replaced the “ignition/starter”. What does that mean exactly?

Ignition switch, starter motor, both, ???

had the same problem with a 327, changed the points and it was fine, acouple months later i changed to an hei,alot better than points