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Ford Explorer- starter is good but not working

We recently started having trouble getting our car started. My husband would get underneath & bang on the starter a few times & it would start. Then that quit working. We took it to have it tested, & it checked out fine. So we’re thinking maybe its wiring somewhere? (Its a Ford, they’re notorious for wiring issues… When we tilt the steering wheel down, the left blinker won’t work!)

Re: the starter. This is a classic symptom of a bad starter assembly. The assembly includes a “Bendix assembly” that activates a solenoid that engages contacts to connect the “hot” heavy wires to the starter winding circuit and enable the starter motor to work. As those contacts open and close, the momentary arc develops carbon deposition on them. Eventually they become intermittent. My guess is that you need a new starter assembly. I’d bet on it.

The steering wheel problem is probably the multifunction switch itself. It’s a totally separate problem from the starter… except perhaps that they’re both age related.

I’m going to say the vehicle needs a replacement starter.

One way to check a 12 volt motor on a vehicle is rap on it.

For example, if the blower motor stops working, rap on it with the handle of a screwdriver while the speed is set on high.

If the blower works, replace it.

Or, if a fuel pump doesn’t turn on, rap on the gas tank with a rubber mallet.

If the fuel pump turns on, replace it.

Same thing with starters.


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Oh, I know the 2 problems aren’t related, I was just throwing out there that the car has wiring issues lol. But thanks, I’ll check into that!

If it is the assembly, would the starter still check out as working right when tested at Oriellys?

Just like blower motors, fuel pumps, they work fine until they stop on the bad spot.

Then they need a rap to get them to work again.


Well we’ve done that. The first couple times it worked, but not anymore. We had it tested & it checked out good.

The problem could also be the range selector switch. That’s located on the transmission and it’s possible the whacking could have affected that instead of the starter motor.

Security systems also use a starter lockout relay which can prevent starter operation.

You have to work your way back from the starter motor. In a no-start condition probe the small solenoid wire when the key is turned to the START position. NO power means range switch, starter lockout relay, or possibly the ignition switch.

I don’t have a factory wiring diagram so I can’t provide wire color codes for this particular model.

If it sometimes starts your car it will sometimes check out good. Like Tester said, replace the starter.

What year Explorer? Are you getting any sound when you try to start it?

If knocking the starter with a stick caused it to go from not working at all to working fine, good bet a starter replacement will fix your problem. Agree w/Tester. The starter motor test fixtures the auto parts places have provide a helpful and for the most part accurate assessment, but they are not the same testing conditions as the starter installed in the vehicle.

The best way to determine the problem is the starter motor itself is to measure the voltage at the two terminals on the starter motor during attempted cranking. Do this test with everything connected, measuring the voltage from the terminal to the starter case. If both measure 10.5 volts or above and the starter doesn’t crank the engine, then the starter is bad. If either measures less than 10.5 volts and the starter doesn’t crank the engine, work back towards the battery to find out why the voltage is too low. Could be a bad battery , corroded battery connections etc.

Note that your Ford may use the same gadget as my Ford truck, a separate starter solenoid located near the firewall area. That’s a good thing btw, makes solving this problem easier. If so there’s only one terminal on the starter motor, not two. In that case the test is the same, but you only have to check on terminal, not two. If the voltage is too low at the starter, there’s a good chance the problem is the starter solenoid on the firewall. That’s very easy to replace usually. And inexpensive.

  1. It makes a clicking sound, like the battery is dead. Only its not. My husband said it only worked once getting it started with a hammer. I thought it was a few times.

If you can find one of these (starter solenoid) on the firewall or fender on the passenger side of the engine bay, replace it. It’s cheap and you might get lucky.
Picture 4

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I agree the starter solenoid is the most likely suspect. If you have the one like insightful showed you, it may be a fairly easy DIY repair. The heavy duty copper contacts inside these things eventually get carboned up and worn away so that they need to be replaced, or at least cleaned up.

Most starter motors have the solenoid built in to the side of the starter motor housing. Removing the starter motor varies in difficulty from car to car. If you are willing to do some of the work, you could take the starter motor to a local auto electric shop. They will know what to do to fix it - probably replacing those copper contacts - and you may be pleasantly surprised at the cost.

Otherwise, installing a new (or usually rebuilt or remanufactured - much cheaper) starter motor is the fast way to fix the problem - although I hear more than the occasional complaint about starter motors being bad, right out of the box, which you don’t know until it’s been installed and put to use.

Yup… but perhaps intermittently.

When you turn the key to start an electric solenoid activates causing a very heavy duty switch to close. The switch then sends power to the motor windings causing it to turn. At the same time the gear that meshes w/the flywheel pops out. That switch slamming closed combined with the gear popping out is what usually makes the clicking noise. When everything is working you don’t notice the click b/c the sound of the motor turning and engine starting drowns out the click. When all you hear is a click, it means it sort of works, but not robustly enough to cause the starter motor to turn the engine.

Just found a blog that says it’s on the driver’s side fender.

On every ford that I have owned starter solenoid is on fender of what ever side the battery is on.

Do check one thing more. Negative battery cable. It may be in bad shape. Ford used to ground this cable to the inner fender/wheel well on the way from battery to engine block. Maybe now it grounds somewhere else; maybe there is another wire for that which also comes from the negative terminal, I don’t know.

If there is a switch solenoid, make sure it isn’t rusted where the bolts go into the metal because it has to ground itself.

This may not help but it should be checked while you’re looking.

My 45+ year old Ford truck 302 uses that solenoid arrangement, rather than placing the solenoid in the starter motor like most cars. It’s a good thing too. I’ve never had to replace the starter motor, it’s still original. but I have had to replace that starter solenoid 2 or 3 times. It’s a very easy job, and the part is quite inexpensive. I think that’s the better design for starter motor systems. Definitely more diy’er friendly.

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