Intermittent Failure to Start

I’ll be driving the car fine, but after driving for maybe 10+ minutes and then stopping for 20-30 minutes, my manual 2002 Mazda Tribute DX (about 126K miles) won’t start. It doesn’t act flooded at all, all I hear is a click. The lights and radio and air conditioning and everything come on perfectly, but it won’t start. About half of the time, it won’t work at all with repeated attempts but after about 5 min. it’ll just start normally. I’ve towed it to a shop 3 times now, on the first the alternator was replaced, and after about a week the same problem occurred, etc.

My mechanic then thought I might not be pressing the clutch all the way down since it worked right after towing but after about a week (I removed the floor mat and even made a video of me, a relatively large male, pressing as hard as safely possible on the clutch) but it still wouldn’t start. It was towed, and now the car is at the shop again but the mechanic can’t reproduce the problem yet again. Its battery and clutch were just replaced about a year ago, the connections don’t look corroded, and my mechanic’s tests on the alternator seem fine. Steering wheel isn’t locked, and (supposedly) the shop’s tried looking at the starter. Please help! Thanks in advance, school starts in a week so I’m out of options.

When it won’t start, does it simply go “click” when you turn the key to “start”, but none of that usual “rrr rrr rr sound”? If so, that’s what is called a “fails to crank” problem.

If that’s your symptom, there’s a half-dozen or so things that could possibly be wrong. One of them is the clutch safety switch, which apparently your mechanic thought could be the problem.

Edit: When the clutch safety switch fails, it doesn’t matter how hard your press on the clutch pedal.

One method to fix this problem is just start replacing all the things that could cause it. That’s not what I’d do though. When my Corolla does this, after load-testing the battery and cleaning the battery connections, I’ll measure the voltages at both starter terminals during attempted cranking. If both measure 10.5 volts or more and it doesn’t crank, then it is most likely the starter needs replacing. If either measures less than 10.5 volts, then you have to start from the starter and work the circuit backwards towards the battery and ignition switch to find out why.

Sorry I didn’t reply sooner, and thanks for your reply. To respond to your question, it just simply “clicks,” with no revving/rrr sound at all. My mechanic ordered a clutch safety switch, which will be coming in tomorrow, so hopefully that was the problem–if not, I guess I’ll have to go down the fixing everything route. (As far as the switch replacement goes, what you said about how hard I press might be a problem, the other option being that the real problem was just the switch failing intermitently and that my mechanic was wrong about how hard I press being an issue at all).

Anyways, if that doesn’t work, I think the voltage test you described will be a big help.

A new safety switch will most likely solve the problem and is a pretty common issue for the type of trouble you described.

It’s usually possible to temporarily bypass the clutch safety switch. If it starts ok then, then you’ll know for certain what the problem is.

If you hear a click, it means the clutch pedal interlock switch is functioning.

What comes after the interlock switch is the starter relay. And then the relay supplies voltage to the starter solenoid.

A relay can make a clicking noise but not function intermittently because the secondary contacts are worn out.

I’d be looking at the starter relay.