Intermittent Starter That Responds to a Little Whack

I’ve a 2004 Maxima automatic SL. In early June I had just filled up my tank at gas station and tried to start car. DEAD SILENCE altho dashboard lights came on. Repeat turning key several times to same nothing result. AAA mechanic arrives. Jumps my car to no effect. Tells me he’s going to hit my starter and for me to turn ignition. Immediately starts normally. Car starts fine for 2 weeks. Then dead again in a parking lot. AAA mechanic does same thing n car starts up immediately. I take car to Nissan dealer and he refuses to do anything since car is now working fine and he won’t be able to locate problem. I call another dealer and explain situation and he gives me same response. I’m told to have car towed in next time its having problem. Another couple weeks go by and once again comatose after another fillup. I’m curious so this time I tap my starter a few times with the little umbrella I keep in my car as the gas jockey stares at me in disbelief. I get back in car and starts right up.

Weird problem. Any ideas what the cause might be?

Probably the starter is getting stuck. The dealer would not just change it in case it is something else, and then you will go back and complain and want a refund. You can just have an independent shop change your starter or do it yourself and see if it fixes it. It might be less aggravating.

We had an identical problem with my wife’s 1994 Nissan Sentra. I kept a hockey stick handy to poke the starter. Replaced the starter and all was well.

When you have to whack on a starter in order to get it to function, it usually means the brushes/springs for the commutator are worn out.

The commutator is a copper ring that brushes rub against to supply voltage/current to the armature of the starter which makes the starter operate.

When the brushes/springs wear out where a poor contact is made between the brushes and commutator, that whack on the starter is enough to cause the brushes to make a better contact with the commutator, and the starter functions.

But this only works for so long. Replace the starter before it leaves you stranded somewhere.


I had the same problem myself in the past, and agree with the posted recommendations.

“We had an identical problem with my 1994 Ford Ranger. I kept a broom stick handy to poke the starter. Replaced the starter and all was well.”

Thanks Docnick for your words. I just changed them to relay my experience.

Another common failure mode that sometimes responds well to a whack is that the 2 copper contacts that are bridged when the shaft moves after turning the key to Start are worn. The metal disc on the end of shaft doesn’t move quite far enough to complete the circuit. You or an auto electric shop can replace the contacts or clean up the area they live in and bend the contacts toward the disc.

The simplest but not cheapest solution is to install a reconditioned or good used starter.

Also be aware that the pull in coil of the solenoid gets its ground through the brushes and armature. Thus if the motor current path is open because of stuck/noncontacting brushes, the solenoid will not pull the pinion into mesh with the flywheel and current will not flow to the armature.

Replace the starter

I agree that the starter definitely needs to be replaced, based on the symptoms

However . . . I believe the best thing for OP would be to install a new or remanned starter, not a “good used starter”

After all . . . who is it that’s saying the used starter is good?

That used part may also have been intermittently failing. What if it was pulled and put on that shelf, on the day it happened to be behaving correctly?

No offense intended to anybody

I just wouldn’t want OP to do the job again, possibly in short order

However, if OP wants to replace the starter himself, and is comfortable with the risks involved associated with a used part, that’s on him

In my younger poorer days I used to pit in used starters. As a matter of fact the starter from my 56 DeSoto went into a 62 Dodge 318 and then into two different slant sixes. It was much larger than the starters in those cars but fit fine.
It certainly wouldn’t be sensible to pay someone to put in a used starter.

You need to remove your Starter and REBUILD the internal contacts of the Starter Solenoid. Most Nissans will have Denso Starter Solenoids and those particular units can be rebuilt… A very common operation. Look on Ebay or elsewhere on the internet for Solenoid rebuild kits.


Most OPs are not going to do anything themselves, they just want us to verify the problem. Taking it to a dealer and then calling another proves that out. Then not doing anything until it dies multiple times really drives it home.

In that case, OP would be best served by going to a repair shop and telling them “Good morning. I would like to pay you to replace my starter. I do not wish to pay for diagnosis, and I accept full responsibility, if the starter was not the problem.”