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Pontiac vibe won't crank... Sometimes

Here’s a puzzler for me.

My 03 vibe base model 5 speed manual has been having a problem cranking every few times I try it. When it cranks it runs like a champs, but for the past few days I’ll turn the key a few and the dash lights go out and the starter relay clicks just like it wants to start, but nothing happens. After hitting the clutch a few times it starts and has no more issues.

My first thought was the clutch sensor. I tried jumping it as a test and the car still did this. I also double checked the sensor on my multimeter and it’s working. So where should I go from here?

Ignition cylinder?

Poor ground?

Anyone with similar problems?

Could be several things. Is the battery fully charged and fairly new? Are the battery connections clean and tight?

If these are good, common to Toyotas are starter solenoid contacts that wear, resulting in this kind of intermittent no-start. How old is the starter?

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The clutch involvement with starting usually isn’t a “clutch sensor”. A switch on the clutch pedal linkage prevents cranking unless the clutch pedal is depressed. It’s a safety feature. The one on my Corolla failed, so I did what you did, just install a jumper around it temporarily until I could replace it.

But you’ve done the bypass the clutch switch thing and still have the same problem? And the dash board lights go out when you try to crank the engine? Well, I’ve had that problem on my Corolla too. Caused by the battery connections coming a little loose. So that’s the place to start, remove, clean and tighten the battery post connections. If that doesn’t fix it, you may need a new battery. A battery load test would confirm. Starter problems are next in line after that, but do the battery test first before assuming it is the starter.

Starter is new, reman installed about 3 weeks ago.

I just did the timing chain so I got a good look at the engine.

The clutch switch wasn’t the cause

But I did find a loose positive terminal on the battery. I tried to tighten it and wound up crushing it because it was so flimsy. I bought a new terminal, installed it, car is starting but it may take a few days to see if it does it again. Hasn’t done it yet, I started it about 10 times with no problems so here’s hoping.

Thank you for the help! I’ll post in a few days to say if it worked or not.

The Vibe is the same car as the Matrix, which is a version of Corolla I think, just re-branded. My Corolla is considerably older vintage. Overall very reliable, but no-cranks are by far the most frequent & annoying problem is has displayed over the years. I’ve pretty much solved it, but it involved quite a bit of improvement in the wiring harness and adding an under-dash relay to the starter solenoid circuit (the wire that goes to the “S” terminal on the starter).

No-cranks seems to be a sore point for Corollas. If you ever hear a caller on the Car Talk radio show say they have a no-crank, listen to what they say their car is. You’ll see it is very likely a Corolla. Look through the past show summaries, you’ll see what I mean. Ray has a theory Corolla no-cranks are due to the design of the Corolla starter motor, a “gear reduction” design he says. That design apparently allows the starter motor to be smaller and weigh less, but apparently there’s downside: no-cranks.


Thank you for the advice, it seems that the bad positive terminal was the case. It was loose so I tried to tighten it but only wound up crushing it with the bolt somehow. After a new terminal it’s been several days and it hasn’t done it once.

Thank you!