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PT Cruiser starter kaput; could fuse have done it?

Last weekend we had our first warm weather up here in the Finger Lakes. My girlfriend wanted to be able to put down the top on her 2005 PT Cruiser convertible, but for a few months now the power windows and power top have not been working. She was going to take it to the shop, but I said, it may just be a fuse. I looked up the owners manual online, then drove the car to an auto parts shop and replaced the circuit breaker in the fusebox under the steering column, because it controls the power windows. The two passenger side windows started working but not the others. So I bought a fuse tester and tested all the fuses in the dashboard fusebox. They were all fine. I drove the car some more, and couldn’t figure out why the other windows wouldn’t work. At one point I stopped but forgot to turn the engine off. I pulled some of the fuses out and plugged them back in, one by one. When I pulled one of them out, the engine stopped. I thought “uh-oh,” then turned the ignition key to off and replaced the fuse. When I started the car again the engine light was on. I drove home (about 12 miles). I looked up stuff about the engine light on line and learned that after three trips, if everything is okay, the engine light will go out. That is exactly what happened. So I thought everything was okay except that I hadn’t solved the window problem.

Two or three days later, my girlfriend got in the car to go to work in the morning. The car started but the engine light was on, and as she backed up out of her driveway the engine stopped. It wouldn’t start again. The starter would just make a ratchety sound. We both figured my experiment with the fuses must have done something. I took the car (by tow truck) to a mechanic, and he didn’t see how the fuses could be the problem. It turned out that the starter was bad and had burned out the battery. So I paid to have the starter replaced and a new battery put in. But when we picked the car up, he said what I’d done had nothing to do with the problem. He said the starter had probably been bad for some time, and it was just a coincidence that the car broke down a couple of days after I fiddled with the fuses. Now I’m convinced he’s right, and my girlfriend is just convinced that he’s wrong. Meanwhile, I’m out $415 unless I can prove that my actions had nothing to do with the problem. Can anyone out there settle this?

Have the windows or top started working yet? Second, you should have just let her take it to a shop after you replaced the circuit breaker. I also don’t believe your fuse fiasco damaged the starter, but, as a married man, I can tell you that you will not win this arguement. If you like her, let it go and accept it as a learning experience.

Pulling a fuse when the engine is running could damage something. But the damage would most likely be to some delicate electronics part, the ECM (the engine computer) would be the most likely thing to be damaged. And a damaged ECM could indeed turn on the CEL. But if it was damaged, the CEL would usually stay on. Since it went off, pulling the fuse may have reset the ECM’s memory or something like that, and it took a few days to remember what it forgot is all. That’s what I expect happened with the fuse incident.

And your mechanic is right, the starter motor problem is just a coincidence — provided the problem was determined to be the starter motor itself, and not some electronic component that actuates the starter motor circuit when the key is turned to “start”. Since a new starter motor and battery fixed the problem, I think the evidence points to the fact that your fuse pulling – although unwise – did no permanent damage.

Pulling fuses with the engine running isn’t good idea. But it had nothing to with the starter.

Once the engine starts and the ignition switch goes into the run position the starter circuit no longer see’s any voltage. So pulling fuses wouldn’t effect the starter circuit.

Chalk this up as coincidence.


The windows and top still don’t work. She took it to a shop and they said the problem is a bad switch. She still thinks my experiment killed the starter. I wonder if what I did affected some other electronic component that in turn screwed up the starter. But the mechanic thought the starter had been bad for some time, sending uneven electric current or something like that. The engine light is no longer on. I’m convinced that what I did didn’t cause the problem, but . . . From now on I’ll just keep my distance from the car! More feedback is welcome, however.

Read what Tester said.

When the engine is running, there is no electric current flowing through the starter. Zero. No matter what fuses you pull. So it’s physically impossible for what you did to damage the starter.

You could prove this to her if you can read a circuit diagram and understand basic principles of electricity.

Coincidence. Nothing you could have done by checking or replacing fuses could have caused the starter to fail, nor the battery.

As recommnded, I would fess up and buy her a new starter. That way she’ll know that you really have her best interest at heart.

Thanks for the comments. I get the point that what I did couldn’t have killed the starter. But it appears she’ll only believe it if she hears it from Click and Clack themselves! I don’t want to get in a big argument with her over it, so I’m basically letting it go, but she does say that if she gets an authoritative answer (from God?), she’ll pay me back. I already paid for the starter and battery 2 days ago.

It turned out that the starter was bad and had burned out the battery—That’s hogwash.

The problem is none of us can see the car itself. My guess is the starter was never bad and the battery was discharged. The clattering noise you spoke of is the sign of a discharged battery, not a starter problem.

The car probably had a weak battery that died because of temperature change and the starter was just an oversell.

I wonder if anyone has checked the charging on this car.

All you did was pull the fuse for the engine computer. The light would have been on for a while signaling that power was lost. No connection but no good deed goes unpunished. I could say more but I think you know that the $450 might be a cheap lesson in the long run. Maybe time to move on.

Clixk and Clack don’t post on this forum and no longer do a radio show but I think they stll do the newspaper column. Perhaps they will say it wasn’t your fault and then you can dump her because there is no way she is going to give you back your $415.

Your pulling the fuses did not damage the starter. As a matter of fact, once the engine is running, the starter motor gear totally disconnects from the engine’s ring gear, leaving the starter hanging there for a free ride, and the contacts in the starter assembly that energize the circuitry for the starter motor disconnect, leaving the starter circuitry totally and completely disconnected. In short, the starter just hangs there totally disconnected in both mechanically and electrically from the engine.

Click and Clack retired a few years back, but many of us here are highly experienced mechanics, technicians, and engineers. Perhaps if you printed this and gave it to your GF with a huge bouquet of roses and a dinner at a fine restaurant she’d believe you… or at least forgive you.

The “ratchety” sound, otherwise known to many as the “death rattle” is an indication of a very low battery. I did not see what the outcome was, but if you haven’t done so already, I’d have your battery load-tested and your charging system checked. It is unusual for this problem to be a failing starter, but quite common if your battery is dead. Your other power accessories not working are likely a different problem.

You didn’t kill the starter or battery. However, here’s the age-old question: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?

@NYBo Yes; women expect men working on their cars to be miracle workers. I only do simple things for my wife’s friends. For anything more complex I recommend a good independent garage and give them an estimate of the work involved and a cost range. That usually brings a lot of “thank yous” afterwards, since they felt they got good value for their money.

My son’s inlaws live in a small town with ony one Hyundai dealer. Their Santa Fe was way over on its timing belt replacement and I recommended they take it to the dealer for replacement and gave them an estimate of $800 for all the parts and labor. They actually spent more since some other items needed work, but were very grateful for pointing out the service in their owners manual, which had never been opened.

They live near the mountains in a very sparsely populated area and severe winters.