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Single click, no crank

Recently, my car got flooded with standing water. By the time I got to it, water covered the seats and the airbag light was on. Water was in the engine compartment when I popped the hood. There wasn’t much I could do at that time, except to remove the battery. The water was high enough to get in to the air filter, but I haven’t seen any water in the engine or transmission (no beading on either dip sticks). I let it dry for 3 weeks with the battery out. When I finally connected the battery, I hear a single click from the starter and nothing else.
The car was in fine condition before it got water inside. Always started up like a champ.
I charged the battery before installing it, so I know it is a good battery. All the dash lights are on and the dome light does not dim when I turn the IGN key to start position.
I used a 2×4 to hit the starter while someone was turning the key. All that happened was the loud single click from the starter.
Since the sound came from the starter, can I assume that the connections to the starter and IGN switch are ok?
I have not provided electrical power to the car since the flood (till it dried up).

Can standing water destroy a starter? Shouldn’t the fuse blow out if there was a short?
Anything that I can try before I attempt the PIA process of removing the starter?

Btw, as a friend suggested that I try to turn the engine back and forth with a wrench, which I did. That didn’t help either. Any useful insight from the experts will be much appreciated.

Thanks

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That car is effectively dead. I hope you have comprehensive insurance, because even if you manage to get it running right now, in a year or two when all the electrical connections rust and fail, it’s gonna be toast.

It should be noted that if the water is up to the seats, every important electrical device in the car with the possible exception of the radio and the clock has been soaked.

There’s also the mildew problems you’re gonna have real soon. Best bet is to file a claim and get it totaled out.

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The tag line reads Chevrolet Prizm which was last made in 2002. That means spending money on this flooded vehicle is not a wise move. Flood vehicles are not ever going to be reliable.

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Before you spend any time or money on this, do you plan to replace all of the seats and carpeting? There’s no way you can keep using yours without endangering your health. Breathing in mold is very bad for you.

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I agree with the others. I think your car is sadly toast. The amount of effort required to clean, decontaminate, and repair far outstrips the value of your car. There’s a reason why cars with flood damage are pretty much always totaled by insurance.

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You have my heartfelt sympathy for what you’re going through. Hopefully everyone in your family is alright. Cars can be replaced.

Having said that, this one needs to be replaced. Your car is loaded with electrical comntacts, fuses, wires, connections, and iron-containing devices like the alternator and the starter, all below your beltline. All will be rusting or corroding right now. The engine itself is now highly suspect. Cars are not designed to tolerate immersion.

God bless. I wish you all the best.

Yes, indeed water can destroy the starter and it likely has. There is no fuse to the starter. The contacts in the solenoid - the big coil that connects the starter electrically and mechanically to start he engine are likely so corroded it won’t pass current to turn the starter.

You didn’t say if the motor turned when you turned the engine with a wrench… did it? There might be hope. If it didn’t turn, it is not going to run again.

You can try installing a new starter and that might get you a running car, for a while. I agree with the other posters here, even if you get the car completely dried out it will never again be reliable.

As soon as the water went down, I stripped down the car (carpets, seats, all electricals under the dash that can be removed) and washed all those in a disinfectant (not the electricals/electronics). I would leave the car open (all doors, trunk and hood) the whole day for 3 weeks (and it was sunny and hot the whole time). I also raised the front part of the car and siphoned out water from the muffler to prevent it from corroding. I sprayed down every metal part that I can see with WD40 and I don’t see any rust so far. I know, rust could get in places that I cannot see and get to. I made sure that there is no moisture before I put the battery back on.

I know…too much effort for an old car. But, it is a very reliable car. Never gave me any trouble, took way too much abuse and had very little maintenance needs. If it can be saved, I definitely want to. Especially now the used car market is flooded with “flooded cars” (no pun intended), at least I have a car whose history I am familiar with.
I agree that it is not prudent to waste a lot of money on it, which is why I am planning on cleaning out the starter myself (if I can get it off the car, which I was told is the most difficult part). What I want to know is that whether there is something else simple that I missed or can try before attempting to remove the starter.
Btw, when I manually rotated the motor, it moved back and forth. i didn’t move it too much; read somewhere about someone breaking something by rotating it too far. My intention was to see if the motor was stuck, which it doesn’t seem to be.
While I was trying to start it, the spark plugs were removed, in case there is some water in the engine.
Crazy silly question: I cannot have changed the timing or some adjustment of the pistons because of manually rotating the motor, could I?

No, you are fine. Great idea to pull the spark plugs out for the first spin. Not sure how hard the starter is to get out but the likely problem is corroded commutator, which you can clean and a corroded solenoid, which I doubt you can clean. Look into a rebuilt starter rather than cleaning it. It shouldn’t cost much.

Remove the spark plugs and then try cranking the engine.

You don’t know how high the water got prior to you getting to the vehicle.

So one or more cylinders could have water in them.

And you can’t compress a liquid.

Tester

That’s not likely. To get it to crank you need at least 10.5 volts on both terminals of the starter motor (terminal to case) when the key in in the “start” position. That’s where I’d start with this problem, make those two measurements and report back what you find. Good idea to keep the spark plugs removed until you can get it to crank successfully. There a possibility the engine internals were damaged if you attempted to crank it even once before removing the spark plugs.

Water up to the seat level, suggest to change the engine oil, filter, and transmission fluid too. Water may have infiltrated the CV boots, so that should be checked. And the wheels should be removed and the brakes inspected on all four wheels, before driving, when you eventually get it to start.

I wanted to make sure the computer is not bad. I think water must have gotten in it. So, I removed it and opened it (I don’t care about the warranty, which it doesn’t have anyway). It still has the original Toyota oem computer. I saw some green corrosion on the connector pin for batt and on some resistors. I took a clean medium bristled brush and dusted off the entire pcb. Here is what I am wondering:

All the dash lights were on, fan was working, dome lights turned on, wipers work. Does that mean the computer is ok?

How do I test the computer, off the car? I have a multimeter, some alligator clips and some basic knowledge of voltages and currents.

Assuming the computer is bad, can that cause the single click, no crank situation? Is the starter really bad?

Assuming the computer is good, if I want to just clean the computer before putting it back, is it safe to spray the pcb with MAP sensor cleaner? I’ve heard that it is safe for electronics.
Your thoughts?

Spark plugs were removed before I attempted to start the car. Water did not reach the level of either dipsticks (engine and transmission) and there was no beading on either dipsticks. I am planning on removing the engine oil too.

Luckily there was a drain nut on the transmission oil pan, which I I used to drain the transmission oil. I think I drained around 3 quarts of oil and refilled. I am assuming that since I have not engaged the transmission, water might not have gotten in to the inside parts of the transmission. Moreover, I did not see any water in the drained transmission oil.

Isn’t the click from the starter an indication that it is getting power? Not sure how much. Definitely something is preventing the starter from turning the engine. Will measure the volts on the starter tomorrow and report back. Hope it won’t rain tomorrow, like today.

On my Corolla anyway – very similar design to the Prizm – the computer isn’t involved in cranking, but it is involved in starting after the cranking is complete of course. I wouldn’t do anything drastic w/the computer. Those PCB’s are often washed in a dishwasher as the final step in their ass’y, so they are pretty waterproof. If you see some corrosion on a connector pin, if it is an edge connector you can just use a pencil eraser to remove it usually. If it is a pin and socket type connector, you’d have to scrape the corrosion off the pin and spary some contact cleaner in the socket, hope for the best. It’s always possible to bypass a pin on a connector of course , various methods are possible.

You don’t say if you car is manual or automatic, I’ll assume automatic. When you turn the key to “start” that sends a 12 volt battery signal to the neutral safety switch (part of the transmission shift ass’y) and if the transmission is in P or N, it passes that 12 volt battery signal to the start terminal on the starter motor. The other terminal on the starter motor, the battery terminal, is always connected to the battery positive. So that will activate the starter motor, as long as both terminals measure at least 10.5 volts, it should crank the engine. There’s sometimes a small under-dash relay involved in the process too. But the place to start is whether the two voltages at the starter motor when the key is in “start” are correct.

3 weeks out of the car could possibly indicate a “dead” battery. Try charging it.

I agree with all this, but the problem is that with oil, filter, tranny fluid, and CV boots, we’re already up to a few hundred bucks and we haven’t even replaced the starter yet.

Nor have we replaced the ECU, and it’s very possible that thing is fried because it was in the water too.

I’m afraid that even if you keep the vehicle short term, you’re gonna fix the starter, and that’s going to lead you to find the next thing that broke, and when you fix that you’ll find the next thing that broke, and so on.

Put another way, if you are fortunate enough to have had a flooded car, yet after replacing one part the car remains as reliable as it was pre-flood, I want to take you to Vegas. It’s just really, really unlikely and I’d hate to see you throw money at this thing only to find out that it’s just too far gone, and now you have to get another vehicle that the money you spent on this one could have helped pay for.

And all this is assuming you were just in a normal inland flood. If your car was flooded in one of the hurricanes, that’s salt water and you have a whole raft of future problems that will result from that - all that wet salt is sitting in places that salt never gets to even in rust-belt states, and rust is gonna eat your car from the inside out.

It’s not uncommon for the contacts in the starter solenoid to fail in Toyotas and other cars that use this brand - Denso? - of starter. You could remove the starter and take apart the solenoid, or take the starter to a local auto electric shop. They’ll know how to test it and how to fix it.

Me thinks the flooding was the problem here, not brand of starter.

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I feel your pain. The electric starter is the first warning that many electrical troubles are ahead. Costly and frustrating problems you can’t imagine. There comes a time when even your best friend (an elderly canine) has to be put to eternal sleep. Do the same to this old car.

I have been pleased and somewhat surprised to see many warnings on TV and internet of flood damaged vehicles showing up in the used car market.