CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Starter confusion

I’m an amateur struggling with the starter of my car. I drive a 1998 VW New Beetle, TDI with a manual transmission. The battery died in a cold spell in December and stayed dead until I finally got a jump late January. But ever since then, the starter’s been acting up. Now it’s to the point where it just plain won’t try to start. I step on the clutch and crank the key, but I don’t even hear a repeated “tic”–nothing whatsoever. It has no problem starting when I push it and pop the clutch, though.

I dug out the starter and brought it to AutoZone…worked perfectly on their bench, three times. I put it back in my car, and it worked perfectly–once. Now we’re back to hearing nothing whatsoever…

My best thought is maybe it doesn’t recognize that the clutch is all the way out?

If it helps, I live in a cold, wet place so the car is constantly moist and freeze/thawing.

My best guess, via cyberspace, is that the clutch’s safety switch has gone bad, but the possibility of electrical problems with a 22 year old VW is… remote.
(Sarcasm is intentional)

4 Likes

Start at the battery and check the cable’s both end’s for a clean tight connection nextcheck the clutch safety switch for tight connection’s or out of adjustment.

1 Like

Thanks so much! How do I get down to the clutch safety switch? Can it be done from the interior of the car, or will I have to move stuff around under the hood?

I don’t know where your’s is but on my ford truck it is at the base clutch arm on the interior.

Your weak battery probably damaged the starter solenoid contacts. You should have replaced the starter, bench testing is a waste of time with intermittent starter problems. Test the starter in the vehicle, see if it has 12 volts tat the cable and solenoid connector when the ignition is in the start position.

1 Like

Concur, measuring the two voltages at the starter w/the key in start is where to begin the diagnosis. I look for at least 10.5 volts on both the terminal connected with the thick wire (B terminal), and the one with the thin wire (S terminal). Everything connected, probing between the terminal and the starter case. Once you have that measurement done you’ll have something to go on. Post the results here.

The clutch safety switch is probably right there on the clutch pedal. Should be easy to test with an ohmmeter to see if it opens and closes. Or just unplug it and join or jumper the 2 wires together - but make sure you’re in N and clutch pedal is in when you try to start the engine!

Frustrating update: found the clutch switch today and bridged the two wires with a metal house key–no change. Seeing the posts about the solenoid, and channeling some frustration, I bought a new starter/solenoid setup, put it in, and…same thing. Intermittent starting, either it starts just fine or it does nothing. So it’s not the solenoid or the clutch switch?

The lights on the dash all behave the way they normally should, they turn on then turn off while I actually crank it. Check engine light is on, but when isn’t it?

Frustrating update: found the clutch switch today and bridged the two wires with a metal house key–no change. Seeing the posts about the solenoid, and channeling some frustration, I bought a new starter/solenoid setup, put it in, and…same thing. Intermittent starting, either it starts just fine or it does nothing. So it’s not the solenoid or the clutch switch?

The lights on the dash all behave the way they normally should, they turn on then turn off while I actually crank it. Check engine light is on, but when isn’t it?

Trying to bridge the switch with a key ain’t going to do it in most cases. Take the connector off and use wire.

1 Like

Maybe its time for a new battery.It might not have the CCA needed to turn the engine over.

Try a jump start. It may be the battery. If no go, do a better job on bypassing that clutch switch. Firmly connect the two wires that attach to that switch.

I forgot to update this thread, but looks like it was the clutch switch after all. Battery certainly isn’t in ship-shape either, takes a few seconds for the starter to finally get the engine going. What a waste of time and money, I guess lesson learned: do diagnostics and be sure you’re right before you go buying new parts…

2 Likes