Starter problems

I have a 1999 Honda Accord. Last October my starter gradually died, where approximately 1 in 5 times I would start it, it would turn over, but not engage. It would take anywhere from 2-20 minutes to get it going. The mechanic replaced the starter, and it was fine until February when it happened again. The mechanic said it must have been a bad starter and put in a new one. Which worked fine… until 6 weeks ago. It started dying again. About 3 weeks later I brought it into someone else. They said that whoever installed the starter must have over-torqued the screw, because a whole piece between the starter and the battery completely broke off. They replaced the starter (the same brand I still had under warrantee) and then just as I was leaving work today my car took about 30 minutes to start. Same problem, sounds like its trying to start and it won’t. The battery is only about a year old and seems to be working fine. I’ve already gone through 3 starters in less than a year! Any advice out there?

“sounds like it’s trying to start…but won’t”.
No way you should have to replace a starter three times in ten years never mind three in ONE year.

So, the problem is either electrical or mechanical (brilliant eh?) but I suspect it’s the latter.

Could you be more specific and describe in detail exactly what does or does NOT happen when you turn the key to START?

What do you mean when you say “the starter starts to die”?

Well, it happens sporadically. But when it does, it sounds like the starter is turning, but the car will not start. You never hear the engine kick in. After anywhere from 2-30 tries it will start like nothing is wrong. Then the car will start fine every time I try for maybe a week and then it will happen again. Last night I tried to start it every couple of minutes for about 25 minutes before it would start, but this morning it started just fine, and I suspect that it will start just fine for the next week or so before it happens again. I have never had it get so bad that I have had to get it towed. The problem progressively occurs more frequently over a period of 4-6 weeks until it becomes annoying enough or I’m afraid I will get stranded somewhere. Until now the mechanics I’ve talked to have given me good reason to suspect that the starter was faulty or the starter installation was bad, but obviously there is something else wrong here. Thanks!

It sort of sounds to me like you may be losing fuel pressure. Perhaps there’s an erratically leaky injector that’s allowing air to enter the line backwards when the engine is off, letting the fuel run back into the tank and the fuel line fill with air.

The Honda guys here also post often about a main relay, that apparently also enables the fuel pump circuit and is known to fail. Perhaps they can elaborate.

Doing that level of cranking, you’re putting many, many times more wear on the starter than it’s designed for. You’re aging it 20 years in one year, doing what we’d call in a lab an “accelerated life test”. I’d be inclined to attribute the premature failures to that, at least until the actual starting problem is resolved.

If there is even the slightest connection between the starting problem and a hot vehicle interior temperature, replace the main fuel pump relay, which is under the dashboard.

If the starter is turning, or cranking, the engine, but it won’t start, or “catch,” the problem is not the starter.

The main fuel pump relay is a common cause of starting problems in Honda vehicles, and the trouble usually happens when the car sits in the sun for a while and the interior heats up.

You said “leaving work today.” I’m assuming your car was sitting outside, and that when you got in the car it was REALLY HOT in there. The heat is what makes the fuel pump relay fail. The starter is doing its best, but the fuel pump isn’t pumping because the relay isn’t working. No fuel, no run.

Mountainbike is correct, as usual. Your starters are dying because they are working overtime trying to start an engine that is not getting fuel. Starters are made to be used for a few seconds at a time. Cranking an engine with the starter, repeatedly, for 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds (heaven forbid) will burn out a starter in no time.

Thanks everyone!

Since this no-start condition happens when the weather is cool, I suspect the problem is in the distributor in one of three components; rather than in the PGM-FI Relay under the dash. A re-manufactured distributor is the best route.