Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Starter Problems

I have a 1998 Dodge Caravan with just over 50,000 miles on it. This summer It started having this issue where when I turned the key, all I got was a click, and then nothing. The starter wouldn’t turn over, but all other electronics seemed to be working properly. If I continued to try turning the key (2 or 3 times) eventually the starter would engage and the car would start right up. Assuming a bad connection somewhere I cleaned the battery posts, and a couple other connections I could get to, and the problem seemed to go away. About a month later the same issue started up again, and I was able to fix it the same way.

About a month and a half ago, I went to start my car, turned the key, and NO click. After turning the key a couple times the car would start as before. Then the next time I tried to start the car I again got nothing. On the third try the starter turned over, but only a few times before it died (and it sounded like it was really struggling to turn over too). The fourth time I turned the key the car started right up. This new behavior continued for about a week and then I took it into the shop.

At the shop they first started by cleaning all the connections, which did nothing. Next they put in a new starter which also didn’t fix the problem. On the off chance the new starter was bad, they tried a second new starter, and again the problem continued. Finally they pulled out the wiring harness and found 3 “Bad wires” which they replaced. The then also concluded that the bad wires were causes the starter to short out, and that is why the two new starters they tried didn’t work. They gave me a new starter, and that in conjunction with the new wires seemed to fix the problem.

Now, every few weeks, I’ll go to turn the key, and all I’ll get is a click again. The second time i turn the key, however, the car will start right up. This issue maybe happens more when its cold in the morning, but it hasn’t happened enough for me to be sure. The clicking issue doesn’t bother me that much because the car always starts, but I’m worried that the problem will just get worse again. Did my mechanic actually fix the problem I had? Or am I going to need to take it back in to the shop in a couple of months and put another new starter in? Also, I have had my battery tested three times throughout all of this, and it always comes back fine.

If you have all the battery and starter connections tight then the weak link would be the starter relay. I would replace it. Less than $15 dollars and easy to replace…just pop out and pop the new one right back in.

The next time it just clicks or does nothing, try shifting it into neutral, they retry starting. The safety switch in the transmission linkage might be misadjusted. The only other thing that comes to mind is the contacts at the ignition switch are dirty or worn.

You might want to reconsider your choice of shops. The one you are using seems not to understand electrical troubleshooting. Also their telling you that “bad wires caused the starters to short out” is total BS.

Ill try a new relay. I’d like to test the relay by swapping it, but the problem happens so infrequently I think Ill just buy one and see what happens.

I replaced the relay, and that doesn’t seemed to have solved the issue. Recently I went a Month without any problem, and then four times this past week I got just a click. I have tried shifting into neutral, and the engine always starts after that, however it usually starts on the second try anyways. Is there anyway to more accurately test the safety switch possibility?

The neutral safety switch is the likely cause based on the information given. A test light at the relay outlet could quickly determine if it were the problem. Finding a good (electrical diagnosis) shop will be the challenge.

The problem might be with the Powertrain Control Module or the electrical connection to it.

The PCM has an ouput called the Starter Motor Relay Control which controls the starter relay.


How old is the battery? It is possible for them to develop internal faults that only intermittently cause a problem. So they could actually test fine but not be. If you have access to a volt meter, check the battery voltage when this happens. If it looks good (12.7V is fully charged) watch it while you have an assistant turn the key. If it just completely bottoms out then replace the battery. (If the battery was replaced at some point through this then I would tend to doubt it is an issue).

Beyond that, I think you might just need to replace the main cables. Cleaning the ends misses hidden corrosion underneath of the insulation. If you do want to know for sure and do have a voltmeter and are comfortable using one then you can actually test the cables for voltage drop.

Because you are normally getting a click, I am going to assume actual starting circuit is fine including the relay, neutral-safety switch, and PCM etc. Though its true that its hard to tell by internet.

Edit: Hmmm…see Cougar’s post below. I didn’t interpret the “3 bad wires” as the main power cables. So you might clarify that, and if it was the main cables then obviously forget everything that I said about them.

With the trouble you describe and the age of the vehicle the trouble normally would be due to worn contacts in the starter solenoid. Since you had the starter replaced already that should take care of that. You also stated that the power wires to the starter were replaced. I assume the ground lead was also. Internal corrosion of the wire at the battery clamps is another fairly common problem that fits your description of the trouble. Bad wires can’t damage the starter. They will only prevent the motor from working due to a lack of current to the motor. I suspect that there is a problem with the safety circuit to the solenoid and voltage is being dropped somehow to it and not allowing it to turn on the starter. The shop could install a small test light to the solenoid and place the light in the dash area so you could check the light when the trouble happens. If the light is dim or not on that would prove the problem is with that area of the starter circuit.

Hi KOG, long time no see.

I have a friend whose Caravan exhibited the same symptoms as yours. The problem turned out to be wires that had frayed (possibly melted) together under the exhaust manifold as it goes OVER the transmission. That has to be a very hot working environment. I think there were 30 or 40 wires in the bundle. It took his mechanic several days to figure it out. Luckily he lives in Texcoco Mexico, so the labor was cheap.

I thought you put A LOT more miles than that on your Caravans, especially in 16 years.