Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Starting troubles

I’m looking for some advice about my car, a 1999 Monte Carlo. I’ve discussed the problem with my husband, my dad, and two different mechanics and none have any clue about what to do. The problem is that it just won’t start-- I turn the key and nothing happens, it dosen’t even try to turn over. However, after sitting in the seat, trying to start it every 15 seconds or so, magically the car starts. The last day I had trouble, it didn’t start 4 out of 6 times within a 2 hour period. But it dosen’t happen all the time either. It’ll give me trouble for a week or two, and then no problems for 6 months. Dad thought it may have been the starter, and since it had never been replaced, did so. When he was finished and asked me to back it out of the garage, guess what! Didn’t start! The last mechanic said the battery wasn’t holding a charge so it got replaced too. And I’m still having trouble. He told me that there was nothing he could do about it unless I could get the car to not start for him. But it’s so random… Anybody ever seen anything like this before or have an idea what might be wrong? Thanks!

Wow. One of the most basic electrical troubles on a car and you are having a problem getting help on it. I can understand why your dad may not know what to do but the “mechanic” should have a clue.

The absolute first thing you want to do is get a battery post cleaning brush and clean the battery posts and cable clamp connections, even if they ‘look ok’. The next thing to do is inspect the wires at the battery for internal corrosion due to battery acid leaching into them. If those things are done and you still have trouble then you need to check if the neutral safety switch is causing the trouble. You can try moving the shift lever around in the Park position to see if that makes the starter work when the problem returns. You can also try shifting to Neutral and see if that helps. If either of those things gets you going then the safety switch is in need of adjustment or replacement. The other area of possible trouble is the starter solenoid. By applying power to the small lead on the solenoid it should turn on the solenoid and make the starter work. I think the solenoid is part of the starter on your car so that should already be eliminated as a possible problem since it has been replaced. The last areas of possible trouble are the power wiring to the ignition switch, ignition switch contacts, and wiring to the safety switch an solenoid.

Here is a link to a diagram of what the starter circuit basically looks like. It shows a starter relay in the circuit but that is normally where the safety switch is placed in series with the circuit. If the switch is open then no power gets to the starter solenoid. Just what is happening to you.

When either my husband or dad is in the car with me and it won’t start, the very first thing they want to do is make sure the car’s in park. They move the shifter around and back, then try turning the key a couple times… Personally, I don’t think this is doing anything. When it’s just me, I’ve just learned to sit patiently and keep trying and trusting that the car will start for me after a few minutes. At the recomendation of Dad, I keep a very long handled screwdriver in the car for “arcing across the solenoid” in case of an emergency. Don’t know how safe this is… only other times I’ve seen people do this is when trying to get old farm equip started.

Does “arcing across the solenoid” work? If the solenoid is OK then it maybe in the ignition switch or one of the interlock switches in the transmission. Another possible is the main ground wire off the battery is corroded and not making a good connection. You don’t draw that much power to run the car, but the draw when cranking the starter is much higher.

Yep, this works. I just don’t get why the mechanics aren’t able to do anything. I took my car in to get the brakes fixed and have them look at the starting problem (this is when they put in a new battery). Then the next day was the afternoon mentioned above (didn’t start 4 in 6 times in 2 hours). Took car back to the same shop, apparently they just tried periodically over the course of 2 days to start it. And of course it worked just fine. The guy said it might be a “loose ignition”, but can’t they check this? I just can’t believe that there’s nothing that can be done until the car won’t start for the guys at the shop.

The ignition switch (which does NOT include the lock cylinder) seems like the most likely culprits. Click for picture: