TownCar starter nightmare

1987 Lincoln TownCar. 5.0

New starter. New battery. Alternator tested good.

Starter engages once, but doesn’t turn engine over. All gauges and lights go off and stay off. Only power is at cigarette lighter and a very dim dome light.

Further attempts at starting engine cause positive battery terminal to heat up. Starter relay does not heat up.

Attempt to restart the car a few minutes later, it will have power and may or may not start. If it doesn’t start, it will repeat the cycle above. If it does restart, engine runs fine. Shut it off. Attempt another start. Doesn’t turn over.

It appears I have an intermittent electrical problem somewhere, but I don’t know where to begin.

When was the last time you checked the electrolyte level in your battery? You could have low electrolyte level which would fit well with the symptoms you’ve described. There is no such thing as a “Maintenance free” battery-they’re just harder for the owner to work on. If it is a low battery it may explode. This is not fun nor desirable. If you manage to get the cell caps off of the battery fill them with distilled water NOT tap water.

I can’t disagree with newpony, but new battery should not have low electrolyte (obviously).

Another plausible explanation: You have a high resistance in the cable right at the positive battery terminal, and it’s the cable that is heating, not the battery terminal. (Less likely: bad connection between the new battery and the cable terminal. Solution: disconnect and clean the terminal.) Maybe the cable wires are corroded right where they connect to the cable terminal. Solution: cut away the coroded part of the wire and put a new terminal on the good end. If the wire comes up too short, you might have to replace the whole cable, or maybe you can figure out a way to splice on a new end (that would need a really good connection).

I would look more closely at why the postive terminal is heating up. If you have a DVM measure the voltage drop from the battery positive terminal to the solenoid lug on which the postive cable is attached while you are having trouble cranking. I suspect that you have a poor connection at the positive battery cable clamp or the connection of the cable wire to the clamp is faulty. You might just replace that cable to see it that is the problem.

If you can find the instrumentation, have the current draw measured while the starter refuses to crank. If it is low, I would return to the poor connection problem. If it is very high, I would look at a mechanical problem in the starter or pinion/flywheel engagement, i.e. the starter is oveloaded.

Hope that helps.

Thanks alot, guys. I replaced the relay and the positive cable. No more power problems. Engine turns over great. Engine won’t run, though. I think I may have connected one of the wires to the wrong post on the relay. An easy fix.