Trouble starting a 1997 Jeep Cherokee

I have a 1997 Jeep Cherokee with about 140,000 miles on it. Right now, when I put the key in the ignition and turn, all of the electrical systems come on (lights, radio, locks, a/c, etc.) but the engine does nothing (no noise, nothing). If I keep turning the key (dozens of times or more), it will eventually start up as if nothing had happened. Once the car is on, it runs as if there was no problem. The issue occurs whenever the car is turned off and then on (i.e. the warmth of the engine doesn’t seem to matter). Any ideas as to what’s going on and/or what I’m going to have to pay to get it fixed?

Other potentially related nuggets of info:

1) This is a problem that has occurred sporadically for the last couple of years. It’s happened two or three previous times and, each time, has lasted for a couple of weeks (which is about 20-30 “starts”). Then it seems to go away for 6 months or so before coming back.

2) The car does have an aftermarket remote starter on it, but that doesn’t seem it be involved. The remote start won’t start it. And the last time this issue occurred, the remote start was on the car, but was not activated.

A seemingly odd question…how many keys do you have on your keyring ?

Without testing, I’ll make a s.w.a.g., and go for a defective ignition switch (the part with the wires attached, NOT the lock cylinder).

  • This is usually the ignition switch. You may want to try a lock smith for a repair.

  • Heavy key rings are associated with this problem. Having lots of keys and a flashlight and a Swiss army knife on a key ring is just a little too much.

  • Remote starters, especially after market do cause a lot of problems like this. It appears you already know that.


  1. I only have four other keys on my keyring, plus the electronic key fob. So I don’t think it’s a heavy key-ring issue…
  2. This morning - after approximately 80 turns (literally) of the key in the ignition did nothing - I rattled the heck out of the gearshift (automatic) in a fit of pique. The jeep started on the next turn of the key and has started on the first turn three times since. Coincidence?

Will it start i you shift to neutral?

Do your backup lights work? The reason I ask is if they aren’t working all the time, it could be your NSS switch. They get pretty gummed up with the miles you have. Not to difficult to remove, clean and regrease youself (dealer will change you about $400 to replace with new one).

Another couple of months still having the problem intermittently. To answer two questions above: 1) No, shifting to neutral does not seem to make a difference; 2) Yes, the backup lights seem to work all the time…

Manual or automatic?

Frankly my money is on that “aftermarket remote starter”

As Ranger333v indicated, check your neutral safety switch. This is a known problem on higher-mileage Jeeps with the AW4 automatic transmission. As he indicated, it is a simple matter to remove it, clean up the contacts, and lubricate with with dielectric grease. If it looks too complicated, go to one of the Cherokee forums and search for the procedure. I did mine in about 30 minutes. By the way, my backup lights worked fine before I cleaned the NSS.

That’s my bet.
Mine pulls a trick where it won’t start in park after a very short trip (1/4 - 1/2 mile), but starts right up if I shift to neutral.

I have no answer, but I have the same problem with my 1996 Jeep Cherokee. I have associated this problem with hard turning of the steerwheel before parking (thats when it seemed to occur most). My backup lights have not worked for about 3 years (the bulbs are good); I use to wiggle the autotrans gearshift to get them to come on, but that does not do the trick now. I’ve tried giggling the gearshift or turning the steering a little to see if it would start; couldn’t tell which was helping. I would have all lights working, heater fan on, radio playing, just no crank. Last night was really strange. I turned the jeep off to gas up. I went to restart and no crank, Went to turn on the parking lights to see neutral on the gear select and I find I have to parking lights, no headlights, no radio, no dashlight - nothing at all would work. Left the door open with the key in the ignition and asked the gas attendent to help me push the Jeep. 10 seconds later, the key buzzer starts buzzing. I turned the key and it starts. This was a real power lose, the radio had reset to 12:00 just as if the battery was diisconnected. The battery and started have been replaced in the course of troubleshooting this problem. This last occurance may be the problem realy showing itself.

had simialar problem w/ my 97. It was the NSS Neutral safety switch. Here is a good online desc. of how to handle it. They are pretty expensive if it has to be replaced, but mine only needed some maintenance. GL.

My Jeep is doing the same thing. Did you solve the problem?

Im having the same problem with my 1997 Jeep Cherokee Sport 4x4. I went out this morning to start the car and turned the key and nothing. The car wouldn’t crank at all. No click or anything. Then I went out about an hour later and tried it and it started right up. Now, it seems to be starting fine. Could the starter be going out or could it be the ignition? Or something else? Any ideas?