What could a mechanic do to fry both an alternator and starter?

The slave cylinder in the hydraulic clutch system of my truck recently failed and I took it to a shop and had the entire clutch set replaced. When I went to go pickup the truck, the battery light was on. They tested it and it wasn’t charging. Smoke was pouring out of the alternator so they replaced the alternator for free with my warranty. I had replaced it several years ago with a lifetime warranty unit so they did the labor for free.

One of the mechanics mentioned that it was having trouble starting as well but that seemed fine so I didn’t worry about it. Then it started acting up about two weeks ago in a Wal-Mart parking lot. It would just click but that was it. I got under the truck to make sure everything was tight and some sort of mechanic or utility worker with a truck full of tools came over and asked if I needed help. I removed the nut holding the positive cable onto the starter with my fingers, handed it to him, and said this was obviously left loose after some recent work, so he came back with the appropriate wrench and I tightened it down. It started right up and I thought all was well.

Then this weekend the starter took a second or two to engage but fired right up and I drove to my destination. Then it wouldn’t start but luckily I was able to roll start it on an incline so that was how I had to start it for the rest of the day. It wouldn’t start hot would start with a struggle if it sat overnight. It was like the solenoid was bad. Once it hit and engaged, it would start with gusto so I didn’t even question the battery.

I bought a new starter last night and installed it this morning. I also did an oil change as I it was due and I was under there getting dirty anyway. This was obviously the problem as the new starter fires right off without any delays and has plenty of gusto. I also replaced the starter not long ago with a lifetime warranty unit so will be able to get my money back once the core it returned.

I have never had any issues with this mechanic before so hope it was a one time mistake. What could have caused this? I was having no issues with either the starter or alternator before this work was done so assume something happened during the work. Of course the starter had to be removed to separate the transmission and replace the clutch set. I can imagine the loose lug on the starter possibly leading to a higher amp draw, possibly damaging it.

I wondered if the battery wasn’t disconnected before the work and something grounded/shorted out or was connected with reversed polarity. Any explanations for this?

Not having a great understanding of the wiring, I’d suspect maybe wrench or something got welded in the process. If you create a dead short, it doesn’t take long for something to glow red. Should be some evidence though of sparking. If any consolation must have scared the guy pretty good if that’s what happened. At least it works now.

I don’t remember if it was the 2nd strike or the 3rd strike for the guy that blew my trans solenoid out. I’m an understanding guy but 3 strikes is it.

For the starter, if after the repair, failing to tightly secure the starter to where it fits could cause an iffy start, b/c that’s the path for the starter ground current. Likewise failing to replace/tighten the electrical ground wire(s) between the engine/transmission and the chassis is a possibility. If your truck uses an engine compartment starter relay, that’s a possible culprit as well. Double check it is securely attached to where it mounts, and the wires going to it are securely attached.

For the alternator, it’s possible something got shorted out while the battery was connected and damaged the alternator, but that’s gonna hard to prove. You could ask the mechanics at the shop, see what they say I guess. My guess is that the alternator just decided to give up the ghost at that particular day, unrelated to the work. Next in line is the alternator was damaged as a result of the work, diodes short circuited or the like, but like I say that’s going to be hard to say for certain. Any indication of fuses or fusible links being replaced?

Back to the starter motor, my 50 year old Ford truck still has the original starter motor, so it seems unusual you’ve had to replace yours twice now. Make sure your getting full battery voltage to the starter motor when the key is in start. Faulty starter relay contacts could be involved.

The first starter on the truck was likely original so I cannot knock that one. The truck has close to 300,000 miles and has not lived an easy life. The final straw for the original starter was when I drove it through some water that was deeper than I would have liked! I made it out in 4WD but the starter began acting up right after that. Even when that old starter seemed to be working fine, it was immediately clear that the new starter spun faster and with so much more power than the old one. It was obviously wearing out and I don’t know if the water did it in or that was just a coincidence. It is on the bottom of the engine/transmission so probably got immersed.

The new starter didn’t give me a lick of trouble until I had my clutch replaced so I think this has to do with the work. I might do some basic voltage tests to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem that will strand me or eat more starters. I will say that when I turn the key after the replacement yesterday, it fires right off and with no delays at all. The power and speed of the new starter seems just like the one that just got replaced so I think maybe it was just the solenoid. If I get any other strange behavior such as delays, I will immediately replace the relay.

As for the alternator, they seem to think it was on the way out when I took the truck in. I do know that a fuse or fusible link was replaced as they were going to get it back to me after the alternator swap but had to then find out why it still wasn’t charging. A fuse had been blown if that means anything.

I will check voltages but really think that there is plenty of voltage as the starter sounds fast and strong, not sluggish as they can sound when your battery is about due for replacement.

The shop was very apologetic when I called them this morning and they said I should have called them when it didn’t start at the Wal-Mart. I told them it was late afternoon on a Sunday and it delayed me by 3 minutes or so, plus the place was an hour or more away from the shop so I didn’t want to bother them. Apparently there is an employee there who worked on my truck that might not be employed with them much longer. They have always done good work before so figure this is hopefully a one time deal, whatever happened.


So far, so good on the new starter. All voltages seem fine and it hits and starts very quickly as it did before I took it into the shop. Yes, the alternator was also fried and there was a blown fuse so I think it happened at the same time. Anyway, the starting/charging system problems seem good to go for now.


So, the gremlin has returned. After a week or more of flawless starting, the non-start condition came back. Since I know the starter and alternator are new, I figure it is the solenoid is the next problem.

This problem seems worse after the truck is run and warm. I stopped to get gas last night, not even concerned about it starting. Then I go to start it and CLICK, CLICK, CLICK but no start.

I installed a new solenoid tonight and it fired right up and everything seemed normal. Of course I didn’t drive it an hour and get everything heat soaked which is when the problem really comes out.

I didn’t see any spots indicative of arcing but would guess whatever happened went down at the starter. Since the transmission had to come out, I figure they went to remove the starter without disconnecting the battery and arced on a wrench. This truck is so old and dirty that any arcing spots might be hidden. The old starter is gone now since I turned it back in as a core so any evidence there is missing.

So, I spend like $2000 to have my truck fixed and then have to chase down problems and cleanup messes that weren’t there when I took it in. I guess this is life in the USA these days. I was to the point where I figured that anything besides oil changes and brakes were better left to those with all the tools and know how but figure I need to keep on doing the more minor stuff myself. I have been swamped with work as well so have the money but not the time so this is frustrating. I hear the same stories about every profession these days and I am getting paid to drive long distances to far away places to do service because of this issue. Yes, I would rather pay someone to do it but maybe that isn’t a good idea.

Is there any other component I should be concerned about, given what likely happened? If this issue returns, what should I look for next? Keep in mind that this is only cranking the starter. I can roll start it by popping the clutch without issues. It isn’t a spark or fuel issue but only relates to the starter not cranking.

I also pulled fuse 21 under the dash just for grins. During the time the fuse was out, I tried starting and it was completely dead as expected so I had the correct fuse. That is the fuse from the ignition switch to the low-power side of the solenoid.

I have no idea and not fully understanding power getting to the solenoid but then not the starter, but is there a possibility that the ground from the engine to the chassis is not getting a good connection? Same thing again with the switch?

Try changeling the tilt on the steering wheel just for kicks.

I was going to guess grounding issues next. I had this happen once on another car I owned but it was my fault that time. Apparently an arc can alter the composition/corrode ground connections due to the heat generated at the contact point.

My issues with bad grounds usually happen when it is colder and damp outside, not after the car has been running well for a while. I checked several major grounds and they were all tight. I know these had to be removed to replace the clutch. I removed two major grounds, cleaned them, and applied silicone grease while changing the starter as well.

I haven’t run it long enough to know if it is truly solved yet but I am hopeful it was just the solenoid that will fix this once and for all.

Another symptom. Usually the truck starts like a champ in the morning but not after being run. One thing I notice is that the clicking from the solenoid is pretty quiet when the truck will not start. When it struggled to start, the clicking was much louder and then it finally hits after 2-3 tries. Sometimes I would get this in the morning as well. It would start right up the first time. If I let it run like 10 seconds and turned it off, it would then struggle on subsequent starts or not start at all.

FWIW, I have a 50 year old Ford truck, 302, never had any problems with the starter, still original. But over the years I have had a couple of problems involving clicks but doesn’t crank.

First time: Faulty starter solenoid, part that bolts to the firewall. Replaced part. Fixed.

Second time: Solenoid tested ok, but fasteners were not holding it securely to the firewall, which is part of its ground circuit. Cleaned the grounding surfaces of rust and corrosion, new fasteners, tightened the part to the firewall, good to go.

FYI, There’s a couple other semi-bizarre failure modes relating to that part. On my truck at least.

  • Cranks ok, but engine seems reluctant to fire and run , esp on cold starts. Caused by a failed connection (often broken wire) that otherwise bypasses the primary ignition resistor for the coil to create extra strong sparks on cold starts.

  • Cranks and fires ok, but stalls as soon as the key is returned from start to run. Caused by a failed electrical connection in path through the resistor (mentioned above).

Has anyone checked if a wire got pinched between the engine/transmission when the transmission was reinstalled?


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I thinks this is fixed, at least for now. The solenoid has been replaced and grounding cleaned up although it wasn’t dirty or corroded. I also coated all connections and mating surfaces with silicone grease.

I don’t think it is anything related to the ignition resistor, if I even have one of those. It runs fine once started, even if roll or push started by popping the clutch. My issues are clicks but no cranks.

Also, I think the ignition resistor is for Ford V8 models older than mine. I found TONS of complaints about this part failing and it looks like there were class action suits about it for trucks, Mustangs, etc. Either way, my truck runs fine once started.

For now I seem to be good but time will tell.

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I didn’t see anything like this but will look again. The grounds and positive cable appeared to be in the proper location although the nut on the positive lug on the starter was able to be removed with my fingers before I tightened it up. Several things were all working against me to cause the same problem.

I am wondering this starter solenoid might have been on the way out for a while now and whatever happened finished it off. Maybe me putting a new starter on masked the problem since everything with the rest of the system besides the solenoid was perfect.

3 years ago I started having similar clicks from the starter. The starter was quite old and I ended up nearly sinking the truck in a mud puddle on a remote road and was luckily able to get it in 4WD and out of the mess. I have no doubt that the starter was likely fully immersed in that incident so that was partly my fault and due to age as well. The starter began acting up within a week or two of that incident. I could immediately tell the new starter fired with so much more gusto than the old one.

I wonder if that starter would have continued to operate longer with a new solenoid. I guess if you have resistance in multiple spots vs. just one, it might make starting more difficult or any degradation in the battery would immediately be apparent.

Yes, that’s definitely true. The entire circuit’s resistance affects cranking b/c it takes so much current. Even just 1/10 ohm develops 10 volts across it with 100 amps.

Well, I thought it was fixed and then it came back. It appears that the starter solenoid was bad right out of the box and working intermittently. For now all is well but I have thought it was fixed before, only to have the problem return. I did make sure all connections were cleaned and coated with silicone grease.

Hopefully this is it for a while.

Just for kicks, how bad would it be to just replace the cables?

If it comes back, I might go ahead and replace all the grounding/negative cables. The positive is a strange Ford monster I don’t want to touch unless I have to.