Starter keeps burning out

Tiny
JIM8412
  • MEMBER
  • 1998 DODGE NEON
  • 160,000 MILES
I have replaced starter twice, starter works for initial start but seems not to disengage causing it to burn out. How & what should I troubleshoot.

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Friday, August 26th, 2011 AT 4:25 AM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Do you mean it's still cranking when you turn the engine off? If so, pull out the starter relay. If it's still cranking, the solenoid plunger is stuck between the worn contacts. That happened to me once but it's not the common failure.
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Friday, August 26th, 2011 AT 5:43 AM
Tiny
JIM8412
  • MEMBER
I'm thinking it might be solenoid plunger, you mention worn contacts, do you mean on the end of the wire that connects to the starter? If so how do I check it?
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Friday, August 26th, 2011 AT 6:02 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
No, inside the solenoid. Three screws hold the cover on the solenoid. Remove them, then you can slide the plunger out. Don't lose the spring on the end of the shaft. You'll see the copper disc on the end, about the diameter of a 50 cent piece. That disc hits the two contacts to turn on the motor. The "battery" contact is held in place by the same bolt the battery cable bolts to. The "motor" contact is on the other side. The heavy braided wire going into the starter motor is attached to that bolt.

The contact in the bottom of my photo shows one of those contacts with a severely worn spot. It's REAL common for those to cause a single loud clunk as the plunger engages each time you turn the ignition switch to "crank", but the starter won't spin the engine. It always starts out very intermittent and will crank if you try it two or three times. As the wear gets worse, it can take up to, ... Well, ... Many more tries before it cranks. In the case of my ******'s '95 Grand Caravan that I ignored as long as possible, she lost count after 700 tries and a blister on her thumb, but it did still finally start.

What is NOT real common is for the plunger to stick, but you can see how that could happen if the contact disc gets wedged in those worn spots on the contacts. That happened on my '88 Grand Caravan daily driver. It came originally with the less troublesome Bosch starter, but after a student damaged it, the little silver Nippendenso starter fit right in perfectly. One night it didn't disengage and it's just lucky I heard it before getting on the highway. Drove it like that to the Auto Shop, had to disconnect the battery cable, pull the cover, then pry the plunger back with a screwdriver. I tapped the contacts with a punch and hammer to change their orientation just enough so it wouldn't happen again until I could have the students replace them.

New contacts are pretty easy to find now at the auto parts stores, and they're not very expensive. If you bought a rebuilt starter, it surely has new contacts in it already unless someone forgot to change them. It's also possible that plunger return spring got left out. The really strong magnetic field from the starter motor could pull on the metal core of the plunger and hold it engaged. The clue is it will of course stop spinning when you disconnect a battery cable, but it most likely will not continue spinning when you reconnect the cable because the magnetic field from the starter motor is gone and the plunger relaxed enough to no longer make contact. If that sounds like it might be what is happening, it might be easier to just remove the solenoid cover and see if the plunger pops out from spring pressure. If not, find a spring from an old starter or a core from the parts store. That could be faster than removing the entire starter from the engine.
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Friday, August 26th, 2011 AT 6:46 AM

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