1998 Saturn SL1 Solenoid bypass

Tiny
ALEXMARISON
  • MEMBER
  • 1998 SATURN SL1
  • 4 CYL
  • FWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 100,000 MILES
I bypassed the starter solenoid to start the car with the help of a friend who turned the ignition while I made the connection. My question is: Is it possible to do the same thing without help? I'm afraid to turn off my car now because I know I won't have help later on when I need it again.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 4:17 PM

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Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
How are you bypassing the solenoid, and what is the symptom that makes this necessary? All you should have to do is turn the ignition switch to the run position and leave it there. You don't need a helper for that.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 4:29 PM
Tiny
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I'm pretty sure I fried the solenoid by accident by grounding it when I was trying to tighten up the loose bolt on it. It had been coming loose and causing the car not to start. A couple times I wiggled the loose wire or tightened up the loose bolt by hand and got the car started. So I was now trying a permanent fix by tightening up the bolt with a (metal) wrench (without disconnecting the starter from the battery) and the wrench touched a pipe as I was tightening it up and I saw a spark. Bolt is right now but doesn't start. However, the bypass worked. I used one of the copper clamps at end of my jumper cables to touch the 2 solenoid bolts at the same time and asked a friend to turn the ignition key.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 4:39 PM
Tiny
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You aren't going to damage the solenoid unless it is physically broken. There's three terminals on it. One large one has the battery cable on it. The other large one has a braided wire that goes into the motor. I'm guessing those are the two you're connecting. That will make the motor spin, but the solenoid is not activating to push the drive gear into the flex plate's ring gear. The starter motor will just spin real fast without spinning the engine.

That's where you needed the helper to turn the ignition switch to "Crank". That gets the drive gear engaged, THEN you can connect the two large terminals to make the starter motor spin the engine. You don't need the helper for that. When he turns the ignition switch to "crank", that causes 12 volts to appear on the third terminal, the smaller one, and that is what makes the solenoid pop out and engage the drive gear. You can do that yourself right by those terminals. The normal procedure is to connect the large battery cable terminal to the small solenoid terminal. That will engage the solenoid just as if you had turned the ignition switch. If the starter motor doesn't spin at that point, it's because the solenoid has burned contacts inside it or is broken.

You need to connect all three terminals, but the battery cable terminal and the small solenoid terminal have to be connected first, then connect the large terminal with the braided wire.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 5:08 PM
Tiny
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So I connected the front 2 and it started. The other bolt in the back (shown with a purple wire) I didn't even notice. Did my friend actually help me or would it have started anyway?

Are you also saying that the solenoid should be ok? That maybe it is the third terminal in the back that is loose too? The same guy who changed my starter, obviously left the terminal I see loose. I wouldn't doubt that if there is one in the back that is loose too.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 5:28 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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I can't tell what's loose, but all you normally need is 12 volts on the purple wire. That makes the solenoid engage which moves the drive gear into engagement, then the contacts close to pass current from the top large terminal to the lower large one.

If you're not getting 12 volts on the purple wire when you turn the ignition switch to "crank", that is a different issue, not related to the solenoid itself. The suspects then are a defective neutral safety switch, starter relay, (if your car uses one), bad section in the ignition switch, or a problem with the wiring in between them. You'd have to tell me exactly what is happening when you turn the ignition switch, and I'll dig up a wiring diagram to see where to go next. A test light should be sufficient for any needed testing.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 6:04 PM
Tiny
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What you're saying makes perfect sense because almost ever since I've gotten this car, once in a while, it randomly would just refuse to crank - and it wasn't the starter or the battery. Eventually it would, just as randomly. I turned off the car and I'm going to try to start it by myself tonight when I have to go on my errand. I'll see if I can get a view of the purple wire terminal. At one point I tested all the relays and fuses by pulling them out and putting ones I knew worked in. I will get a test light as soon as I can tomorrow. I don't remember finding the neutral safety switch though.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 6:49 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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This all depends on the symptom. If the solenoid has worn contacts, you'll hear a single, rather loud clunk from the starter each time you turn the ignition switch to "crank".
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 7:21 PM
Tiny
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I did hear a clunk when I would be down there an someone would try to start it. But it would eventually start when I would play around with the wires enough. Now it hasn't started ever since I tightened that one wire but grounded it. It started with the bypass though. I hear a clunk still but it's pretty much the same as before, I think. But I'm not sure since I wasn't paying to much attention before. I only knew about the clicking sound that a bad starter makes, which I didn't hear. Did I understand you correctly that I could not have fried the solenoid by grounding it as I was tightening up the wire terminal? The starter is only a few months old, so it should be fine otherwise.
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Friday, December 11th, 2015 AT 10:41 PM
Tiny
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So I went under the car again. I had the ignition key turned to the on position. I connected the same 2 terminals in the front of the starter, but only heard spinning. There was actually no way for me to fit my other hand up there to make the third connection nor room to make any such maneuver with one hand. Luckily I was able to flag someone down and they cranked it for me as I got it spinning by connecting the 2 easy to reach terminals - and it started. So I'm not sure what this means. To make all 3 connections at once, with as little room as I have, I would need to manufacture something. I actually forgot to try to put my phone up there and take a picture of that 3rd terminal. I couldn't see it at all so I'm not sure what it looks like.
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Saturday, December 12th, 2015 AT 12:38 AM
Tiny
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I tried tightening up the third terminal on the far side of the starter. It was loose, but the car wouldn't start still. I only heard the "clunk". Still bypassing the solenoid to get it started.
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Saturday, December 12th, 2015 AT 5:48 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
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You have to be connecting the battery cable terminal to the starter motor terminal, but only after your helper turns the ignition switch to "crank". "Crank" puts 12 volts on the solenoid terminal to make it engage physically.

You can do the same thing under the hood by connecting the solenoid terminal to the battery cable terminal. At that point you'll hear the loud clunk of the solenoid engaging. If the starter motor doesn't spin, the solenoid contacts are worn.

If you would have grounded the solenoid terminal by accident, the solenoid would have no idea that happened. There would be 0 volts on both sides of both coils of wire, so nothing would have happened. At worst, if that short was there while the ignition switch was in the "crank" position, you would have blown a fuse, arced the ignition switch's contacts, melted a wire, or, ... If a starter relay is used, you might have arced its contacts. The fact you're still using a helper make the solenoid engage proves it and its entire circuit are working fine.

If you had grounded the starter motor terminal when the solenoid was not engaged, nothing would happen. There's no voltage there at that time. If you had grounded the battery cable terminal at any time, you'd have had a huge shower of sparks. Often that melts the tool and welds it in place. A wrench will quickly turn orange and often bend from the excessive heat.

To know exactly what is happening, use a test light and measure on the solenoid terminal. You should see 0 volts, (test light is off), until your helper turns the ignition switch to "crank", then the light should be bright, and you'll hear the clunk as the solenoid engages. Next, test on the battery cable terminal. The light should be bright all the time, but when the system is working properly, it will dim a little during cranking.

The important measurement is at the starter motor terminal. You'll see 0 volts there at first. When the solenoid engages, you should see 10 - 11 volts. The test light will light up but slightly less than full brightness. If it does light up but the starter motor doesn't spin, it has worn brushes. That is not likely in this case because you wouldn't be able to get it to crank from under the hood or under any condition. If you do not see voltage at this time, the switching contacts inside the solenoid are worn, ... OR, ...

Since you've been fighting a loose nut somewhere, there could be an arced connection that is blocking current flow. The clue is found in where you take the voltage readings. Put the test light's probe right on the end of the threaded copper stud for the starter motor terminal, then turn the ignition switch to "crank". If you do find 12 volts there, move the probe from the stud to the metal terminal under the nut. (You're moving the probe less than 1/4"). Take another reading during cranking. If you find 0 volts there, that connection needs to be cleaned and tightened.
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Monday, December 14th, 2015 AT 3:18 PM

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