Yup, $500.00 is WAY too much for a starter. This happened on my 1988 Grand Caravan a few years ago. I replaced my Bosch original starter with the Nippendenso like what is used on '93 and newer cars. One night, when heading home from school, the starter stayed engaged. I wouldn't have heard it if I didn't have to get out to brush snow off the windshield. Luckily, I was an automotive teacher, so I drove it like that into the shop.
These starters have a real lot of trouble with worn solenoid contacts causing a no-crank condition, but in my case, the plunger's copper disc got stuck between the contacts' wear spots. Didn't even have to remove the starter; just unbolted the solenoid cover, pried the plunger loose, and of course, put it back together and drove home! It never did that again, but I did eventually have my students replace the contacts.
Most mechanics will not replace these contacts because they don't know where to find them and because they have to warranty their work and have never done this before. It's not hard to figure out. Even a competent do-it-yourselfer can change these contacts.
It's odd that your starter would start cranking after sitting for a while. Just to be safe, you might try tapping on the starter relay to see if it cranks. Two things can happen. Corrosion can grow between the contacts causing the circuit to turn on. This isn't common in a high-current circuit like a starter solenoid circuit. More common is a contact arm that corrodes apart and doesn't fully release. The small amount of current isn't enough to produce any noticeable symptom, but the heat generated by the current causes the contacts and arm to expand and make better contact until eventually enough current flows to activate the circuit. In a lamp circuit, for example, you would see the lamps getting brighter and brighter. But in the starter circuit, you wouldn't notice anything until enough current was flowing to cause the electromagnet in the solenoid to grow strong enough to engage the starter. Full starter current turns on after the solenoid is engaged.
So there's two possibilities. I'd definitely suspect the starter first, but if I'm right about the relay, eventually the contact arm will break off and it won't crank. If that happens, just switch the starter relay with a different one. The AC compressor clutch is a good one because the car can live without AC for a while.
Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 AT 2:44 AM