Can't happen! Well, ok; let me explain. :)
There is a pair of heavy switch contacts that turn on the starter motor when the solenoid is engaged. The solenoid also pushes the drive gear of which you refer to engage the ring gear on the flywheel or torque converter. There are three possible problems.
Since the motor is spinning, the solenoid had to push the drive gear out, but it might not have gone far enough to reach the ring gear teeth. The fix is to remove the starter, (you might not need to take the wires off, but disconnect the battery negative cable to prevent exciting sparks! Check the shaft that the gear slides on for rust or hardened grease. Clean it up with brake parts or carburetor cleaner, then lubricate it with a light grease or heavy oil. This problem is often more severe in colder temperatures or when the engine is cold.
There could be some damaged teeth on the ring gear. If the starter does not engage multiple times, try turning the engine a little bit by tugging on the serpentine belt. Turn it clockwise as you're viewing it from the front. That's the normal direction of rotation, so you'll be past a possible bad spot. If this works, suspect chewed up teeth on the ring gear. You'll need to remove the starter or the transmission inspection cover to look at the teeth. If a few teeth are chipped on the front edge, the sticking starter drive gear could have caused this condition. The only repair is to either replace the torque converter or flywheel, or to cut the welds holding the ring gear on, heating it with a torch to expand it, then turning it around, heating it again to reinstall it, and re-welding it.
The third possibility is a defective over-running clutch in the starter's drive gear. This used to be a common problem on GMs Fords and Chryslers decades ago, but I really haven't seen it for many years.
First, see if you can figure out if it starts better when the engine is warm. If so, try cleaning and lubricating the starter shaft / drive gear.
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Thursday, March 19th, 2009 AT 4:48 PM