Hi PenelopeTu. Welcome to the forum. First of all let's clear up some confusion as this seems to be a common point. "Crank" and "turn over" are exactly the same thing meaning the starter spins the engine but the engine won't run. Think of starting an old model T. Hand cranking turned the engine over to start it. When you say it does one but won't do the other, we aren't sure what the exact symptom is.
There are usually multiple wires in each battery cable clamp. The most common problem is a failure to crank (spin) the engine, but on some cars, due to that second or third smaller wire, it IS possible for the engine to crank but not run. Usually there will be other symptoms such as no dash lights or dome lights, but not always. Based on your dandy observation that wiggling on the battery cables got the engine to start, it does indeed sound like just a simple battery cable problem.
Rather than looking for a special cable, there are tests that can be performed with a test light and a helper to find which connection is causing the problem. You also might see sparks at the bad connection when a helper tries to start the engine. That's an unmistakable sign. Those connections should be removed and cleaned until they are shiny.
A loose cable clamp around the battery post can be replaced without replacing the entire cable. Those universal clamps are not meant to be a permanent fix but that's what ends up happening. They work so well, people leave them on. If you do replace the entire negative cable, you should be able to find one at your local parts store unless there is something so unusual or special about your old one. One large cable will bolt to the engine and one smaller one will bolt to the body. Be sure that smaller one is bolted to a clean rust-free spot. When you use a wrench on that battery cable, be absolutely sure it doesn't make contact with the positive battery post or cable. If it does, there will be so much current flow, it will turn orange and melt! If you're lucky enough to just make sparks, those sparks could ignite the hydrogen gas that batteries give off. If you don't normally wear safety glasses, now is a good time to start. I don't mean to scare you out of performing this repair, but it's really a mundane task because professionals know what precautions to take. The job is less dangerous than putting gas in the car, but putting in gas is mundane too because we understand the dangers.
Holler back if you want to try to find the bad connection with a test light. You will need a helper, and most importantly, the problem must be occurring during the testing procedure. There is no defect to be found when everything is working properly.
Saturday, June 26th, 2010 AT 2:29 PM