Serious problem! Van trying to start with NO key in ignition while jump starting!

Tiny
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  • 2001 CHEVROLET EXPRESS
  • 4.3L
  • 6 CYL
  • RWD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 150,000 MILES
Hello all

So, today we went out to start our van, and it wouldn't start. It is a Chevy Express 1500 Cargo Van - 2001 model. We attached it to a battery, and the strangest thing happened! It started trying to turn over! There was NO key in the ignition though! Has anyone ever experienced this? Do they know what it is? So, again, the original battery in it was dead. We took a newer battery out of our truck, fully charged, because the truck could not reach the van parked like it was. We removed that battery, attached the ends of lead to van / new battery, and upon connecting the last lead to the new battery, the van started trying to turn over (it kept trying. It never actually turned over actually starting the van - it was struggling to do so.) - NO key in ignition! No fuses were blown or anything - and van will still not start when someone gets in and tries to turn an actual key in the ignition - It cannot even charge off the new battery b/c everytime it is fully connected to van, it tries to start. I do not want to even try attaching the van to another running vehicle for fear of what may happen to the running vehicle - if anything.

Any advice or experience is welcome
Thanks
Sara!
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 10:52 AM

12 Replies

Tiny
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I can think of three things that can do this, but the first one is not likely in this case. That is a warped starter solenoid. There have been a few on '87 and newer GM vehicles where the solenoid housing warps, then the plunger that activates the starter switch gets stuck. Most of the time it sticks in the "off" position so there's no cranking and no nice loud clunk as it engages. The symptoms are no-crank, or the starter doesn't disengage. The failure to disengage becomes evident as soon as you try to stop the engine. That will not magically appear on its own later.

The second cause is a sticking starter relay, but again, that won't START acting up hours after you stopped the engine.

The most likely suspect is you have one of those aftermarket remote start systems, and something is shorted in it. The place to start is by unplugging the starter relay. If that solves the continuous cranking, you can try a different relay, but most likely we'll have to take some quick voltage measurements to see where to look for the cause of the problem.
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 11:15 AM
Tiny
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Ok. I am not sure if you understand exactly what is happening, so I'll try and rephrase everything - I think faster than I write sometimes, and it could be confusing. :)

Ok - so, first, there is no remote started on the van. It is a basic 2001 Chevy Express Cargo Van for work purposes. My other half owns his own business - Independent contractor and all.

The vans battery died this morning - It has been dying a lot lately, but the rear doors were left open for a few hours and it died. (Prob needs a new battery soon - but thats a diff issue!)

So, upon it dying, because it was parked in front of the other vehicle we would jump start it with, we removed the battery out of the other vehicle - it was fully charged and pretty much new. We took the leads and attached the battery to the van. Upon doing so, the van would start trying to turn over - every couple of seconds you'd hear the engine trying to turn over - slowly. There was NO key in the ignition though! My fiance then tried to get into the van, while it was continuously trying to turn over, and DID try a key in the ignition - which nothing happened. It just continued trying to turn over on its own. We disconnected the new battery from the van and tried the key in the ignition again - nothing.

We have not connected a runnin vehicle to the van b/c we don't want to risk anything happening to the car that runs. If anything at all would happen anyway.

So, we have no idea why it is trying to turn over, no key in ignition, the minute it is attached via the jumper cables to a brand new battery - with NO key in ignition - any ideas?

Thanks!
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 11:32 AM
Tiny
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Also, do you still want me to start by unplugging starter relay? Do I leave it unplugged and do something or just unplug and plug back in again? How do I do this? My fiance will be home in ten min and he can do all these things without asking for help locating etc - but for now it is just me. Ill let u know as soon as he is in and I dont need the extra help anymore.

Also, Ignore my other question - it posted twice earlier - the titles are a little diff. So please, just stick to this one. Thanks!
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 11:50 AM
Tiny
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Yup, I understood you. Your description of the symptom was way more complete than a lot of people post.

The issue with the starter relay is to determine if the starter is cranking on its own BECAUSE the relay is being turned on, or IN SPITE of the relay staying off. Unplug that relay, then connect the battery. The starter is either going to stay off or it's going to start cranking again. Knowing which will tell us where to start looking.

By the way, be aware that batteries give off explosive hydrogen gas, and connecting and disconnecting the cables makes big sparks when the starter stays engaged. Mechanics would be wearing safety glasses. I have a habit of blowing over the battery just before I remove or connect a cable to blow that hydrogen away.
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 12:14 PM
Tiny
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Update: We went out and disconnected the relay. He plugged in the vans battery and for literally a second (like there was some residual energy) it tried to turn over. (Keep in mind he has had the van battery on charge with a charging machine). He tried to turn the key in the ignition and nothing happened. He then connected the new battery to the van and it DIDN'T begin the trying to turn over again and again w/out the key in the ignition. He went in the van and tried the key and it started on its own. He came out and plugged the starter relay back in and it stayed running. We turned the van off and turned the key again and it started again. Its almost as if he has a sticky starter relay? Or it needed to be reset and this did it?

Is it possible they overheat and it causes it to need to be reset? Could it be moisture? Is it possible this is the beginning of the relay going? Is it just a sticky relay? Any thoughts are great appreciated. You have been a great help so far! I am guessing this is going to be a continual problem here and there - what could cause this? Fix it? Etc.
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 12:49 PM
Tiny
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Oh and thanks for the info on the battery and the gas it creates! We were trying to figure out why it was sparking when we would disconnect / connect the leads. Even the ground did it - now we know. :) Thank you!
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 12:50 PM
Tiny
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Oh - just to make sure you understand, the entire time we were doing these things, the van wasn't on its own, it was connected to the new battery - ie: "He went in the van and tried the key and it started on its own. He came out and plugged the starter relay back in and it stayed running. We turned the van off and turned the key again and it started again." In the first answer, it was connected to the new battery via the leads, I just didn't want u to think it "started on its own" as in nothing was connected to the battery in the van. Once I said he connected the new battery, it was connected the whole time after.
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 12:53 PM
Tiny
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You found the wrong relay. With the starter relay unplugged, the starter can't work when you turn the ignition switch. The way the circuit works is turning the ignition switch to "crank" sends a little power to the starter relay. That causes the relay to turn on which switches on the medium power to the starter solenoid. The solenoid is like another relay but it also does mechanical work. That's not important for now. When the relay turns on, it sends power to the solenoid, then when the solenoid turns on, it sends high power to the starter motor.

We know the starter was cranking on its own, so it was getting that high power through the solenoid. The issue now is why is the solenoid getting power? This is where removing the starter relay effectively splits the circuit into two pieces. If the starter still cranks by itself, the problem is after that relay. If it no longer cranks on its own, the problem is before the relay, however, it won't crank with the ignition switch either. That's how I know you unplugged the wrong relay.

If everything is working properly now, when you unplug the right relay, it will not crank when you turn the ignition switch.
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 1:23 PM
Tiny
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Hello again
Well, this makes complete sense, doesn't it! I thought it quite odd that it did turn over - it didn't make sense to me, but went with it as it did turn over! :) Ok, so I relayed this to my fiance. I am not sure how this website works completely, but due to a severe winter storm we're being slammed with in NH, he had to go out and start plowing, and I am inside with the "little people" - kiddo - now too. We are going to start on this new in the early AM, and we want to know if we will still have you to work with? We'd really like to continue with the help from you to solve this issue - or at least get to a point where we know what to fix and why.

Is this something you can do? Do I need to reapply with a new question and hope you answer it? Do I just continue to write to you?

Also, when I first signed up for this, I did place a small donation as I thought it the right thing to do. After the amount of help you have given us, we wanted to be able to donate more to you. I am not sure if you get paid separately or if you make money off of these donations or what - but either way we want you to get something more - especially now that I am asking for your continued help, but no matter what we feel you deserve more than my initial donation. Is there anyway to do this? Obv in a way which will not get you into any trouble, but supports the site and yourself? Please let me know. I look forward to continuing to work with you - I'm guessing we will have it all figured out tomorrow. :) Just need the daylight - and the lack of 30 mph 20 below zero winds and snow squalls!
Have a great evening
Sara
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 4:23 PM
Tiny
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Yup, you and I are the only two who will get an automated e-mail message with a link right back to this post when there's a reply. Keep coming back here. My record is over 50 replies over a couple of weeks, but we did finally figure out the problem.

I feel your pain. I'm in the middle of Wisconsin, and I really hate snow and cold. The problem we're going to have is I had a major house fire almost a year ago, (the last day of February last year), and as a result, I have to drive ten miles into town to sit in the library. I can get on their wireless internet from the parking lot too, but when it's this cold, there are two local hospitals where I can sit inside and type. When I don't have to go out, I often skip a day. Most of the time I find a reason to go to town, like snooping around in Home Depot, and because I can be involved in over a dozen other conversations at any time and I want to see how they're doing. The point is, I don't want to leave you hanging, but don't panic if I don't reply for a day.

Thank you for your donation. The site owners have been very good to me. I only know they pay me a little for every answer of value, and more when there's a donation involved. I like it that people can ask for free, because most of those I help are desperate to save money, or they just want some unbiased advice on how to get their car repaired properly. I have my own web site too so I know it costs a lot of money to keep it going. Any additional donation will help them and would be appreciated, but rest assured, I don't get to know how much anyone donated. Your donation doesn't affect my answers either, ... Usually. I'm always long-winded, but since a donation shows you have a real investment in getting an answer, I'll be slightly less inclined to use sarcasm. Just slightly!

I have four little welfare recipients too. (Four cats)!
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Saturday, February 14th, 2015 AT 8:49 PM
Tiny
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Hello again

You know I have yet to ask you your name. It's prob. Not something you often get asked, or offer out, but it would be nicer to actually start off a note with your name! LOL.

I am sorry to hear about your house fire. I know this can be very difficult. I think it is amazing that you still get out there and offer so much of your time to help others. That's really nice to hear. You seem very educated in this field, and have a great personality - so it has been a pleasure working with you. I appreciate your understanding our issues with the snow. We had about a foot dumped on us, with the winds and below zero temp it sucks. No other word for it. :) Mike will get to the van later on this afternoon - after all snow plowing etc is out of the way. I am actually glad you have times when you're not able to reply right away, because I was basically trying to say something similar to you. Ill always get back to you, but there may be a few hours, if not a day. Where I just can't. I run my own business, (as does my other half), plus I have my kids (2 - a rambunctious 10 and 3 year old), appts, house stuff, car issues blah blah blah - I get it. I also don't want to be one of those people making you feel like you need to go ten miles into town, in bad weather esp, to answer these questions! I can def. Wait for you to get to it when you can, as long as you don't forget about me. :)

As far as the sarcasm goes, bring it on! I live for it. Nothing better than sarcasm, esp. With someone who also appreciates it.

I am not sure what you're allowed to offer for info while working on this website, but if you don't mind my asking, what is your website about? Could I possibly ask for the address to view it? Just curious is all. I have a website too, but it is currently "down for repairs." It needed some tweaking, and I found a better company to go through for it. I love meeting people in these neat ways, I have a knack for knowing what people are good, and what ones are just looking for a quick buck, or out for themselves only. You def. Seem like a great person with awesome knowledge of something so many people would love to have - or can't afford to pay to get the answers on - the fact that you offer it to others for a small fee, to none at all, is really amazing. This site is by far one of the best I have seen in a long time, in regards to helping others. Especially with this topic. I am def. Spreading the good word.

All that being said, I look forward to your reply, and I will be back to you as soon as we get back to the van. I would like to know what we are going to wind up needing to fix / replace in order to solve the issue - even if short term. I will prob be posting another question soon on another issue it is having, as well as some on my vehicles problems. I love researching the info to find solutions and fix things myself; this place def. Helps in an area where problems are far too detailed and specific to search the web for an answer. Hope to be able to have my other questions answered by you, or someone with the same attitude and caliber as yourself.

Have a great day
Talk soon
Sara
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Sunday, February 15th, 2015 AT 6:45 AM
Tiny
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My specialty areas are Automotive Electrical, Suspension and Alignment, Brakes, and to some extent, Engine Repair. Those are the things I can help you with if you have more questions. I can do some emissions and engine performance issues, but for those there are better people here so I would have you post a new question.

As for my web site, we are asked to not send people to other sites, but if you want to find it yourself, do a search for Randy's Repair Shop. My Welcome page usually comes up first in Google searches. Right now everything is for Automotive Electrical. I was going to start adding pages for Suspension and Alignment because that is another area with theory that is hard to learn, but I had some requests for basic electrical theory, so I've been working on that instead. This started out as a resource for students who already got their basic electrical theory, but now what I'm adding is the real basic stuff that I used to start out with in my classes.

At the bottom of this first page you can find an "About Me" link. You can also go to the Starter Systems pages. Your system is one that I had in mind, and it applies to these pages. Click on the "Starter Systems" tab first to read about the theory of operation, then on the GM link on the drop-down menu.
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Monday, February 16th, 2015 AT 2:15 PM

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