Starting

Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
  • 2002 SATURN L200
  • 4 CYL
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 175,000 MILES
My car will not start and the tow truck driver said it is probably the starter. Where is it and how do I remove it so I can hopefully have it tested at an auto parts store?
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Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 AT 4:58 PM

36 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
A worn out or defective starter will almost always work fine on a test bench when it does not have to do any work. The only accurate way to test a starter is on the engine so that puts a load on it.

"Will not start" can mean multiple things. I assume you mean the starter does not crank the engine. If the engine cranks normally, the starter is working, and you have a "crank/no-start" condition. That is very different from a "does not crank" no-start.

The first thing is to carefully observe the exact symptoms. Do you hear a single, light click from the starter relay each time you turn the ignition switch to "crank"? Do you hear a rather loud single clunk from the starter each time you turn the ignition switch to "crank"? What happens to the brightness of the head lights or interior lights when you try to crank the engine? Based on those observations, we need to take some voltage readings at the starter. A test light will work best for these tests, but a digital voltmeter is okay too.

Why did you not list the engine size?
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Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 AT 5:08 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Okay, first off it is a 2.2 liter sixteen cam four cylinder. I sat in the driver's seat and tried to start the car, I heard nothing when I tried to start it. The brightness of the interior light did not change when I tried to start it (obviously I do not know about the headlights). I have a voltmeter but do not know how to read it (I have it only to see if current passes through a fuse).
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Thursday, February 2nd, 2017 AT 1:22 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Dandy. The lights not dimming suggests the cause is likely not related to the battery cable connections, so we can move on.

Switch the meter to "DC Volts", twenty volt range. That means it will measure any voltage between 0.0 volts and plus or minus 19.99 volts. If you switch to a lower range, or connect the probes backward, the meter will not be damaged. You will get a minus sign if the probes are switched around, and the display will go blank or read whatever it uses for an over-range indication, often a single digit "1" or "OL" if you use a range that is too low.

Connect the black negative probe to a paint-free point on the engine. Use the red probe to take the measurements.

Your car does not use a starter relay. The ignition switch has to carry the full starter solenoid current, so failures can be expected. That can be up to fifteen to twenty amps. That is a lot for a little switch to handle. Go to the smaller purple wire on the starter solenoid and measure the voltage there while a helper turns the ignition switch to "crank". You should find around twelve volts. If you do not, shift the transmission to "neutral" and try again.

Based on what you find, we will need to go to the ignition switch or the neutral safety switch for the next measurement.
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Thursday, February 2nd, 2017 AT 3:50 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Ok I think I had the multimeter set up correctly 12v 20 (thanks for the help there). I couldn't get to the small purple wire through the insulation, so I couldn't test it, so that I didn't feel completely useless I checked the battery and got a reading of 12.4, is that at least good? I also looked at the fuses and they seemed alright. So my next question is, how do I check that purple wire?
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Saturday, February 4th, 2017 AT 11:01 AM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Oh yeah the battery terminals were clean and tight.
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Saturday, February 4th, 2017 AT 11:03 AM
Tiny
SATURNTECH9
  • EXPERT
All you have to do is touch the post the purple wire goes to to test for power no need to pierce the wire to starter. Also hold the key in the start position and lightly tap the side of the large part of the starter. See if the engine starts to crank over?
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Saturday, February 4th, 2017 AT 1:35 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
You can also look for that purple wire on the neutral safety switch. Poke the meter's probe through the rubber seal next to the wire. You should see 12 volts there when a helper turns the ignition switch to "crank". If you do not, check on the yellow wire. If you have it there, the neutral safety switch is bad. You can verify that by jumping the purple and yellow wires together with a stretched-out paper clip. Be sure the transmission is in "park", then try to start the engine. If there's no 12 volts on the yellow wire, suspect the ignition switch.

A good, fully-charged battery will measure 12.6 volts. 12.4 suggests it is good but not fully-charged.
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Saturday, February 4th, 2017 AT 3:42 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Ok, I checked the volts at the starter solenoid while the car was in park and a helper tried to start it. The reading I got was around 9.68v then itried it in neutral and didn't see much of anything in the way of volts (up to 3.8). So that's the story here. Doug
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Monday, February 6th, 2017 AT 1:17 PM
Tiny
SATURNTECH9
  • EXPERT
Have the battery charged and tested that's a low voltage eeadings.
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Monday, February 6th, 2017 AT 1:24 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
What did you find on the yellow wire at the neutral safety switch? If you find over 12 volts there, the neutral safety switch is bad. Use a stretched-out paper clip to connect the purple and yellow wires together, then try cranking the engine.
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Monday, February 6th, 2017 AT 2:22 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Where do I find the neutral safety switch? Remember this car is a 2002 saturn l200 with a 4 banger and an automatic transmission. Next question how do I charge this batt? I know that is a stupid question but I don't want to over charge it. What volts should it be? So to answer the last question, I haven't checked the yellow wire at the neutral safety switch.
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Monday, February 6th, 2017 AT 2:44 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Look for the neutral safety switch / range sensor on the transmission, by the shift lever.

A good, fully-charged battery will measure 12.6 volts. If it is higher right after it was on a charger, that is due to the "surface charge". That is the abundance of free electrons that haven't been absorbed into the plates yet. Turn on a load, such as the head lights or heater fan, for about ten seconds to remove that surface charge, then the voltage readings will be more accurate.

A good battery that is not fully-charged will measure around 12.4 volts, and a good, fully-discharged battery will read close to 12.2 volts. An additional clue that a battery is discharged is the voltage will drop a lot when any load is applied, like head lights, and especially when trying to run the starter system.

If you find 11 volts or less with no load applied, the battery has a shorted cell and must be replaced.

As batteries age, the lead flakes off the plates and reduces its storage capacity. Voltage will still be unaffected, but the length of time the battery can run anything will become increasingly shorter. This is where it loses its ability to dampen the harmful voltage spikes '87 and newer GM generators develop. That results in repeat generator failures and elusive engine running problems that defy diagnosis. The voltage spikes can damage the generator's internal diodes and voltage regulator, and interfere with computer sensor signals. To reduce the numerous repeat generator failures, always replace the battery at the same time the generator needs to be replaced, unless it is less than about two years old.

When charging a battery, expect to see the current shown on the meter to be close to 0 amps if it is totally discharged. It takes time to fill the electrolyte with electrons so it becomes conductive. That takes as much as five to ten minutes, then you'll see current begin to increase. Ten to fifteen amps is a good charge rate for an hour or two. The easiest way to know when charging is complete is the battery's voltage will rise and oppose that of the charger, so current will decrease. When current drops to five amps, the battery is charged and current will not drop any further. Continued charging will just run more electrons through the plates and electrolyte, without any of them being absorbed into the plates. That will generate heat which can boil the water out of the acid, and promote that lead flaking off the plates.

As a side note, all AC generators, ("alternator" is a term copyrighted by Chrysler), develop three-phase output current which is very smooth and steady. Home battery chargers rectify 60 Hz house current and put out a heavily-pulsing 120 Hz DC current that goes from 0 volts, up to around 20 volts, back to 0 volts, then starts all over again. The current switches between maximum and no current 120 times per second. That on and off pulsing will cause the battery's plates to vibrate, and that helps to shake off some of the lead. This is why charging an old battery aggressively can destroy it. As more and more lead flakes off, the storage capacity is reduced, as I mentioned previously. When enough of that lead collects in the bottom of the case, it builds up high enough to short the plates together. There is no solution for that other than to replace the battery. Any older battery, or one you don't know the history of, should only be charged at a slow rate, ... No more than ten to fifteen amps. Slower for longer time is better than a quick, high-current charge. That will reduce the intensity of the vibrations the plates are subjected to.

For one more point of great value, we read way too often here what happened after someone connected a battery or jumper cables backward. When using jumper cables connected to a second car, "you want more of the 12 volts", so the donor battery's positive is connected to the dead battery's positive, and the negative is connected to the negative. If the jumper cables are reversed on one battery, both batteries will be "in series", which is the same as having a dead short across a 24 volt battery. Sparks are going to fly like from an arc welder, and something is going to melt. Be aware too that batteries give off explosive hydrogen gas, and sparks can ignite that. To avoid that possibility, it is standard practice to connect the positive jumper cable first to the two batteries, then to connect the negative cable to one battery, then the other end to a paint-free point on the engine. The spark, regardless how small, will occur where the last connection is made, and we want that to be not near the battery. That clamp on the engine should also be the first one removed. Once it is removed, no sparks will occur at any of the other clamps.

When you connect the car's battery cables to the battery, a real lot of damage can be done if they're connected backward. The negative cable will almost always have a second, smaller wire that bolts right to the body sheet metal. Since the early to mid '90s, the positive cable will have a second, smaller wire that bolts to the under-hood fuse box. There will always be a large "+" and "-" sign next to the positive and negative posts. Some battery manufacturers still use a dot of red paint on top of the positive post, and a green dot to identify the negative post. Most importantly, the positive post is always larger in diameter than the negative post. If you find yourself reaming out or otherwise resizing both clamps to fit, you're doing something wrong.

For my final parting thought, do not waste your money on "juicy rings" or spray-on chemicals that are supposed to prevent corrosion on the battery posts. As the battery ages to the point that half of the lead has flaked off the plates, you have a battery half the electrical size as you originally had, but the charging rate stays the same from the vehicle's charging system. Only half of the electrons can be put in storage. The rest generate heat, and that results in excessive gassing and bubbling of the electrolyte. The bubbles splash up onto the bottom of the top cover, and to the joints between the cover and the posts. That is where the acid sneaks out and collects under the cable clamps, and is what causes the white corrosion. Any time I saw that corrosion, such as during other routine services like oil changes, it was safe to warn the owner their battery was going to fail within six months. You will not find that corrosion on newer batteries that are still in good condition, and therefore there is no need for those acid neutralizer products.
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Monday, February 6th, 2017 AT 5:16 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
About an hour ago I took another reading at the batt and got 12.36 I then put a charger on it at 10 amps and let it sit
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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 AT 12:40 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
I just took the charger off and tried to start it, no luck. I then checked the voltage at the batt and it was 12.85. Does that tell you anything?
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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 AT 1:04 PM
Tiny
SATURNTECH9
  • EXPERT
What was the voltage on the purple wire at the starter with the key in the start position now?Also did you try lightly tapping the starter with a hammer on the big part of the starter with the key in the start position yet?
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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 AT 1:10 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Just says the battery is fully-charged now and low voltage is not a contributing cause to this problem.

Go back to the two wires on the neutral safety switch and determine if neither, one, or both have 12 volts when the ignition switch is in "crank".
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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017 AT 2:28 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Thanks for the help! I haven't been doing much on this car because we have a second car and with the snow rain my wife hasn't been wanting to go out
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Friday, February 10th, 2017 AT 2:47 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Ok I'm back, got a volt reading at the batt before any testing of 12.33. We took a reading at the solenoid while my helper tried to start it in park and got a reading of 10.33. Then we tried it in neutral, but we couldn't even get it into neutral. Now what?
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Sunday, February 12th, 2017 AT 6:16 PM
Tiny
SATURNTECH9
  • EXPERT
If you have that much voltage at the purple wire then sounds like you could have a bad starter. Have you tried lightly taping on the big part of the starter with the key in the start position like I suggested earlier?
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Sunday, February 12th, 2017 AT 6:22 PM
Tiny
DOUGJR
  • MEMBER
Not yet, but will soon
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Monday, February 13th, 2017 AT 7:05 AM

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