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Guest Message by DevFuse

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Starter or Solenoid Problems?

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5 replies to this topic

#1 Guest_surffer_*

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Posted 23 December 2001 - 06:49 PM

We have a 95 Subaru Legacy LS SW. Earlier this winterl it started to have starting problems where it sounded like a dead battery or bad starter. When you would turn the key in the first AM start, it would only click as though low voltage. After several times it would finally start. Battery checked marginal so replaced along with new battery cable terminal, as it was the 6 yr old original battery. Condition still exists. First start in AM is questionable and usually needs several attempts at turning the key. After that it starts on first attempt until next AM.

Based on my knowledge of domestic cars which is now quite dated, it could be the starter solenoid. We used to pull the solenoid and reverse the contactor washer for a clean contact and another 50K or so. Is this a common problem? Any thoughts or experiences. Thanks. Tom

#2 Guest_SmashPDX_*

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Posted 23 December 2001 - 07:30 PM

I don't know if it's a common problem yet, but it seems to be becoming more common in this model year, presumably because the vehicles are aging.

I won't dismiss the more commonly known starter theories but here's what hit me and a couple of others on the board. My now-resolved issue on my '95 LSi:

(1) Turned the key and got a 'click.'
(2) Lights dimmed as if the car was trying to do something but couldn't.
(3) Starter motor was silent.
(4) After several attempts, car suddenly started up as if nothing had ever been wrong.
(5) Unable to determine a pattern of what was different about 'that last attempt.'
(6) Problem was highly intermittent. More common in cold 1st-time-in-day or car's-been-outside situations, but still no definable pattern. Usually after 1st problem of day, no more problems until tomorrow, unless again the car is left outside for a notable time period.
(7) Once in a blue moon that 'final attempt' might get the starter motor to begin to turn but it would wind down like someone had yanked all the juice out of it.

Ok, with that said, went through the usual 'is it the battery' dance but ultimately conluded that it wasn't, because it made no sense for it to start up like a top when it got good and ready each time. Eventually someone at the dealer suggested the starter contacts. Basically inside the starter (someone more in the know can give me the proper terminology and sequence of events for this) you've got an armature-- a plunger-- with a round brass contact at one end, shaped like a washer. When you turn that key the plunger shoots forward (or back, whatever) and makes the round contact touch two other brass contacts, one of which is connected to each of the two wires going to the starter. Boom, you've got a circuit, the starter motor lights up.

Over time all this happy voltage literally eats away at the contact surfaces on each of the three contacts and screws up the flow of electricity. Here's a pic:

Posted Image

The side contacts are the only one in the pic. On the contact on the left you can see a very clear arc on the contact. This is the outer edge of the area that has been burned to maybe 2/3 of its original depth. There is a similar issue with the contact on the right but it's not visible in this pic (thanks to the camera flash).

Good news is that the brass contacts are cheap (you'll spend $7 - $15 total) and the replacement is very simple. Be sure to ask them about that center armature-mounted contact, not just the side ones-- my dealer forgot to suggest that I change the center one, but mine was a bit chewed (one day I'll have to go back and fix it). You'll spend more time getting the starter out of the car and trying to figure out which end of it to open (use this photo to guide you-- all you need to remove is the 5-sided cover at one end) than anything else.

And for what it's worth, I'm still running on the original battery, installed at manufacture in 1/95, at 106000 miles. I'm not saying that's smart, but there are no signs yet of it being unhappy. The battery simply wasn't the issue.

Hope this helps. Someone remind me to archive this later ok? And can someone tell me if I've gotten it right with regard to the mechanical operation of that armature? I'm curious.

#3 Guest_surffer_*

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Posted 23 December 2001 - 10:09 PM

Hi SmashPDX....
THANKS! Couldn't have asked for a more helpful and in depth reply. You have reinforced my opinion that it is probably starter solenoid contacts. I used to always order the factory shop manual set with my Subi. However the set got so expensive that for my last 2 cars I just procrastinated until I sold the cars. Again I'm in the same boat and wish I had them as they are very helpful for doing most anything.

We're thinking of buying a new OB SW but will probably procrastinate on that too. They're lots of money too.

#4 Guest_surffer_*

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 09:48 AM

Smash or anyone else.....Is it much of a job to remove and replace that starter?. Any special tools or tips to make it easier? I assume it has to come off from below. Checked this AM and most of the shops only want to throw in a rebuilt starter for $300 or so.

My wife has the car right now so I can't look at it. I'd like to psyche myself up for this. Once I hit the big 50+ I now pay someone else to do most my car repair stuff. Much of it, technology wise has got ahead of me and you are not as agile as you once were, plus it is often cold here. My dad had a garage so I grew up with a wrench in my hand working on domestics but I think I've lost that touch..

Once it is off it shouldn't be much to remove the end plates and replace the contacts. Dealer said they have them for $7+. Said they didn't have the 3rd armature contact. Thanks in advance for any advice. Have a good holiday!!!

#5 Guest_Legacy777_*

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 10:09 AM

Starter stuff really is not that hard to do. I'm pretty sure on the automatics as probably the manuals the starter is actually near the top of the engine. I have not done mine, so I can't how difficult it is for sure, but I don't think it would be any harder then takin off a normal starter.

Good luck

#6 Guest_SmashPDX_*

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Posted 24 December 2001 - 10:16 AM

It isn't too difficult if you have the right tools. I don't have the right u-joints and extension bars for getting into places, so that made it more work for me. I seem to recall that I got at one bolt from above and another from below but don't quote me on that.

I guess the upshot is that if you've got the tools to reach the two bolts that hold it in place and can turn that ratchet without much trouble, you'll be just fine. I was more annoyed with myself for not having what I needed than anything else-- well, I was a little annoyed for disassembling the wrong end of the starter first and having to put everything back together :lol:

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