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Starter Engagement troubleshooting and repair

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11 replies to this topic

#1 Skip


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 11:00 AM

There are currently several active posts on starter engagement problems.
I thought this may be of interest. (Please note, this article only refers to 1989 and earlier Subarus, newer Loyales MTs may have a clutch interrupt switch, see ** below)

First to dispel info given in reference to any relays involved.
There are none, repeat no relays come on a factory equipped car. As will be seen it is a reliable fix to add one, but there is no relay used for starter engagement.

The ignition switch, when in the start position, feeds battery voltage directly to the starter solenoid unless the vehicle has an automatic transmission. In this case, there is an inhibitor switch in the console which only allows the control voltage to reach the starter solenoid in the park or neutral position. Just a switch no relay.
(Note: Some may argue the starter solenoid is a relay, in an operational sense they are correct, in semantics -- I will refer to it as the factory does.)

**Newer Loyales may have a clutch pedal switch. This switch located up under the dash in the path of the pedal swing arm, is depressed and thus in a "closed" position, when the clutch pedal is in a fully depressed state.

If when you turn the ignition switch to the start position the starter fails to engage -
A) It is possible that a battery cable or it's connection is dirty, loose, or corroded - thus creating high resistance.
Here is a quick test.
Hold the ignition in the start position for five seconds. Open the hood and place your hand on all battery connections and cable ends to feel for a warm connection. IF the starter has engaged and there is some current passing through a connection with high resistance - heat will be generated. Green colored or other "odd looking" connections are always suspects.
B) It is possible that the starter solenoid internal contacts have burned and are not making full contact. While holding the ignition switch in the start position a sharp "rap" on the solenoid may jar the contacts into a closed position allowing the starter to engage.
If this is the case you can elect to repair/replace the contacts or replace the solenoid/starter.
C) If the above tests prove unsatisfactory, it is likely the ignition switch itself has problems. The starter solenoid needs a fair amount of current to energize. This puts the contacts in the ignition switch under duress. To test this, connect a "jumper" wire from the positive battery terminal to the small spade connector located on the starter solenoid. One will have to remove the factory connector before "jumping" the solenoid.
(Please make sure car is in neutral or Park before doing this test)
If the jumper wire allows the starter to engage, there are several fixes that can be employed.

1) Replace ignition switch - labor and $$ intensive, beyond the scope of this article.

2) Install a "Never Fail" button/ switch. This button (momentary switch) is wired to feed the control voltage to the starter solenoid, thus bypassing the ignition switch. A "make shift" solution at best. It will work and is a simple matter of wiring.
to wit:
a) Get a 10 amp momentary switch from the source of your choosing.
Find a suitable mounting point for said switch. Most dashes have several "blanks" to choose from, or mount it under the dash as a secret switch.
B) you will need a "feed voltage source".
You could
i) probe your fuse panel for an ignition switched "hot fuse".
ii) run a fused connection directly to the battery
iii) place a tap on the main ignition feed connector under the steering col. Since you will be running this voltage to the starter and through the bulkhead (firewall) a fused source should be used.
This "feeder" is connected to one side of the procured switch.
c) The other side of the switch is wired to the small spade connector on the starter solenoid. The proper method is to splice solder the wire to the existing wire, but some may stuff it under the female connector and slide the spade back in place. Please use a grommet or other form of protection when passing the wire through the bulkhead.

These connection methods will allow the use of the normal ignition switch start position but when it fails the "Never Fail" button is used. If you choose to simply put a female spade connector on this wire and plug it on to the starter solenoid, the "Never Fail" will be the only way to get the car to start.

3) The best method, in my admittedly feeble mind, is the addition
of a "start relay". This relay supplements the ignition switch and requires no "Never Fail" folderol (like in a case where some one borrows the car and you forget to tell them about the "Never Fail")
The relay is controlled by the ignition switch and it in turn feeds the current necessary for starter solenoid engagement.
An "auxiliary lighting" relay is a good choice, but any 12Vdc 10 amp relay will suffice. I mount mine under the hood and in the general location of the starter. This allows use of the factory female connector and simplifies getting a fused battery feed voltage.
Here is the wiring of said relay.

Posted Image

Hope this helps and please email me any corrections for any details I may have missed.
neper at westol.com[/color]

#2 JWX


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 11:50 AM

man, Skip you are one smart guy. thats an informitive post

#3 Skip


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 12:16 PM

thanks JW but it is not intelligence, just experience.
I hope to have it accepted into the USRM.
Please add anything I may have missed.

#4 Meeky Moose

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Posted 03 December 2003 - 12:35 PM

it sure is good to have skips 'experience" here on the USMB isn't it? :D

#5 thealleyboy


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 12:46 PM


Nicely done!!

One comment tho... I wouldn't necessarily discourage replacing the ignition switch. Not too $$ if you have access to used ones, and not terribly difficult if you have a right angle drill/or attachment.


#6 MilesFox


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 04:16 PM

my experience says push-button starter.

but no ones experience says it has to be done a certain way, but rather givce more options to fix the situation

let it be the one who owns the car to decide which method they want to take

#7 TomRhere


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 06:05 PM

Good write-up, Skip!

Suggestion for those who find that it is the ignition switch that is the culprit to the "no crank" problem, and wish to add the push button/relay fix.

A plentiful and cheap in cost relay to use, would be the starter relay from an electric start riding lawn mower. It would easily handle the job of switching power to the solenoid on the starter itself.
A heavier duty one, would be to use a Ford (please excuse the foul language there) starter relay.

One would still need to use a momentary contact switch to activate the relay. But either one would be plentiful, and they come with mounting flanges attached.

Just my .02 added.

#8 MilesFox


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 06:19 PM

the charp "horn button" switch is perfect for the application. since it doesnt carry a lot of amperage. the heavier "push button starter switch" is more than what is needed for a soob, bulkier to mount, too

#9 Skip


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Posted 03 December 2003 - 06:45 PM

Tom thanks for the props, the relay is used when the ignition switch is going south, the relay is controlled by the failing contacts in the ig switch. They generally will pass enough amperage to operate the relay coil.

Donald I have no idea what a "charp "horn button" switch " is but if you say it will work, I'm sure it will.

#10 czaray


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Posted 19 February 2011 - 09:13 PM

Hello Tom
What if you put in a new starter and jump it by way of the Solenoid spade, but it just clicks. The engine is not seized because I can turn it from the pulley.

#11 ShawnW


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Posted 20 February 2011 - 01:54 AM

Probably the positive battery wire or terminal is corroded, as stated above feel for warm spots or just replace the battery cable.

#12 Crazyeights



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Posted 20 February 2011 - 02:06 AM

A voltage drop test is also a good method to troubleshoot high resistance in both the ground and positive sides of circuits like this. It's fast and accurate with a good meter.

Edited by Crazyeights, 20 February 2011 - 11:19 AM.

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