Jumper cables can help you check starter

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2009 - 4:09 PM

Q I've just finished installing a rebuilt starter on my '99 Toyota Tacoma; the old one had shorted out and would not disengage. However the new one will not engage. It just makes a soft click when the key is turned. Any ideas?

A Did you have the old starter tested to confirm it had failed? A shorted relay or solenoid can allow the starter to remain engaged. Assuming the new starter motor is good, check all electrical connections between the battery, relay, solenoid and starter. Look carefully at the starter relay and its socket. And make sure there's a solid ground connection between the engine/drivetrain and the chassis.

The easiest way to check the starter on the vehicle is to use jumper cables to bypass the vehicle's electrical system. With the ignition turned off and the transmission in "park" -- and with all due care -- connect one end of the red/positive jumper cable to the positive terminal of the battery. Touch the other end of the red cable to the positive terminal on the starter motor. The starter should spin/crank the engine. If it does, the problem is with the cables, connections or relay. If it doesn't, crank the engine, connect the black/negative jumper cable as a ground between the drivetrain and negative terminal of the battery. Touch the red cable to the starter's positive terminal. If the starter cranks the engine, the problem is a bad chassis ground.

Again, take all care in doing these tests to protect yourself. Or better yet, remove the new starter and test it on your workbench.

Q I have a 1988 Nissan Pathfinder V6 with 149,000 miles that I am restoring. One problem that I'd really like to solve: No matter the temperature, the engine acts as if it is 30 below zero! The temperature may be 90 degrees and the engine races at 2,000 to 2,400 rpm until it is warmed up! This only happens on the first start-up of the day.

A This early fuel injection system uses a "fast idle control device" (FICD) and an idle-up solenoid to control fast idle on start-up. The FICD receives inputs from the crank angle sensor, coolant temperature sensor, ignition and battery. The 2,000 to 2,400 rpm initial idle speed is correct, but it should fall toward normal idle sooner. I'd check those two devices, mounted on the throttle body.

Q I have a 1999 Chrysler Sebring with approximately 112,000 miles. When it is cold -- zero or below -- my car will not run properly. It will start, run rough, but when I let up on the gas or put it in gear, it dies. When it has warmed up sufficiently it runs fine. The dealer said the problem might be the fuel pump but wasn't positive about that and it was $900 to fix. What do I do?

A The symptoms don't fit a fuel-pump problem very well, although low fuel pressure could be a factor. Have a shop check the fuel pressure, then plug in a scan tool to check for fault codes. With the engine fully cold, have the shop also check the coolant temperature sensor signal for accuracy. The scan tool can also test/reset the idle air control actuator.

Also, is the car up-to-date on routine maintenance such as air and fuel filters, spark plugs and the like? When ambient temperatures drop below zero, the vehicle is nearing its operational limits, meaning routine maintenance can make the difference between starting and not starting.

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