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This has been an issue for months now with my 92 Dakota V-6. On cold starts, virtually all the time, when I first turn the key I just get an audible CLICK. Loud enough to be the starter solenoid, not just the starter relay. It will click a couple more times, then RRR, RRRR, and after about 5-6 tries, it will crank normally. At that point it always starts normally. Hot starts NEVER give any trouble - cranks briskly and starts quickly every single time.

Background: I bought the truck from my brother in Dec 2003 and drove it home from FL uneventfully. Two days after I got home, it would not even crank or click. I found that between the battery and the relay, the resistance was about 16K ohms, so there was only about 4.7V to the relay's coil. I suspected the infamous factory splice, and I found another hot ignition wire and put a parallel splice connecting the relay coil to it. For 9 years it has given no trouble. I began to wonder with this new trouble, if my splice was going bad. So I checked out several things.

Things I've checked:

Starter relay: coil is 68 ohms, voltage with key on at its socket is 11.97V on the load side and 11.79 volts at the coil side. Battery voltage when off is 12.25V. So there is enough voltage getting to the starter relay all around - my splice is still good. Just for the heck of it, I swapped the relay with the A/C relay - no change.

Battery: It is coming up on 4 years old, is a 660 CCA capacity Duralast. I recently disconnected and cleaned the clamps and posts, and inspected the cables at the clamps carefully. No change. Battery voltage is 12.25V about a week after use, and just about 14V when idling.

Starter: My brother had it replaced sometime around 2000, and also the starter relay. He told me that the relay case had melted. No idea what happened. It's been fine ever since. I have not inspected or cleaned the cables at the starter connections. But, as I said, it always clicks and acts like a there's a dead spot or defective solenoid when cold, and ALWAYS behaves normally when hot. A dying starter should give some trouble when hot, also, at least once. Never happens.

Today I had my wife crank the car while I measured voltage. With ignition on, it was 12.0 volts, and the relay or starter clicked twice. During this time the voltage was still about 11.9V. When it finally cranked on the 3rd try, voltage dropped briefly to 9.67V, then jumped to its normal 14V at idle when it started.

I'm thinking that the voltage is a bit low for a cold start. So either the battery is failing a load test, or the starter is drawing a little too much current. Today it was 42F, so it's not like the battery had to fight hard. Thoughts?
 

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Have you ever heard the starter wind down after a non start? What I mean is how does the starter sound spinning down with no load?
At 13 years I would be surprized if the starter isn't all or at least a large part of the issue.
Have you ever tried to jump the hot wire terminal with a screwdriver?
If you jump it with a screwdriver and it doesn't crank or seem logey, run a set of cables from the battery to the starter and bat neg to a good ground and repeat the test.
If the starter cranks fine remove one cable or the other and repeat to determine if it's a cable or bad connection.
This assumes the battery passes a load test.
Once had a starter on a 318 wear the bushing until the commutator contacted the field. The starter worked ok but took the battery down pretty good each time. The battery was newer so it survived but we needed to change the starter.
 

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With a known good battery, I would use jumper cables to go to the starter side of the solenoid and see how well it cranks. I once solved an intermittent cranking issue by using # 4 cable and running a new ground line and attaching it to the starter mounting bolt.
 

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A heavier 'click' would sound like the starter solenoid is being thrown out, but not making good contact. The copper contact plate inside the starter does pit and oxidize after a few years. You might investigate disassembly, inspection and cleaning. I would have to guess internal starter.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Well, it's snowing heavily, and I have no garage, so no work on the underside will be performed for pretty much the rest of the winter.

If the cable connections at the starter were bad, or the starter were wearing out, I'd expect that it would act up SOME, even to a lesser extent, on a hot start. But it does not - it is perfect if it has been run within the last few hours. Longer than that, I get this problem.

bguy, the starter doesn't spin when this problem occurs - I either get a click or just a fraction of a single rotation, only turns a tiny bit. When it does finally crank, it's as if nothing were ever wrong, sounds normal, cranks at a normal speed and starts promptly.

I have to say, I have not had a single starter failure in the last 30 years, over 5 vehicles and over 600,000 miles. The last car went 308K miles, original starter. And this starter only has about 80,000 miles on it, most of it being long highway trips, so not many cycles of the starter.

Weather permitting tomorrow (we're supposed to get several inches of heavy snow between now and tomorrow noon), I'll check the voltage drop when cranking on another vehicle to see if it's comparable. 9.67 volts just seems low, I wouldn't expect it to fall below 10 volts. The other thing I'll do, especially if another car shows higher voltage, is to swap in a known good battery and see if a cold start is a problem.
 

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KOG
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If the voltage is not dropping the times when the starter isn't turning, and you're measuring voltage at the starter terminal, then the starter is the only possible problem. If you're measuring voltage at the battery terminals you'll have to move further downstream to find the problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I pulled the starter relay, turned the ignition to ON, and measured that there was about 12V at both the positive relay and the positive load terminals. I put the relay back in and measured battery voltage when the key was turned to START. When it clicked, voltage was still 12V, so no load - open circuit. That would either be the relay not closing, or the starter solenoid not actuating and putting a draw on the battery. Whichever - no load. Then a load when it did crank, which brought the battery momentarily down to 9.67V as the starter spun normally.
 

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KOG
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Right, and that's why you have to measure at the starter terminal to determine if the problem is internal to the starter or somewhere else in relay or wiring. Now, getting to the starter terminal to measure there might be impractical in snow. I don't have a solution to that other than to move south.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Luckily it's not my primary driver, used only 1-2 times a month, so that part of the diagnostics can wait.
 

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KOG
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That's why I have 6 vehicles registered for two drivers (that and the fact that four of them are work trucks of various sorts.) We don't often get caught without something to drive.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
We have four for two drivers. Worst case so far, I had two down at once. Very rare that they're not all running. And this isn't a showstopper right now.
 

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Just because the battery has a good voltage reading does not mean it has enough amps to turn the starter. This will be more of an issue when it is cold. If you can, I would have the battery load tested just to rule it out...

When dealing with electricity, it helps to think of the basics in terms of cars so that they may be more easily comprehended.

Voltage is like horsepower.

Amps are like torque.

Voltage keeps you going, but the amps are what does the work.
 

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When the no starter operation occurs, make sure the transmission is in Park position and parking brake firmly engaged. Access to the starter is not best on that vehicle because it is situated between the engine block and frame rail. Fashion a jumper wire and touch one end to the larger, battery cable connection at the solenoid. Touch the other end of the jumper wire to the solenoid control terminal (smaller wire terminal). If the starter now turns the engine the problem lies with the control circuit to the starter solenoid, the starter relay or the neutral start safety switch. If you hear the solenoid plunger move and click when touching the jumper wire, but the starter motor does not spin, then the contact points within the starter solenoid have corrosion. If the starter is a Denso unit, you can remove 3 screws on the solenoid end cap and gain access to the internal contacts and clean them. If you get no solenoid sound when using the jumper wire, that would be a strong indicator that there is an internal problem with the starter motor armature, field windings and / or starter solenoid winding.

If jumping the starter solenoid caused the starter to spin the engine, then you know the problem lies with the wiring to the starter solenoid, the starter relay, or the neutral start safety switch. Since you exchanged the starter relay with the AC relay and the problem persisted, you can rule out the starter relay as the problem.

It is possible that the contacts points on the neutral start safety switch have some corrosion or some transmission oil has splashed onto them and prevents the starter relay from closing. The neutral start safety switch is on the driver's side of the transmission and towards the front. It has 3 wire connector running to it. The 2 outer terminals are for the backup lamp circuit. The center terminal provides the ground path to the starter relay.

Next time the no starter operation occurs, remove the 3 wire connector at the neutral start safety switch. Make sure the transmission is in Park position and parking brake firmly engaged. Fashion a jumper wire and attach it securely to the center terminal in the connector and the other end to a good ground on the transmission. If the starter now operates with the ignition key turned to start, the problem lies with the safety switch.

If you find the problem lies with the safety switch before replacing the switch place a reference mark on the switch and on the transmission case. Turn the switch clockwise 1/8 turn (moves switch further into the transmission case) beyond the reference mark. Reattach 3 wire connector and turn the ignition switch to start. If the starter now operates the problem was adjustment of the switch. If the starter does not operate turn the switch 1/8 turn counterclockwise beyond your reference mark. Reattach 3 wire connector and turn the ignition switch to start. If the starter now operates the problem was adjustment of the switch. If still no operation and you have previously tested the starter solenoid and can get the starter to turn the engine using a jumper wire test as previously mentioned then replace the neutral start safety switch.

The same neutral start safety switch was used for 20 - 30 years on rear wheel drive and front wheel drive transmissions / transaxles. Adjustment is critical to get both the backup lamp portion of the switch to close when desired and at the same time get the starter relay control circuit to close only when the transmission selector lever is in Park or Neutral position. The thickness of the sealing washer between the switch and transmission case is critical for proper operation.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Jerry Simcik said:
Just because the battery has a good voltage reading does not mean it has enough amps to turn the starter. This will be more of an issue when it is cold. If you can, I would have the battery load tested just to rule it out...

When dealing with electricity, it helps to think of the basics in terms of cars so that they may be more easily comprehended.

Voltage is like horsepower.

Amps are like torque.

Voltage keeps you going, but the amps are what does the work.
I'm an electrical engineer with a degree in mechanical. Actually voltage is analogous to pressure and amperage is analogous to flow rate. And my checking the battery voltage while cranking WAS a load test. I thought 9.67 volts is a little low, will be comparing it to my other vehicles.


AllanC said:
When the no starter operation occurs, make sure the transmission is in Park position and parking brake firmly engaged. Access to the starter is not best on that vehicle because it is situated between the engine block and frame rail. Fashion a jumper wire and touch one end to the larger, battery cable connection at the solenoid. Touch the other end of the jumper wire to the solenoid control terminal (smaller wire terminal). If the starter now turns the engine the problem lies with the control circuit to the starter solenoid, the starter relay or the neutral start safety switch. If you hear the solenoid plunger move and click when touching the jumper wire, but the starter motor does not spin, then the contact points within the starter solenoid have corrosion. If the starter is a Denso unit, you can remove 3 screws on the solenoid end cap and gain access to the internal contacts and clean them. If you get no solenoid sound when using the jumper wire, that would be a strong indicator that there is an internal problem with the starter motor armature, field windings and / or starter solenoid winding.

If jumping the starter solenoid caused the starter to spin the engine, then you know the problem lies with the wiring to the starter solenoid, the starter relay, or the neutral start safety switch. Since you exchanged the starter relay with the AC relay and the problem persisted, you can rule out the starter relay as the problem.

It is possible that the contacts points on the neutral start safety switch have some corrosion or some transmission oil has splashed onto them and prevents the starter relay from closing. The neutral start safety switch is on the driver's side of the transmission and towards the front. It has 3 wire connector running to it. The 2 outer terminals are for the backup lamp circuit. The center terminal provides the ground path to the starter relay.

Next time the no starter operation occurs, remove the 3 wire connector at the neutral start safety switch. Make sure the transmission is in Park position and parking brake firmly engaged. Fashion a jumper wire and attach it securely to the center terminal in the connector and the other end to a good ground on the transmission. If the starter now operates with the ignition key turned to start, the problem lies with the safety switch.

If you find the problem lies with the safety switch before replacing the switch place a reference mark on the switch and on the transmission case. Turn the switch clockwise 1/8 turn (moves switch further into the transmission case) beyond the reference mark. Reattach 3 wire connector and turn the ignition switch to start. If the starter now operates the problem was adjustment of the switch. If the starter does not operate turn the switch 1/8 turn counterclockwise beyond your reference mark. Reattach 3 wire connector and turn the ignition switch to start. If the starter now operates the problem was adjustment of the switch. If still no operation and you have previously tested the starter solenoid and can get the starter to turn the engine using a jumper wire test as previously mentioned then replace the neutral start safety switch.

The same neutral start safety switch was used for 20 - 30 years on rear wheel drive and front wheel drive transmissions / transaxles. Adjustment is critical to get both the backup lamp portion of the switch to close when desired and at the same time get the starter relay control circuit to close only when the transmission selector lever is in Park or Neutral position. The thickness of the sealing washer between the switch and transmission case is critical for proper operation.
Thanks, Allan, but it can't be the neutral safety switch, or it would act up on any random start. This ONLY occurs on a cold start. It is definitely related to temperature of the engine, whether it be ampacity or electrical resistance, or expansion/contraction. It never fails to crank and start normally on a warm or hot start.
 

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I had problems similar to this with a non-mopar and it was a battery. I had even gone so far as to change the starter and the problems still persisted.
 

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Bob, why not just yank the battery and take it to your local Autozone for a load test? That shouldn't take that long and can either rule that out our confirm a dying cell.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Right now it's raining and 40F out, so that's not a comfortable scenario. But yes, I'm going to read the cranking voltage from 2 other cars to compare. If they are higher, I'll swap batteries. This one will be 4 years old next month, which is within the realm of failure. This has been going on for probably about 8 months, I should have investigated it this summer. At first I thought it was a linkage alignment with the neutral safety switch, until over time I realized that it only does it with the engine cold. And instead of no sound, it always gives a click. Not quite sure if it's the starter relay clicking or the solenoid below. That's something I can check.
 

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That's also what I experienced with my dying battery in my Hardbody, enough power to push the bendix gear into the ring gear, but not enough juice to consistently spin the engine. Sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldn't. It didn't get progressively better in a single sitting like yours, but sometimes I'd try and try and try for several minutes then it'd just rev and start. My voltage readings weren't terrible-awful, but the new battery just solved it.
 

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OK, tested two family cars that are known good:

1993 Daytona: dropped to 10.4V on cranking.
2012 Chrysler 200: dropped to 9.8V on cranking.

It was a digital meter, so of course no guarantee that I caught the lowest point. So it's somewhat inconclusive, but I don't have a clear indication that the truck dropping to 9.67V is a problem. What I do know is that it doesn't lose radio presets or generate a code 12, and the smooth idle suggests that the ECM has not lost presets. So both the starter and battery are suspects. Next step, when the weather is clear during daylight, is to swap a known good fully charged battery in and see how it behaves. With the battery out, I can also get a better load test done.
 
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