Non-Starter

January 31st, 2008 by Editor B

One morning about a month ago, Xy couldn’t get our car started, and she had to catch a ride with a co-worker.

I was all set to take it to the shop, but when I tried it an hour later, it started right up for me. So we dismissed it as a fluke.

This morning we had a repeat performance. Car wouldn’t start for Xy. I tried it too and it wouldn’t start for me either.

It had full electrical power, but nary a peep from the engine. Not a grind, not a click — nothing. Though you could listen to the radio if you wanted.

A couple hours later, it started up with no problems.

So now it’s not a fluke. It’s a pattern, and a rather aggravating one at that.

Other than this, the car runs fine. It’s a Saturn Ion 3 circa 2005.

What on earth could be causing this mysterious problem? We’ve racked our brains and can only think of a couple of common factors, which are probably red herrings. Both times, Xy had just filled up the gas tank the night before. Both times, it rained in the early morning.

I’m thinking about calling Tom & Ray on this one.

19 Responses to “Non-Starter”

  1. mominem Says:

    I once had an English car which woudl not start, if it had been rained on when cold. Water somehow got into the distributor. Foutunately that can’t happed with today’s cars.

    Good luck.

  2. Matt Says:

    Could be a bad ignition switch. I replaced mine on my Accord after it started doing something similar – the car would lose all electrical power while running at highway speeds. It also had intermittent problems starting. If the contacts on the switch are corroded, you can get random problems like that.

  3. Terri Says:

    Yahoo answers says:
    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060909180831AApTsNB

    Best Answer – Chosen by Asker
    I have a 2005 Saturn Ion had same problem theres a sensor that needs to be replaced once the sensor is replaced it should start right up on your dashboard there should appear a picture of the car with a lock next to it if that stays on let them know at the dealer they will replace it at no charge some defect not on all Ions

  4. Varg Says:

    It might very well be a switch. Try to think about what was common with the time it happened before and today. Were they both high precipitation days? That may suggest a switch that fails to fire on days of high moisture. It’s probably nothing serious money-wise.

    Thing is, mechanics often won’t work on those intermittent problems so they can be annoying as hell.

    When all else fails, wiggle the wires!

  5. David Says:

    Your battery–Take it to Auto Zone and have it tested for free. That’s probably it. Once it gets warmed up, it has enough juice to turn the starter. It sounds like a battery that’s giving up the ghost.

  6. candice Says:

    That’s way too new of a car for any of my diagnostic experience to be useful… that said, try and bring it to your mechanic when he’s got some free time to check over the ignition system. Be warned that it will probably start perfectly every time for him.

    (My previous car had issues starting in the early afternoon. Drove me insane. There are tons of things it can be. Fuel filter, vapor lock problems, ignition, fuel pump not starting up, etc. Spent two days in the hot Katrina September sun debugging the wiring and concluded with flaked out computer not starting the fuel pump.)

  7. Anne Says:

    I had a car (a Nissan Sentra) which behaved in the same mysterious fashion. We played with the battery quite a bit and that helped, but did not solve the problem. It turned out to be a computer chip in the engine. Whatever the issue turns out to be, I’d watch out at high speeds– my car eventually also developed the ability to shut its engine off at random, while I was actually driving and in motion. After the engine cut out while I was in the middle lane of the highway, going 65, I got a second opinion and got the car fixed.

  8. Lee Says:

    B, if I know anything (and you know a lot of what I know) it’s cars. It’s a possibility that It’s the ignition switch (not likely), battery (not likely, you even said it), a fuse under the hood (possibly) or the starter.

    When starters go bad, sometimes they will act up just like your talking about.

    There is some news, and some bad news though.

    The part that’s acting up on you is called the “bendix.” It moves back and forth when you turn the key. On fords they are external and can be replaced quite easily. But for the rest of us you have to replace the entire starter.

    Autozone’s price for the part is $177 with a $32 core charge. Most places will charge around $100 to $200 to install (Mr. Fancy Pants). If you’re somewhat mechanically inclined, buy a repair manual on the car. It’ll walk you through this process.

    I never buy a vehicle without at least 1 repair manual on it. When you own a vehicle over a year, they are worth their weight in gold – as in the money you save!

    I hope I’ve helped!

  9. Mark Folse Says:

    Clearly the Ion is suffering from Vehicular Sibling Envy. It knows that once the baby comes, it will no longer be your baby. The fact that you’re not the kind of guy who thinks his car is his baby doesn’t matter. Cars are stupid. It doesn’t know that. Engage the car in planning for the new baby. Show it the new car seat, and let it help you install it. Give it a nice paste wax job and a tank or two of Premium. Don’t let it feel left out.

    It might also be preparing for the Big Moment in it’s own special way. Our car wouldn’t start the night Killian was born, which also happened to be the night of a snow storm in D.C. Hint: Do not tell the cab company you call that your wife’s in labor. Or the second one you call. They will not tell you they’re not coming, but they won’t show up.

  10. David Says:

    Lee, I thought it could be the starter, but here’s why I think it’s the battery. When a starter’s going bad, they tend to work when they’re cold and not when they’re hot. Vice versa for batteries, which are the symptoms Bart’s experiencing. Auto Zone can test that quickly.

  11. roxfan Says:

    A couple of thing you might try before you start spending cash.

    Turn on the headlights and try to start the vehicle if the lights go out with the key turned to start you most likely have a bad/dirty connection at the battery terminals. Loosen then clean the battery terminals and connectors to the battery with a small wire brush. My van did what your car is doing last summer and that solved my problem. Be very careful, take the negative (-) terminal loose first.

    If the lights stay on and it still fails to start move the gearshift to N and back to Park see if it starts. If it starts then or after a couple of trys then the switch that will only let the car start in Park or Neutral might be going bad.

    Good Luck! Rox Fan

  12. rickngentilly Says:

    if it’s the original battery that came with the car they are notorius for being cheap and dying young. go to autozone and buy a new expensive one. keep your reciept. i once got a bad one and they exchanged it with a new one at no charge. another time i got one that died before it’s warrenty and they swaped it out with a new one minus the charge for the time i had the old one. plus the people at auto zones on broad and the one on gentily blvd. are locals and friendly and actually know what the hell they are talking about. they have been a real godsend since katrina ran off my old mechanics and forced me to do my own minor repairs.

    also like lee said get a chilton or haynes type manual it takes a lot of guess work as well as trail and error out of the equation.

  13. rickngentilly Says:

    p.s. they did a free computor check when my dashboard check engine light came on. turned out i just needed to change my fuel filter. with the cost of the manual and the filter i probably saved a couple of hundred bucks doing it myself instead of had i taken it to the dealer.

  14. lemming Says:

    Actually, Tom & Ray DID have a question very like this… I just can’t remember the answer. I’ve heard it within the past year, if that helps at all. ;-)

  15. Avocado Tom Says:

    The rain + no turn-over is weird.

    My thoughts would be:

    – clean your battery connections, check that they’re tight
    – do the same with where the ground strap from the battery connects to the chasis

    Next, I’d second the stuff above checking the battery itself:
    – it’s probably sealed, but if it’s not, pop the caps and see if it needs topping off
    – take it to <insert auto parts store here> and have them “test” it

    (a friend had power but not enough juice to turn over – I thought it was the starter and it just needed a new battery, to my surprise, hence the above suggestions)

    If it turned over but didn’t start (which doesn’t sound like your scenario, but…), I would suggest:
    – change the spark-plug wires, cap, rotor, distributor

    Good luck!

  16. Joe Says:

    It may be that the ground cable (battery to engine or body) is not making a good connection, intermittently. This can happen in wet climates.

    To test this, connect a jumper cable from the negative post on your battery to something metal on your engine block. This will provide a different path for the starter to get grounded. If the car starts this way you know you’ll need to disconnect the grounding strap and grind it off for better conductance.

    Auto electric problems are incredibly frustrating.

    Congrads on the pregnancy.

    Joe in Boise

  17. craig b Says:

    the problem sounds like the ignition switch , everything works but veh
    won’t start . veh computer thinks veh is being stolen and shuts down
    works fine in warmer climates but in cold climates this happens frequently
    if this helps ,, u r welcome .. i no because same think would happen w/daughters saturn ion2 .. took to dealer & that was the problem ..
    so it is a problem not only w/your vehicle but others .. and the manuf/dealer know about this but no svc.bulletin yet .. they would rather u pay for fixing this than them .. ( check federal law : magnison/moss act ) or ask if any svc-bulletin ref.this prob.

  18. b.rox » Blog Archive » Non-Starter Says:

    [...] with the non-starting car. I think this is the second time since I wrote about this problem back in January. Plenty of power, but no engine action. We both tried it repeatedly. Xy was about to get a ride to [...]

  19. b.rox » Blog Archive » Battery Follies Says:

    [...] The antitheft indicator was blinking, even after I locked the car up, and I had a flashback to the huge aggravation of our previous car. I started to get the chills. We never were able to fix that [...]

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