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Old 05-28-2011, 10:00 PM   #1
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The Starter Saga Continues...

2003 TJ Sport, 4.0, Manual Trans., 108,000

Backstory: A week ago, I hooked up a NAPA trailer light pigtail to bring a trailer home from my brother's place. 45 minutes into an hour trip, I lost my running lights and instrument panel lights (I still had headlights, turn signals, and brake lights). That turned out to be a 20 Amp glove box fuse. Replaced - problem solved.

Ever since then, however, I've been having intermittent starter problems. Sometimes, I'll turn the key, and the solenoid engages/starter turns over. Other times, I'll turn the key, the idiot lights light up on the instrument panel, but when I turn the key to start - NOTHING. No clicking (like with a dying battery), no starter "whirring" with no engagement (bad starter solenoid). JUST. NOTHING.

Here are my scientific findings so far:

- Good battery. Tested at a local "Battery Franchise", as well as at home with a volt meter. I have 12.5 V coming off the battery itself - tested with negative terminal on the battery as well as multiple grounds (engine block, headlight ground, etc.). Same result every time.

- The only "fix" seems to be to hook it up to a charger set to 55 Amp Engine Start. It almost seems as if the system needs a "kick in the pants" to wake it up.

- When the starter DOES work all on its own, it seems "sluggish" for lack of a better term. The starter seems to have a "lower pitch" when it turns over than it did before the problems started - just like when a battery is going dead.

- The trailer pigtails have been removed - it's back to factory setup - same issues.

Could some permanent damage have been done when I traillered it the first time? Or, am I chasing a red herring with that? Does it sound like a starter going bad. This is my first TJ, but I would imagine that a starter goes bad just like it does on any other vehicle.

Is there anything else I should/could check before I rush out and get a different starter?

Thanks in advance for the advice.

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Old 05-28-2011, 10:18 PM   #2
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Try pulling the fuses for all the extra electrical crap not specifically needed to start the Jeep? If some wires got hot/pinched down the line, they may be partially shorting during ignition and bringing down the starter. Pulling the fuses won't catch ALL possible shorts, but it may give you somewhere to look if the starter sounds more peppy with them removed.

Also, play with the clutch. There is a sensor somewhere in the linkage that won't let a TJ start if the clutch isn't all the way in. Try to start it with the clutch all the way out while looking at the dash. See if the instrument panel does anything different.

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Old 05-28-2011, 11:31 PM   #3
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Try pulling the fuses for all the extra electrical crap not specifically needed to start the Jeep? If some wires got hot/pinched down the line, they may be partially shorting during ignition and bringing down the starter. Pulling the fuses won't catch ALL possible shorts, but it may give you somewhere to look if the starter sounds more peppy with them removed.

Also, play with the clutch. There is a sensor somewhere in the linkage that won't let a TJ start if the clutch isn't all the way in. Try to start it with the clutch all the way out while looking at the dash. See if the instrument panel does anything different.
I did try the clutch trick - easing it in and out looking for that "sweet spot"; dead, dead, and still dead.

However, your first recommendation sounds intriguing - taking all of the non-essential circuits out of the equation and listening for the starter to get back to its "old self". Thanks for the suggestion.

I hate electrical problems. This whole ordeal makes me feel like Gary Sinise's character in Apollo 13 looking at every little detail just to get those 2 Amps back to the CM. That having been said, I'm a stubborn cuss - and I'm not giving up on my Jeep.
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Old 05-30-2011, 07:32 AM   #4
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Have you considered the pigtail popped the fuse, and the starter is just at the end of it's life? Two separate issues.
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Old 05-30-2011, 02:45 PM   #5
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Have you considered the pigtail popped the fuse, and the starter is just at the end of it's life? Two separate issues.
Yeah, I have considered that - I am wondering if the trailer connection is a red herring. My next step might very well be to take it to a parts store and have the starter tested. Thanks for the suggestion.
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Old 05-30-2011, 02:54 PM   #6
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Have you tried cleaning the battery terminals and cables really well and tightening really tight?
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Old 05-30-2011, 04:15 PM   #7
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Good for you, trying to diagnose a problem instead of throwing parts at it!

OK, some things. First off, it takes less of a ground for a .10 amp draw on a light or meter vs 100/150 amp draw on a starter. Ditto the hot lead. Quick check when it happens. Run out and grab both battery cables. If one is hotter then the other, you got yourself a bad connection on that.

Poor connections cause resistance, resistance causes heat.

Using the jumper/charger adds power AND a ground to your system.


The clutch switch can easily be eliminated with a simple jumper wire. BUT I doubt it's your problem.


Again back to a poor connection. Remember they get hot, and heat causes metal to expand slightly. Makes for a tighter fit. Slightly better connection. And your starter cranks, abet slowly as it's still not getting a solid connection on either the ground or power lead or even both.


Lastly, yes the starter could be going south, but not due to the trailer harness.

Normally a faulty starter will start pulling a lot of amps to get it to spin.

Most of the parts stores like AutoZone, Advanced can run a systems check. It tests the battery, starter, alternator, and any abnormal parasitic drains.


Always start with the basics. You know you have a good battery. You know you have a wonky starter operation. What's between em? Terminals and cables. Like has been said take em all off and clean em up good, don't forget the spots the cables themselves connect to. Best cables in the world aren't going to do you diddly if they aren't making a solid connection at the grounds and hot terminals, at both ends.
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Old 06-03-2011, 01:17 PM   #8
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Always start with the basics. You know you have a good battery. You know you have a wonky starter operation. What's between em? Terminals and cables. Like has been said take em all off and clean em up good, don't forget the spots the cables themselves connect to. Best cables in the world aren't going to do you diddly if they aren't making a solid connection at the grounds and hot terminals, at both ends.
Hopefully bingo on the above. Took the wires off of the terminals, hit them with a wire brush and some 60 grit sandpaper, and the starter sounds ALOT more "peppy" now. I've seen worse corrosion with an operating starter, but, *fingers crossed*, this might do it.

Thanks again, everyone, for the advice!
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Old 06-03-2011, 11:27 PM   #9
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Good for you! See checking the basics often is the route of your problems.
Better then a lot I see that throw parts willy nilly at a problem instead of spending a little time diagnosing the problem.

Little time spent, more bucks in the wallet.

Did you get NAPA to get you the correct trailer harness? And check the trailer for a problem wiring wise? Like said on your other thread, the trailer may have a problem that blew the fuse, or the fuse was tired, and adding a bunch more lights was too much for it.
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Old 06-03-2011, 11:48 PM   #10
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Did you get NAPA to get you the correct trailer harness? And check the trailer for a problem wiring wise? Like said on your other thread, the trailer may have a problem that blew the fuse, or the fuse was tired, and adding a bunch more lights was too much for it.
As far as I'm concerned, NAPA ROCKS!!! I bought the wrong wiring adapter in Mukwonago (about an hour east of where I live).

I walked into the NAPA here in Janesville, asked if they took returns from other NAPA stores, and they do (save your receipts - they do need that), and they gave me a $5.11 credit for the discrepancy from one adapter to the other.

Hooked up the proper adapter tonight, checked it with a volt meter, and will be swinging home with my new (to me) trailer tomorrow.

Shelby427;1279998, I'll be looking forward to using my new trailer (it's not the same one that caused me problems). My brother Dave built it (he's one helluva welder), and the axle, wheels, and tires are from a '38 Ford. Sound sturdy enough for you?

My daughter and I will find out tomorrow.......

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