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Old 01-19-2010, 09:43 AM
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 5,391
My car won't start - help!

Please, automotive gods, smile down upon me.

Oy. So, the car won't start. I have a 2002 Mazda Protege5, 5 speed, 106K miles. The battery's good - I've got all my lights, radio, all that jazz. When I turn the key, I hear a whirring, spinning noise from the starter, but that's it. In addition, the wheel barely turns - it's like my power steering's out.

I don't know much about cars, but some quick research on the Internets indicates it could be the flywheel in the starter. That's OK, I can get the starter fixed. But that shouldn't have any effect on my power steering, should it? Might I have bigger problems with my hydraulics?

I did drive the car kind of hard last night, but I didn't hear anything off or notice any difference in handling, and made it home no problem.

I have AAA, so I can get it towed, but is there a way I can start it so that I can drive it to a mechanic? I've heard of push starting a car, but I've never done it. And my driveway and alley are too flat to really get up any speed. Is there anything else I can try?
Old 01-19-2010, 09:46 AM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Location: Location:
Posts: 10,482
Power steering has no power if engine is not running.

All the electrics in the car (radio, etc) can work and still be a weak battery (not good enough to crank the engine).

The flywheel is not on the starter... it is connected to engine/transmission.

The starter sounds suspect at this point, if it is just spinning and not engaging the flywheel.

If you can get rolling to 2-3mph you can put the clutch pedal down while doing this in 2nd gear, then lift the clutch pedal to force the engine to spin and start, although it is not recommended for a number of reasons.

Last edited by Philster; 01-19-2010 at 09:50 AM.
Old 01-19-2010, 10:21 AM
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 5,391
Ahh - Philster, you're right. I'm so used to being able to turn the wheel freely, but it's always with the motor already running. I'm so flustered, I'd forgotten that. That makes me feel better - now I'm not as concerned that my whole car is shot. I was thinking transmission and hydraulics and $$$$ was getting bad.

I don't think it's the battery, as there's no simple click when I try to start it. Instead, there's this spinning, whirring, almost grinding type of noise. (The click I'm familiar with, this is something new.) My quick research seemed to indicate that this sound is the starter, not the battery.

Everything I've read said that I can just take the starter out and get it tested - is this a simple thing to do, or am I better off with the pros? I'm no car genius, obviously. Neither is my husband, but he's an engineer - maybe between the two of us we can get it out?

Last edited by Snickers; 01-19-2010 at 10:22 AM.
Old 01-19-2010, 10:28 AM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Ottawa
Posts: 22,511
Removing a starter motor isn't too difficult in itself, but the location can be a real pain.

You could try taking a tire iron or hammer and giving the starter motor a few whacks. There's a clutch type thingy in the starter that pulls the starter gear onto the flywheel. You might get lucky and get it to engage once again.
Old 01-19-2010, 10:41 AM
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Challenger Deep
Posts: 10,336
Originally Posted by Philster View Post
If you can get rolling to 2-3mph you can put the clutch pedal down while doing this in 2nd gear, then lift the clutch pedal to force the engine to spin and start, although it is not recommended for a number of reasons.
This may or may not work. I tried it in my car (2002 Maxima, 6-speed manual gearbox) a few weeks ago, and although I could get the engine to spin, I could not get it to start/run. My assumption is that even with the key in the run position, the computer is refusing to run the engine unless it first sees the key turned to the "start" position.

Regarding the OP's problem:
it's possible that the engine has come to a stop in a position where the teeth on the starter's pinion gear are unable to slip into proper engagement with the teeth on the flywheel. Either a tooth on the flywheel is blocking the axial motion of the pinion on the starter's shaft, or a tooth on the flywheel is missing, and the engine happened to stop (last time you shut down) with that empty spot right in line with the starter. If either of these things is the cause, you may get around it by rotating the engine just a bit to a new position where the starter can engage the flywheel. Assuming you have a manual transmission, you can move the engine by putting it in top gear and rocking the car forward or backward a bit. Once you've done that, try starting it again.
Old 01-19-2010, 10:44 AM
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Location: Location:
Posts: 10,482
Joe's tip at the end is worth a shot.

Pulling the starter: If you have no car/mechanic skills, get the car to a shop.
Old 01-19-2010, 10:57 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Orlando
Posts: 3,927
at 106K miles, its probably the starter, if neither of you have ever worked on one, just let a pro handle it.
Old 01-19-2010, 11:31 AM
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Maryland, My Maryland!
Posts: 1,577
Don’t forget the ignition coil.

Not a mechanic but had a similar problem some years back. It wasn’t the battery, wasn’t the starter, wasn’t the alternator. Garage estimate was $300. With my father-in-law’s help, we bought a new ignition coil for $30 and it took about twenty minutes to put the new one in–literally undoing about three screws and replacing the part.

Problem solved.
Old 01-19-2010, 11:39 AM
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Orange County, NY
Posts: 568
Starter solenoid to be exact, is what it sounds like. The toothed part of the starter that engages the flywheen to start the car moves in and out. It moves out to engage the flywheel, and once the engine is running and you let the key move back from the starting point, the gear retracts back. Sounds like the solenoid is stuck and its not moving enough to engage the flywheen, and just spinning.

Sometimes whacking the starter with a hammer gets it to engage. Or removing and spraying with wd-40. But in the end, usually just as easy to replace the starter.
Old 01-19-2010, 12:12 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 11,118
Originally Posted by minlokwat View Post
Don’t forget the ignition coil.
lWhile coils do fail, the symptom described indicates failure to crank (almost certainly a faulty starter). With the engine not cranking, the coil (along with the rest of the ignition system and the fuel system) has not even been called on to function yet.
Old 01-19-2010, 01:23 PM
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posts: 5,391
Well, the fun just keeps coming. I called AAA to tow the car somewhere to get the starter fixed, and between the tow guy and my husband, they were able to get the car to start again. (I'm at work, my husband works from home.) Not sure if they used some combination of everything you all mentioned or not.

So, it's possible it is just my battery, and Philster might have been right in his first post. We're getting a new battery tonight, and we'll see if that fixes it.

Thanks for all the help.
Old 01-19-2010, 02:11 PM
Charter Member
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Lethbridge, AB.
Posts: 48,816
Looking at your location and the age of the car, if that's your original battery, I'd bet money that that's what it is. My 2005 Corolla is due for a new battery - next cold snap will probably involve it not starting for me, too (the mechanic at my last tune-up said it's starting to get weak). This is good news - batteries aren't horribly expensive, they're easy to change out, and easy to diagnose!
"Your guilty consciences may make you vote Democratic, but secretly you all yearn for a Republican president to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king!"
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Old 01-19-2010, 02:24 PM
Robot Mod in Beta Testing
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Pennsylvania
Posts: 19,737
I would ask the tow guy (or your husband if he was out there with him) exactly what they had to do to get it going again, because a starter that is going bad can often be made to work again by giving it a good whack with a baseball bat or jiggling the electrical contacts. The starter may work for a while and then die again.

It would be nice to know what they had to do to get it started so that you could maybe take an educated guess as to what the real problem was and replace parts accordingly. If all they needed to do was jump it then a new battery would definitely be the wise course of action. If they had to whack the starter I'd probably replace it too.
Old 01-19-2010, 02:44 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Athens, Greece
Posts: 3,354
Originally Posted by Snickers View Post
When I turn the key, I hear a whirring, spinning noise from the starter, but that's it.
Probably the bendix gear needs replacement.

It sounds like the starter motor spins faster than usual like here?

In this video the gear engages at first, but then starts slipping under the load of the engine.
Old 01-19-2010, 11:09 PM
Join Date: Jan 2010
Posts: 1,917
It sounds like the starter. Mine is going and it sometimes skips when I'm trying to turn it over. It's gonna quit on me soon...

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