Anyone want to take a shot at what's wrong with my car?

My car’s been having a little trouble, and I’m trying to figure how to handle it in the most cost effective way.

The car is a '95 Nissan Sentra with just over 100K miles. Starting to have its share of problems here and there, but not falling apart yet. I’d say its been kept up a little below average, but definitely not “beat”.

The problem:

Yesterday after work it wouldn’t start at all. It was working fine up to that. I’d put the key in and everything would happen like it was supposed to except the car wouldn’t even try to turn over. All the lights and electrical stuff would come on, so the battery was definitely fine. Only problem was absolutely nothing as far as the starter trying to get the car going.

I had my buddy pick me up from work, but on our way out we decided to try it one more time in case he could guess what was wrong. It started perfictly fine then, nothing wrong whatsoever.

I drove it home and made a few errands last night with no problems. This moring I made a few more errands, starting and stopping no problems. Then, on my last stop the same problem happened again today. Now its sitting in a parking lot walking distance from my house and won’t start again. Everything else is fine. I plan on going back in an hour or so, and half expect it to start up fine.

Any guesses as to what’s happening here? Any way I can avoid costly reparis, and do something myself? I’d be glad to supply more information or answer any questions if necessary.

Thanks a lot for your help.

Hard to say. Start by checking the battery cables and connections. Maybe you have an intermittant open circuit in the ignition switch. Maybe the stater relay is intermittant.

These things are a bitch because when you take it to the shop it will work perfectly and their analyzer will show no faults, all at the reasonable cost of $75. Why that’s just pennies a day.

Your ignition switch might also be “intermittent.”

When I’m czar there will be no more of this silly “ent” and “ant” endings. I realize this will lose the etemological track of the word’s history but I don’t give a damn. Do you hear me? I just don’t give a damn about that.

What’s the weather like in your area? Lot of high humidity? Rain? You might have a cracked distributor cap, and if moisture gets in there, the problems with the car will be identical to the ones you describe.

Blunt, check this thread from General Questions: Car Q: Car didn’t start, then did. Battery?

I had this exact problem with a 1988 Nissan Pickup. Ended up just trading in the old starter for a refurbished one. Bolted the new starter in and the truck ran fine for many more years.

I’m pretty sure it’s your starter motor. I had the same problem with a Ford Laser, if you drove for some time and then parked the car would not kick over until it cooled down. I think the “brushes??” were sticking. On one occassion the trusty hit with a hammer worked - it’s genuine treatment sometimes a tap frees a jammed starter, but I quickly replaced it. At the time it was playing up it always started fine if left to cool long enough so it would have been OK for me to go to work and come home at night.

Yep, sounds to me like a dead spot on the starter rotor/stator thingy, our old Kubota diesel garden tractor has a similar problem, one good solid tap with a baseball bat knocks the dead spot out of position and allows the starter to turn

First of all, thanks to everyone who has read or replied to this thread! I really appreciate the help.

Now for the update:

I walked back to my car just now, and it started right up. It must have been 2 or 3 hours ago that it wouldn’t start.

As far as recent weather around here goes, it has actually cooled off recently. It has dropped into the 60’s during the day and 50’s overnight, down from 70’s it had been. The humidity has been pretty much average, no different from the rest of the summer.

I do have to work all next week, but I’ve got 4 days off after that. Maybe I can get by for one week, taking my chances that I’ll get stranded and then address this problem over my ‘vacation’.

Thanks again for the help.

The ECM (PCM if you got that) may have a cracked main board. I had a car that did this and the car was fine, except for intermittent starting problems like you describe. Didn’t even throw any codes.

Remember almost all cars have that goofy thing with the steering wheel lock too, sometimes you have to play around with the steering wheel to get it to turn over. Just a thought.

The Mr. (who is not a mechanic) says it sounds like the cylanoid (may have spelled that wrong) in your starter. Sometimes they go out like that.

He also suggests you get your spark plugs looked at and perhaps changed, given your car’s high mileage.

Have you checked the transmogrifier? :stuck_out_tongue:

If that doesn’t work, it may well be the module. This happened to my car awhile ago, and due to loose connections, it would start intermittently.

It may be a “sticky” starter motor. I had one like that once and at the time I couldn’t afford to get it fixed. A friend said I might be able to “unstick” it by rapping it with something. Next time it “stuck” I rapped it a couple of time with the butt of a pool cue. It worked a treat and started up straight away. I used this method a lot for a couple of months until I could afford a proper repair.

A really good point, ccwaterback. My car does this and until I figured it out I thought it was something more mechanical. Now when it won’t start I jiggle the steering wheel just to that little place where it is “free”…this works everytime on my car. Give it a try next time.

Related to this could be a problem with the neutral safety switch. If jiggling the steering will doesn’t work, try putting the car in neutral and starting it, or jiggling the gear shift lever.


My car is now sittting at work, not starting. I last tried it about 1 1/2 hours ago, and nothing. That was after it had sat for about 2-3 hours. But I plan to go back tonight and again half expect it to start right up, although I’m not so sure this time because it had a long time to cool off already, and still nothing. If it does start up I’m done messing around with it and I’m probably bringing it straight to a mechanic tonight. I already borrowed a car for the next day or two.

I did notice it starting a little slow once or twice today later in the day. Earlier it had been starting right up.

Any further advice?

Thanks for all your help already,

  1. I had a 1960 Nash Metropolitan It would do this from time to time, I would put in in 1st gear and them rock the car back and forth, it did the same as tapping the starter, note not as effective as taing the starter in larger cars. NOTE: Most modern Cars are larger than a Nash Metropolitan.
    I believe it is your starter. just an educated guess anyway.
  2. The steering wheel binding and not allowing the key to turn. When the wheels are turned, the steering wheel lock will catch and the turend wheels put a binding pressure on the steering wheel lock, causing the key to the ignition very hard to turn. Is why pulling the wheel or wiggling the wheel and turning the key works so well.

Our 89 Camry has been doing this to us lately. Upon closer inspection, its failure to turn over has been proven to be a dead beattery (because sometimes it does turn over–real slow). 'Course We’re not sure if it’s the battery not charging or the alternator going slack on us. My guess it’s the alternator because of the sudden onset…and because it’s more expensive. Just sayin.

I hate hate HATE intermittent problems like this because you’re never quite sure that you’ve fixed them.

I seem to remember (from listening to Car Talk) that some cars have switches that have to close before the ignition will start. Maybe a brake switch, or the “in park” switch (if you have an automatic)?

My first car was a 1974 Pontiac Ventura. It had the “seatbelt must be engaged before the car will start” switch. (I believe 1974 was the only model year that had this, because everybody HATED it. Except me.) This mechanism worked pretty well 98% of the time. But every now and then I’d sit down, fasten the seatbelt, and the ignition still wouldn’t turn on. I’d have to bridge up so my ass wasn’t on the seat and start the car. (The switch was tripped when you sat down.) Then I could start the car, sit down, fasten my seatbelt, and proceed.

This car also had a bad starter once. It behaved a lot like the car in the OP – when it started, it would start fine, but every so often, you’d turn the key and nothing would happen. If I kept bumping the key, it would start after a while. Sometimes a LONG while – I’d spend 20 or 30 minutes trying to get it to start.

My current car (1992 Mitsubishi Expo) had a computer failure once. The car cut off and wouldn’t start at all. Something about the way it wouldn’t start flagged it as “not a battery or starter” problem to me. I had it towed to the dealership, and they had to replace the computer. :eek: