Cut starter solenoid wire to fake a car crash??

So I happen to click on an article featured on Wikipedia’s home page today. It’s about a woman who disappeared on this day 15 years ago. Anyway, being knowledgeable about cars something in the article does not make sense to me. The woman’s 1993 Jeep Cherokee was found wrecked at the bottom of a ravine but without her in it. The woman was somewhat mentally unstable and police suspected she may have staged the wreck for some reason. Upon closer examination of her wrecked truck this observation and conclusion was made:


“No one had looked under the Jeep’s hood, so they pried it open. Underneath they found that a wire to the starter relay had been cut. This would have allowed the car to accelerate without anyone depressing the gas pedal, confirming early suspicions that no one had been in the car when it was driven off the road and thus it had been purposely wrecked.”***

I don’t understand this assumption. Cutting the starter relay wire would just make the car’s starter not work when you turned the key. I can’t see how it would be at all related to allowing it to accelerate without pushing the pedal. A 1993 Jeep would have some electronic engine control (fuel injection, ignition etc.) but it wouldn’t have the kind of inter-related computer controlled sensors & systems cars today have. And even with modern ECU systems I can’t really see how the starter solenoid would be directly related to the accelerator.

Am I missing something here?

no you are not. That article is nonsense.

Clearly the quote as stated is nonsense. Probably the journo has not understood what was said to them.

Trying my best to read between the lines though, the only way I can think of making a car go forward by messing with the starter solenoid is this: if you could somehow make the starter stick so that when you turned the key the engine didn’t but the starter remained engaged, then the starter might walk the car forward till the battery ran out; which might be enough to get it over a cliff.

I dunno, really. I’m reaching.

This was the only possibility I could come up with too, but even that wouldn’t really work. Cars then had clutch pedal lockout switches to prevent this (may still, haven’t driven a manual in a while). Plus you’d have to know the mechanics and wiring of cars to even try it. I clicked on some of the referenced links in the Wiki article, they just say the exact same thing.

What’s strange is they supposedly didn’t discover this ‘evidence’ until years later, when they opened the hood. So they make a big deal about it being significant…

They still do, and those switches will not prevent energizing the solenoid as described/suspected. They interrupt the circuit from the ignition switch to the relay or solenoid. Hotwiring under the hood bypasses the clutch safety switch, which is there to prevent accidentally starting in gear, not to pevent hotwiring.

Could it be one of those vehicles where the starter automatically opens the throttle to facilitate starting? If the right wire was cut, perhaps the throttle activation system would not reset once the key was released to the run position?

I had a '64 Chevy truck. It became energized early one morning. While in granny low, it crossed the street and t-boned the neighbor’s car. The police woke me up, hoping to bust me for DUI. The only thing that saved me was a neighbor who witnessed the event. She told the police there was no one in the truck when it collided.

The cop talked to a few mechanics and finally agreed with the witness.

It can happen. The truck was 39 years old when it went out on its own that morning.

The article is nonsense. On a '93, possibly the clutch switch could be disconnected and the starter hot wired or someone could reach through the window and turn the key to get the vehicle moving toward the ravine.

My dad had an early 60’s Chevy pickup which died on the street once and I remember him using the starter and low gear to pull it to the curb.

Perhaps she had a remote starter so she could start the car without being inside it. The cutting the wire might have disabled the ‘in gear’ lockout, allowing a remote start in gear. The engine would fire up normally and then idle forward or backward depending on the gear selected. It would move faster if she also placed a brick on or in another way depressed the accelerator.

The article mentions the Jeep was going about 40 mph went it went off the road. Forget anything about the starter motor propelling it – you’d be lucky to get four mph that way.

As to “…a wire to the starter relay had been cut. This would have allowed the car to accelerate without anyone depressing the gas pedal…,” not on any vehicle I’ve ever heard of. Complete nonsense as stated.

It would not.

Agree with complete nonsense.

And inexcusable- “How does the starter make the car go off a cliff” is a reasonable question for the journalist to ask, even if he knows nothing about cars.

I’m not very knowledgeable about computers, but if someone tells me that cutting the wires to the hard drive allowed the hackers access to the RAM, I’d ask for it to be explained.

After reading the entire linked Wikipedia article, I am of the opinion that the “wire to the starter relay had been cut” is a bit of false evidence published by law enforcement to help guard against “false confessions”. Given the amount of national TV exposure the case has been given, I would expect quite a few of the “facts” have some misrepresentation to them to help them identify credible leads.

There are soooo many easier ways to make a Jeep go over a cliff.