Jeep: Is this a jammed starter/flywheel?

Get a car from the stepson. Car is dead at a stoplight and won’t start. According to him, just died at stop with no sound. Friend who “knows cars” repeatedly tries to start it thinking starter is 2 weeks old and that is the problem. Smoke starts coming from the general area of the starter. Within 72 hours the battery is at 0 volts.

Put it on a charger/starter. Charge it a little bit, turn the key and the needle swings all the way to the right. Take it off the charger and throw a voltmeter on the battery poles and I can see the voltage drop. To add to the confusion, the crank pully won’t turn (at least with the belt on) so everyone says it’s seized.

If it is the starter, will banging on it help to unjam it? Do I need a new started (theoretically it’s under warranty) and/or a new flywheel? Most importantly, can I put it in neutral (it’s an automatic and move it?)

You can move it a short distance if it is in neutral, for a long distance you need to disconnect the drive shaft to keep from damaging the transmission.
I had a similar problem once after changing out a starter, I had inadvertently caught the cable to the starter against the exhaust manifold and burned thru the insulation causing a short. I wouldn’t bang on the starter, instead remove it for inspection. You can then inspect the ring gear for missing teeth or other damage. If the starter is new and under warranty, take it back and let them check it. If it is old, auto parts stores will check it for free.

Some questions:

Anything distinctive about the engine dying? Does the smoke happen quickly or after extended cranking? Is the engine turning over when cranking?

If the solenoid was stuck “ON” it would kill the battery but I think much sooner. Sounds like an unrelated short.

The crank pulley can’t be turned with a wrench etc. or the engine doesn’t turn when you try to key start?

Does this application use any shims to set the gear clearances that might have been forgotten?

Yes, You can move it or tow it say a mile or two. No extended or high speed towing.

Take the starter off because that’s simple, you can test it on the battery or take it in to a parts store to get checked out. As soon as you take the starter off, though, try and spin the motor with a wrench on the crank pulley bolt. If the motor doesn’t spin, seized it be.

If you can’t turn the crank using a big breaker bar, then engine is seized.
Have you checked the oil?

It’s important to be sure about this. If the engine is indeed seized then nothing else you’ve talked about matters unless and until it is repaired.

Get a proper wrench on the crank pulley bolt and see if the engine will turn (rotation is clockwise when standing in front of the vehicle looking at the front of the engine). Don’t worry about the belt, the additional resistance is minimal. If it won’t budge, try turning it counterclockwise – 1% chance it will unjam the starter drive (and the engine might start), 99% chance it will loosen the bolt thus verifying a seized engine.

Answering questions

Oil is there. I did not have a breaker bar. The shop I took it to claimed they did but I don’t trust them. Same reason I didn’t have them check the starter.

Removing the starter is near impossible since on the Jeep Commander they are neatly tucked away.

Starter just clicks which is why I always thought started/electrical while everyone around me says seized (with the side effect of draining the battery)

Smoke after extended cranking. My original thought was my starter was frying. According to the stepson (alone in the car), car just died.

The 72 hour was simply because that’s when I checked it. It could have been dead after 6 hours for all I know.

For a car to have been running normally and then die suddenly without any worrisome noise, AND then be seized is quite odd. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it doesn’t make sense to me.

Often if the engine is not seized, it will turn with a wrench on the alternator pulley nut while pushing some on the drive belt to prevent slipping. If you do this and the engine moves, replace the starter. If it doesn’t move, it doesn’t prove anything either way.

It might be possible to easily remove an inspection plate that covers the lower portion of the flywheel (depending on design) and rotate the engine with a prybar, or determine it won’t budge and is seized.

The heavy click heard when the starter is faulty can sound pretty much the same as the heavy click heard when the engine is seized.

If the starter is actually draining the battery just sitting there, as opposed to draining it from the effort of trying to start the car umpteen times, it’s faulty.

Not sure what to make of the smoke. Might be a faulty starter, might be from overworking it trying to start the car umpteen times.

Again, first determine if the engine truly is seized. Makes a big difference in what to do next.

You could still have a solenoid click even if he fried the starter motor so that it no longer will turn the engine. Reads like something happened to the engine and then he just cranked continuously until it smoked.

I agree that the first thing to do is to see if the engine will rotate but in any case the starter will need to be removed…something’s fried…

So I did try to turn the big-ass pully nut at the bottom of the engine with a standard rachet. Didn’t budge at all. Is there another place I should try that may work IF the starter/flywheel is jammed? Removing the starter on that Jeep involves taking it in and the place that replaced it the first time is the $50 to feebly turn a pully nut and say “It’s seized. $8500 for a new engine.”

Its always a Jeep.

Does this engine use a timing belt or chain? If a timing belt stripped and this is an interference engine you could have had piston-valve contact which is a bad thing and might jam solid as if it seized. We had a Shovette :smiley: a long time ago that ran fine as we stopped at an intersection and failed immediately when we accelerated away.

I think it is non-interference

You may have to take the plugs out to have a chance of turning it. I think you have a timing CHAIN though which is a good thing. (Based on a search for “jeep commander timing belt”)

Finally took it into the garage. Engine is frozen and no clue why except rust on the piston head so maybe a blown head gasket? No dropped valve seal like I thought considering its a Jeep Hemi. To find out the actual reason why the engine is seized they would have to tear it down and rebuild it even if it is something relatively minor so I’m looking at a $3000 engine + $2000 to swap plus new belts, hoses, waterpump gasket, plugs and wires, etc.

It does piss me off that I suspect it is something relatively cheap and easy to fix once the engine is torn down.