Beverly'The "no-start" phase

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 1986 1/2 Nissan small pick-up with an automatic transmission. Overall performance and experience with the vehicle have been good. But about one year into ownership, the truck began entering "no-start" phases which come about once a month or so. I replaced two batteries before realizing that it had nothing to do with the battery. Yet it acts like a completely dead battery in that absolutely nothing happens when you turn the key. If I keep trying, jiggling the key, getting out my other key, waiting five seconds, etc., it will eventually start. Two Nissan dealers have told me it could be one of three things, and that they would be glad to replace all three. I don't want to spend money on another part I don't need. What do you think it is?

RAY: We don't know what the dealers wanted to replace, but our three choices would be the neutral safety switch, the ignition switch, and the starter.

TOM: Every automatic transmission has a neutral safety switch to prevent you from starting the car in any gear except park or neutral. When it malfunctions, it prevents the car from starting at all.

RAY: If you're approaching this problem with financial trepidation, the neutral safety switch is the cheapest part to replace. So you might try that first.

TOM: If that doesn't fix it, the problem could be a faulty ignition switch. But in our experience, ignition switches almost never fail these days, especially on relatively new cars.

RAY: So the most likely culprit is the starter. Since you're obviously a patient person (you've been tolerating this problem for three years), you can research this yourself. Throw an old broom in the back of your pick up, and next time your truck won't start, flag down an assistant. Ask that person to turn the key and hold it in the start position while you whack the starter with the non-business end of the broom handle.

TOM: If whacking the starter makes the truck start, you've identified the problem. Then you have two choices. You can either get a new starter, or given your incredible patience, just hang onto the broom and keep whacking it.

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