1996 SL1 Difficulty Starting - Solenoid Location/Other Thoughts?

Discussion in 'Saturn S-series' started by Bob Shuman, Nov 11, 2006.

  1. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest

    My son is experiencing a problem starting his '96 SL1. He says the engine
    seems to turn over slowly so won't start, then after cranking for a few
    seconds, starts normally. He says this happens more frequently when weather
    is colder and has been happening "on and off" for the last 3 or so weeks.

    He is away at school, and at my request he took it in to check the battery
    and charging system since it sounded like a weak battery to me. They
    confirmed a bad battery, but said the charging system was OK. He replaced
    the battery, and cleaned the cables thoroughly before re-attaching, but had
    the problem re-appear the following day. I also know that all the vehicle
    grounds from the negative to the frame, engine, etc. are good since I had
    removed and wire brushed every one of these last summer while working a
    ignition misfire "check engine"service light/code.

    At this point, I am thinking this could be a starter solenoid issue since
    the starter and solenoid are still original equipment and have seen 140K
    miles and 11 years of use. Can anyone tell me where the solenoid is located
    on this model? (Sorry to ask, but the vehicle is not here for me to follow
    the wiring myself...) I do not believe it is an ignition switch or starter
    relay issue since he said it turns over and tries to start when he turns the

    Responses appreciated on the location and any other thoughts on what I can
    check when he gets the vehicle back home for me to look at it. Thanks in

    Bob Shuman, Nov 11, 2006
  2. Bob Shuman

    Doug Miller Guest


    Starter solenoid won't affect cranking speed. The starter *motor* may be
    wearing out, but if the starter cranks the engine at all, the solenoid is
    You said he replaced the battery, and the problem recurred the following day.
    A new battery doesn't go bad overnight. My first thought is that the guy who
    checked the charging system is incompetent -- the alternator or voltage
    regulator is going south, or the belt is loose -- and you should have the
    charging system checked out again by a different shop.

    If that checks out OK the second time around, look for something that's
    draining the battery overnight: interior light left on, sagging brake pedal
    turning on the brake lights, or who knows what. Maybe he has some sort of
    accessory plugged into the cig lighter socket that's draining current?

    How long since the last oil change, and what type of oil was put in? You said
    the weather is getting "colder".. but that's a relative term. Where are you?
    "Cold" to you might be "balmy" to me, or vice versa. "Cold" to the *car* means
    freezing or below. It might help to change the oil with 5W30 -- but make sure
    to get that out of there, and put 10W30 in, before summer.
    Doug Miller, Nov 11, 2006
  3. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest


    Thanks for the response. Comments are inserted below. I've done a bit more
    research and see that the solenoid is attached to the starter motor assembly
    and is not a separate component. As such, if all the fuses, wires and
    connections check out good/clean/tight, then the most obvious thing to do
    would be to replace the starter with a rebuilt unit since this covers the
    situation regardless of whether it is being caused by the starter motor or
    the solenoid.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond with your thoughts.


    I disagree with this statement and have seen resistive solenoid contacts (in
    other vehicles) cause a reduction in available cranking current resulting in
    reduced voltage at the starter motor causing the same symptoms he claims to
    be seeing.
    I had thought the same thing, and he went back and re-tested the battery and
    charging system at a second service garage and they said both the battery
    and alternator looked good. This is why I don't suspect the new battery is
    bad and believe the alternator is in fact working properly as well. (I knew
    these are a common failure on Saturn's so had suspected that first.)
    As expalined above, the new battery does not appear to being drained. (I
    had asked my son the same question when he first reported the symptoms, but
    since the battery was 4 years old, suggested he have it tested and
    replaced.) I'll hopefully get a chance to see this for myself if he drives
    home from school over the weekend. I plan to measure battery voltage with
    the vehicle off when he arrives and again when the car is running and the
    alternator is charging the battery. Based on his being able to drive it now
    for a couple days and running headlights at night, radio, heater blower,
    etc. I tend to believe the two independent diagnosis that the charging
    system and battery are now working correctly.
    I do change the oil from 10W30 to 5W30 for the winter in all of our vehicles
    since temperatures can reach -20 degrees F here in the Chicago area during
    winter. Right now the temperature is about 40 degrees F so I doubt this is
    the issue. The oil was scheduled to be changed to 5W30 when he was home for
    Thanksgiving in a couple weeks. I've never seen a problem in any vehiclke
    with temperature above 0 degrees F, and would think that the Saturn's small
    4 cylinder would make it even easier to turn. That said, we may change the
    oil sooner if he gets home to fix the starter.

    Bob Shuman, Nov 11, 2006
  4. Bob Shuman

    Doug Miller Guest

    Incorrect. You've explained that the new battery does appear to be getting
    charged -- but you haven't described any testing or investigation you've done
    to make sure that charge isn't getting drained off overnight by some load that
    shouldn't be there (interior light left on, for example).

    Before replacing the starter, I think you should make three voltage
    measurements on the battery: just before starting the engine, just after
    shutting the engine off after driving the car for a while -- and after it's
    been sitting in the driveway overnight. If there's a substantial difference
    between the three, particularly if the last measurement is much lower than the
    other two, then it's time to start looking for whatever's draining the battery
    Doug Miller, Nov 11, 2006
  5. Bob Shuman

    Doug Miller Guest

    As it is on ALL starter motors...

    Disagree all you like -- you're still mistaken. You've described a problem
    caused by corrosion, not a bad solenoid. The solenoid is nothing more than an
    electromagnet that moves the starter pinion gear into position where it
    contacts the flywheel. The symptom of a good starter motor and a bad solenoid
    is that the starter motor spins when you turn the ignition key -- but the
    engine does NOT; hence my statement that if the starter cranks the engine at
    all, the solenoid is good.
    Doug Miller, Nov 11, 2006
  6. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest

    Additional comments inline below.


    Again, I respectfully disagree with your statement that "the solenoid is
    nothing more than an
    electromagnet that moves the starter pinion gear into position where it
    contacts the flywheel." While it is indeed true that the solenoid is indeed
    an electromagnet that is energized by turning the ignition key, which in
    most cases closes the starter relay circuit, it actually serves as the final
    connection for the high amperage current directly from the 12V battery.
    This is accomplished when the solenoid gets energized and pulls down a
    conductive copper plunger that shorts across two copper contacts and
    energizes the circuit to the starter motor armature, thereby turning the

    Here is a URL with a site that includes photos for a Nippondenso
    starter/solenoid for which I have removed and replaced worn out contacts on
    four separate occassions and 4 separate Chrysler vehicles:


    With regard to your comment that you feel this is caused by corrosion, this
    could in fact be very true. My point is that the solenoid plunger and
    contact surfaces wear and eventually can lead to intermittant starting
    problems like my son is seeing. If the contacts become resistive (this only
    requires it be tenths of an ohm), then the reduced current and accompanying
    voltage drop can produce symptoms that emulate dirty/corroded battery or
    ground contacts. In addition, just like with the dirty battery contacts,
    the high current drawn through the resistive connection can "burn through"
    the source of the resistance which coupled with this being an physical
    contact of the conductive surfaces, leads to the intermittant and
    unpredictable nature of this beast.

    That all said, I do agree with your recommendations on the battery
    measurements in a previous post and appreciate that input. Given that my
    son has been driving the vehicle now several days/nights and using his
    electrical accessories (headlights, stereo, heater blower, rear defroster)
    normally since the 4-year old battery was replaced, I am inclined to
    believe the two separate service garages that gave their Ok to the
    alternator/charging system and the second one that verified the charge on
    the new battery was also good.

    My plan at this point is to verify the following in the order given and if
    all look good, then I'll go ahead and replace the starter (which has the
    solenoid attached - by the way, on a side note this was not true of all
    vehciles I've worked on over the years) :

    1. Make recommended battery measurements to assure system is charging
    battery properly
    2. Verify all connections at battery and starter are clean and tight
    3. Verify chasis and engine block ground cable connection clean and tight
    4. Verify there is no internal cable corrosion and measure cable resistance
    5. Remove starter, open and examine starter solenoid contacts (Replace unit

    Thanks again.
    Bob Shuman, Nov 11, 2006
  7. Bob Shuman

    Doug Miller Guest

    With all due respect, yes, it is true of all vehicles you've ever worked on.
    You appear to be confusing the starter solenoid with the starter *relay*,
    which often *is* a separate unit, particularly on Chrysler vehicles such as
    you referred to -- and is frequently referred to, albeit mistakenly, by
    many auto parts store employees, mechanics, and DIYers as the solenoid. The
    solenoid is *always* integrated with the starter. It has to be, because it's
    the part that moves the pinion gear into position. It's impossible for the
    solenoid to not be part of the starter.
    And is not being drained overnight!
    Post again when you've found the problem. It may well be the starter motor
    (although I'm betting on something that's draining the battery). But it is
    *not* the starter solenoid.
    Doug Miller, Nov 11, 2006
  8. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest

    I do know the difference between a starter relay and a starter solenoid. On
    Chryslers, the relay energizes the solenoid which makes the final high
    amperage contact for the starter motor. Look at the site I provided. The
    pictures show the copper contact surfaces and how they get degraded with

    The Saturn uses a Valeo PMGR starter. If you care to do a google search,
    you will find similar pictures of the solenoid plunger and contactor for
    that starter as well.

    I will let you know the outcome. I think I have what I need at this point.

    Bob Shuman, Nov 11, 2006
  9. Bob Shuman

    Bob Shuman Guest

    As promised, here is what I believe is the final outcome for this posting.

    My son brought the car home on Saturday morning. Since we suspected
    battery/charging problems, I measured the battery voltage after he arrived
    (12.8V) and again with the engine running and the alternator charging the
    battery (14.8V). My son tried to duplicate the starting problems that
    evening with the engine warm, but could not. I did notice though that the
    car seemed to be idling a bit fast (~1000RPM) so we cleaned out the throttle
    body to see if that would have any impact, but did not appear to help.

    The next morning before the car had been started, I re-measured the battery
    voltage with the engine off and it was still 12.8V. I then concluded the
    problem wasn't the battery draining or alternator related for that matter
    either. When we started the car, it took a while to start, but the starter
    turned over the engine at what appeared to me to be normal speed. My son
    then said that this symptom of not starting was exactly the problem he was
    seeing. He pushed the accelerator to the floor and the car started up, but
    the idle jumped to 1500RPM. Even after running for 10 minutes, the
    temperature gauge still showed Cold and the RPM was still hovering around
    1050 and when I gave it gas we saw a slight hesitation.

    Based on what I have read in this newsgroup over the years and the symptoms,
    I immediately suspected the Coolant Temperature Sensor. We visited the
    local auto parts store and bought a brass replacement unit and some high
    temp thread sealant.

    We did the replacement and for good measure I sprayed electrical contact
    cleaner into the connector. When done, we topped off the antifreeze/coolant
    since a small amount was lost during the swap. When done, we re-started the
    engine and all seemed good and it ran well. The gauge was working again and
    the engine idled around 850 with the engine is warm. I am hoping that this
    is what was causing the problem and he just left to drive back to school.

    After he left, I looked a the part we removed and see that the plastic
    sealed part that sits inside the engine head was cracked so this must have
    caused the failure.

    I also noticed that his gas purchase/miles traveled per tank showed a 25%
    decrease in mileage over the last month. This further supported that this
    has been an issue for some time. Lastly, when we removed and looked at the
    spark plugs, they were carbon fouled indicating it was running rich.

    Doug, thanks again for your input. I'm betting this was the issue and
    hopefully he will be better able to convey symptoms in the future now that
    he knows what to look for.

    Bob Shuman, Nov 13, 2006
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